I love Whole Foods for so many reasons:
- I love that they screen out not just GMOs (genetically modified organisms) but also the food additives long thought to be innocuous which are anything but – MSG, food coloring, BHT and other preservatives, etc. As one of their incredibly helpful employees told me, “You are safe here.”
- I love that Whole Foods educates families about healthy eating, with a focus on feeding children right. Anyone notice the beautiful back-to-school lunches featured this month?
- I love that Whole Foods puts helping our neighbor front-and-center by letting us donate bag credits to worthy organizations doing good work in the community.
- Finally, I love that Whole Foods is pushing the boundary of what we consider to be healthy – not just in how we eat and live, but also in how we WORK.
John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, co-wrote a book called Conscious Capitalism describing successful businesses that serve the interests of all major stakeholders—customers, employees, investors, communities, suppliers, and the environment – not just near term profits, as is too often our narrow and short-sighted focus. It shouldn’t have felt like such a revelation, but it did. We’ve strayed that far from working in alignment with our heart, or perhaps more poignantly, our conscience.
Conscience. Psychologists would say our conscience is “an inner feeling or a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” Spiritual leaders have called it our moral blueprint or God-inside – the translator for our soul. Our yoga teachers inspire us to see it with every “Namaste.”
Our conscience struggles with our very human needs and desires for survival. It’s the part that helps us remember to transcend our narcissism to be part of something bigger. A healthy conscience facilitates empathy. Our conscience should be easier to access as our world becomes more abundant. When basic needs for shelter, food, and physical safety are met, competing for these resources is not necessary. Of course, too many people in our world do lack for basic resources, but this is a manmade and solvable problem…if we use our collective conscience.
But our conscience whispers, and the world is loud.
Listening to our conscience is hard. Our conscience gets distracted. So, to buy it off, we tell ourselves stories, e.g.
- “The research says Coke doesn’t make kids fat.”
- “Outsized CEO pay is a necessary tool in the ‘War for Talent’.”
- “To fix work/family balance, we need reimbursable egg freezing and flying nannies!” Nope.
Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance, and we’ve had a lot of practice at it. Products that exploit people’s addictions from snack chips to casinos. Services that exploit people’s vulnerability, like predatory lending. Work practices that allocate time to anything but caring for fellow workers, family, and community. Media messages that incite fear so we will buy the remedies – for aging, sadness, safety, self-esteem, and so on.
Conscious Capitalism is a great idea, and John Mackey has inspired a lot of us to think differently even as his own organization struggles with the impact of growth and scale on employees. Some intrepid entrepreneurs inside and outside of large organizations are also acting differently, which takes some courage and conscience. Conscious capitalism in an investment bank? Oh, yes. Check out Epoch Pi. Manufacturing companies in which Everyone Matters? Of course they do. How did we forget? Co-author Raj Sisodia’s follow-up to Conscious Capitalism will tell that story in collaboration with Truly Human Leadership advocate Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. These are hopeful examples. Can any of these efforts succeed broadly without enlightened government leadership? No way. Jeremy Grantham, among others, is making that clear.
Are these changes reaching your workplace? Can you take your conscience to work these days? Does your boss? Are we there yet? What are we missing?
To be continued….
Thanks to Eva Basilion and John LeMay for contributions to this post.
- Picture of the Whole Foods blackboard in University Heights, Ohio