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Are Humans Too Bad To Be Good?

Talk of the Purpose Economy is all the rage, however we need to ask:

  • Is purpose really a motivator?
  • How do we classify what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
  • Are we, as humans, fundamentally too bad to do good?
  • How could or should we respond?
  • What does this mean for purpose in business?

In Hugh Mackay’s book, The Art of Belonging, he notes the tension between the individual and the community. On one hand, we need a healthy and vibrant community to improve our own odds of survival and prosperity; whilst on the other, we try to maximise our own standing within the community, prioritising our goals versus others’.

This tension plays out in business as well. Companies will only thrive if the surrounding socio-economic conditions are strong but, at the same time, they try to maximise financial returns for a select group of shareholders.

As we’ve seen over and over in recent history, companies are lured into rewarding shareholders at the expense of society. In many cases they are actually undermining their longer term profitability, they just lack the wherewithal to see it at the time.

The question about good versus bad – which is a metaphor for the tension between individual and collective goals – will be debated at our upcoming (and hopefully) feisty TooHot2Handle event.

To whet your appetite, I’m going to make some loud and proud claims here:

  1. Good and bad are subjective and depend on your perspective
  2. Self interest rules for individuals and companies – don’t fight it, embrace it!
  3. The challenge is to find where your self-interest intersects with the greater good
  4. Success depends on aligning THREE key ingredients
  5. You’ll have to get along to our event to find out what they are!!!


This might resonate with you or it may raise your hackles – whatever the case, I invite you to add your own opinion by replying to this thread or coming along and joining the debate!


Phil Preston helps leaders and organisations navigate the Convergence Economy, where profit with purpose and creating shared value is the new currency for business. He can be reached via

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