What is prosperity? For many – and for many-a-year – prosperity has been connected to the notion of the accumulation of financial wealth. But what if we had missed the essential understanding of this word? Jean-Sébastien Simon, High Performance Coach and Lecturer in Conscious Business at ESSEC Business School, contends that prosperity can be seen in a different light as an integral part of Conscious Business.
What it Means to Be Prosperous: A new look at an old desire, by Jean-Sébastien Simon.
“The state of being successful usually by making a lot of money; the condition of being successful or thriving, especially economic well-being”. “Prosperity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster
In 1970, Milton Friedman published a paper titled: “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”. This shows how deep the idea of profitability is engrained in the late 20th Centhry mindset. Indeed, it is a natural offspring from the modern, rational-scientific worldview with authors such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham (Wakeford, 2018). Yet, more recently, the post-modern, pluralistic worldview emerged in the 1960s, giving rise to a critique of the limitations of this model, with the publication of the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Behrens, 1972) and the advocacy for human bonding, ecological sensitivity and networking for instance.
In the classic triple bottom-line, profits are fit under the economic pillar including compliance, proper governance, risk management, transparent accounting methods and others (investopedia). Classic double-entry bookkeeping is focused on monetary value, and egocentric needs. Different accounting methods have been developed, such as the REA model for instance (McCarthy, 1982). In this model, the company can account for all economic resources, not just monetary ones, as well as externalities (waste production as well as negative and positive impacts on the environment).
The Multi-dimensionality of Prosperity
Prosperity means flourishing and thriving instead of merely surviving. This leads to – and comes from – an abundance mindset, deeply rooted into a feeling of gratitude and appreciation. It stems directly from a healthy Psyche.
Prosperity is not only material, it is also mental: it comes from a deep trust for the future, combined with behaviours leading towards that direction: Trusting that individuals and the collective are co-creating a better (more prosperous) future; trusting and creating the conditions so that that tomorrow can be better than today (even though today was great already). Moreover, Prosperity can be created through the conventional economic growth models, but also through degrowth/post-growth models. As such, Minimalism and frugality can create prosperity as much as growth.
An alternative definition of prosperity might be:
“Thriving in the long term whether in abundance or frugality”
A whole reflection on frugality could be discussed extensively in another article, but I will leave the simple definition from frugal woods as: “spending money only on what truly matters.”
How do we know we’re prosperous?
Prosperity can be measured in an external way, through growth and other economic indicators. Yet the most recent research on Gross National Happiness (GNH) offers a larger vision of how to measures what matters the most to a healthy economy. Research by Karma Thimphu (2009) described the the following Four Pillars for GNH:
- Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development;
- Environmental conservation;
- Preservation and promotion of culture;
- Good governance.
These Four Pillars cover a total of nine domains (Ura, 2008):
- Psychological well-being,
- Time use
- Cultural diversity and resilience
- Good governance
- Community vitality
- Ecological diversity and resilience
- Living standards.
GNH has been used to measure the positive growth of a nation such as Bhutan. It can also be used to measure the increase in Prosperity of an Organization.
It is interesting to note about Prosperity that it’s definition evolves across time and during the evolution of an individual. Therefore, a part of mystery remains as to what prosperity really can look like. A helpful question you can ask internally to find out is the following:
“How does business/life get any better than this?”
Then, wait and see…
The benefits of Prosperity
As we have seen, Prosperity includes economic gains and profits but is not limited to it. Lasting prosperity takes into account and leads to the health of employees, a lower staff turnover, as well as physical and mental well-being of employees and clients (the People), in addition to positive externalities for the environment (the Planet).
Prosperity leads to increasing profits in the long term, whereas increasing profits doesn’t always lead to Prosperity – for instance when it puts too much pressure on the employees, or depletes the natural resources.
In an article called “The limits of the pursuit of profit”, The Financial Times explained how Emmanuel Faber, the former CEO of Danone, turned things around by radically asking his US-based senior executives to shift half Danone’s products ($ 1bn of yoghurt sales) to non-GMO ingredients arguing that it “was an important change that would improve soil health and biodiversity.” What was initially received as something “Impossible” by senior management was finally accomplished in two years, and the company increased its market share from 30 to 40 percent, despite the price increase and resistance from US farm and dairy groups.
As we see from this example, the commitment to the broader concept of Prosperity also uplifts all other dimensions of a Conscious Business. This virtuous process leads to creating value for the People, healthier Psyches, a more vibrant and cleaner Planet, and a deeper sense of Purpose. As we can see, the six Ps of Conscious Business (Purpose, People, Psyche, Planet, Prosperity, Processes) are inter-dependent. Indeed, an increase in one of them can lead to an increase in the other dimensions, provided we keep them in our awareness when making business decisions. Forgetting about one dimension leads to long-term blindness of the true aim of a Conscious Business.
- Read the two previous articles in the series on Conscious Business: Conscious Business, the Planet and Change; Conscious Business: The need for well-being and possibility of thriving.
- Link up with Jean-Sébastien Simon on LinkedIn
- Discover ESSEC Business School France-Singapore-Morocco.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
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- LinkedIn: the-council-on-business-&-society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
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