Whole Foods, John Mackey, and Conscious Startups

Since I listened to this excellent and highly recommended talk by Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and his latest, Drive, I’ve been interested in John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods.

Dan Pink quotes John Mackey as saying this:

“Making high profits is the means to the end of fulfilling Whole Foods’ core business mission. We want to improve the health and well-being of everyone on the planet through higher-quality foods and better nutrition, and we can’t fulfill this mission unless we’re highly profitable…. Just as people cannot live without eating, so a business cannot live without profits. But most people don’t live to eat, and neither must a business live just to make profits.”

I like that quote a lot. I’ve re-quoted it a lot.

Recently, I came across this product called Passion and Purpose, from Sounds True (love that name, btw).

In it, John Mackey describes so much of the vision that I saw over three years ago. It’s incredibly encouraging to see someone like John Mackey have the same ideas.

Basically he talks about conscious businesses being businesses that have a higher purpose, and where the business is striving to optimize for all stakeholders - shareholders, managers, employees, customers, suppliers, the community, and the environment - at the same time.

In order to do that in a meaningful way, you actually need to care about your own level of consciousness and work on cleaning out your old shit, because if you don’t, your old shit is going to get in the way of finding and pursuing a higher purpose, and it’s going to get in the way of optimizing for all.

He goes on to talk about how he’s starting to see investment funds that are themselves conscious businesses and which specifically invests in conscious businesses. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, although that’s definitely a bonus, but simply because they realize that this type of business is going to give a better payoff over the long term, and have a higher likelihood of succeeding. At least that’s what John Mackey says, and I’d tend to believe he’s right.

That investment angle was something I also saw back then. I even have on my vision board that I’ll be on the board of the conscious fund at Kleiner Perkins, just like Al Gore is on the Greentech fund. One can dream, right?

For the longest time I’ve mostly thought that it was probably just me that was nuts, and no-body else cared. I mean, my industry seems to be completely caught up in the funding game, chasing funding and Techcrunch and Mashable coverage by throwing around the latest “mobile social gaming flickr of facebook of foursquare of…” buzzword bingo bulllshit.

I couldn’t care less even if I tried.

The thing is, I have two sides. One side that knows without a shadow of a doubt that of course this is the real deal. And another side that doubts. It seems nobody else thinks this way, nobody else cares, maybe it’s just me being the crazy guy. Do you recognize that kind of duality in yourself?

That’s why it’s so important and so encouraging to hear someone like John Mackey say pretty much exactly the same thing as I believe. Maybe I had something right all along. Maybe there really is something worth pursuing here. I think there is.

Let me end with a quote from Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis, which Jerry Colonna graciously recommended to me last week:

These choices create our patterns, the values of our daily lives, and our variegated futures, whether we know we are making choices or not, and whether those choices are fed from the deep springs of the soul, or from our fated, repetitive psychological inheritance. The struggle for growth is not for us alone; it is not self-indulgent. It is our duty, and service, to those around us as well, for though such departures from the comfortable we bring a larger gift to them. And when we fail ourselves, we fail them.

The first half of that quote speaks to the duality I mentioned before. The self-doubt. The self-doubt is the voice of my fated, repetitive psychological inheritance. Conscious Startups springs from the deep springs of my soul.

That choice is basically the choice that Conscious Startups are all about.

Do we create our startup from the depths of our soul or from our inherited, outdated psychological patterns? Do we intend it as a vehicle for growth, for the founders as well as employees, customers, suppliers, community, and environment, or do we intend it to serve our ego and its need for false inflation, comfort and security? Do we create it as a gift to those around us or just for our own benefit?

Which do you choose?


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