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Why Being Selfless is Good for Business
The monks of Mepkin and agnostics like Warren Buffett alike have been wildly successful in business not despite their fanatical commitment to the highest principles but because of them.
The current worldwide economic crisis is often blamed on the greed, selfishness, and unethical excesses of unbridled free-market capitalism. To a large extent, I agree with this analysis, even though as a businessman and entrepreneur, I love our free-market system. Most of us assume, however, that greed, selfishness, and unethical behavior are intrinsic to free markets, capitalism, and "profit." And since capitalism has proved to be the most productive economic model the world has yet seen, this has led many to conclude that all we can do is manage a painful deal with the devil. Capitalism takes on the role of a wild and dangerous animal sharing our house; an animal we can live neither with nor without. This analysis assumes that this selfish beast can never be tamed, so it must be constantly restrained lest it suddenly turn on its master with the kind of disastrous consequences we have recently experienced.
Unfortunately, this description of capitalism traps us in a painful dichotomy; things like higher purpose, putting people first, and looking out for the customer are invariably at odds with "profit" and "bottom line" considerations. In this war the bottom line always seems to win, and higher goals are perpetually damned to the realm of altruism. There these higher goals languish, their only advocates the bully pulpit of corporate guilt and futile appeals to mankind's "better nature."
As I spent more and more time living and working alongside the monks of Mepkin Abbey, I began to realize that at heart they are living an ancient yet emergent economic model that rejects the assumption that capitalism and selfless service are essentially at odds with one another and mutually exclusive. The monks of Mepkin and agnostics like Warren Buffett alike have been wildly successful in business not despite their fanatical commitment to the highest principles but because of them. The counter-intuitive secret that the monks, Buffett, and the world's greatest salespeople have discovered is that the more successfully we forget our selfish motivations, the more successful we become.
If this analysis is correct, then our task, though still daunting, is no longer just endless, acrimonious, time-consuming, and expensive trade-offs between capitalism and socialism, competition and cooperation, profit and nonprofit, growing people and using people, free markets and government regulation, altruistic motivations and selfish motivations. Instead we must transcend these false dichotomies by conclusively demonstrating that service and selflessness is not all "motherhood and fluff." We must prove that selfless service can be more than a thinly veiled PR campaign and corporate- recruitment strategy masking as "give back." For, as Warren Buffett, the monks, and my personal experience as a salesman, executive, and entrepreneur will show, service and selflessness will lead to businesses that are more profitable and productive than those we have today. Service and selflessness is not about sacrificing growth and profitability for some abstract and elusive "common good." It is just damn good business.
This model does not envision dismantling the capitalist system and the "profit" that has lifted so many out of poverty. Service and selflessness transcends all the painful trade-offs listed above. It does so by tapping into the universal longing we all have for a mission that is so much bigger than ourselves that it transforms us, both individually and collectively, from selfish to selfless people.
The above is an excerpt from the book Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity by August Turak. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2013 August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity
August Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, award winning writer and author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity (Columbia Business School Publishing; July 2013). He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Selling Magazine, the New York Times, and Business Week, and is a popular leadership contributor at Forbes.com. His website is www.augustturak.com.
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With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A biologist-reporter investigates his fungal namesake.
The unmatched biologist-reporter Tomasz Sitarz interviews his fungal namesake, maślak sitarz – known in English as the Jersey cow mushroom.
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.