The world is changing rapidly and fundamentally. Among other things, this means that business as usual is no longer an option. Far-sighted leaders know this, and are already adopting new purposes for their organisations that reflect the need to be kinder to society and the planet. Although this shift builds on concepts such as the triple bottom line, it goes far beyond this: first, it is about transformation, i.e. deep systemic change, rather than reformation, trying to make current outdated systems work better; and second, it will involve significant changes in our own personal beliefs, mindsets and behaviours.

What is changing?

People all over the world are much more aware of what´s happening in business and government, and they are demanding much higher standards of behaviour. This clamour for change is coming from many quarters, such as the Occupy Movement, shareholder meetings like Barclays and voters in France, Greece, and even Germany.

Some corporate leaders understand why there is a worldwide clamour for change, and they are responding intelligently, by putting into practice new ways of doing business and government e.g. Virgin, Unilever, Wal-Mart. They realise that the current ways of doing business and government simply are not working, and that tinkering with the system will probably just make things worse. Current objectives – such as maximising shareholder value or promoting perpetual economic growth – are putting unsustainable pressures on people and planet. These leading edge companies are shifting towards new purposes that are kinder to people and the planet.

In the case of business, the new ways can be summarised in three short phrases: healthy profits – profits that are generated in healthy ways and that have positive consequences for people and the planet); shared value – where value goes not only to shareholders, but to everyone involved in the enterprise, including workers and consumers; and conscious capitalism – in essence, running businesses and governments as if people and the planet really do matter.

Interestingly, the phrases that summarise the new purposes of government are strikingly similar: healthy policies (policies that not only produce healthy results for society and the planet, but are also healthy in execution – for example, participatory and cost-saving); shared values (the best governments consistently reflect the diverse opinions of their population, and not just the views of the minority that may have elected them); conscious democracy (in essence, focusing on the highest common factors in society, rather than, as so often happens today, on the lowest common denominators). Bhutan, Switzerland and the Nordic countries stand out as exemplars here.

Why is this important?

Although this trend is not yet widespread or well known, it is likely to be of the utmost importance, because it signals a radical change of direction in the world. It strongly implies a shift away from gross overconsumption towards something that is healthier for people and the planet. The shift towards new purposes is significant because the objective of any system (such as a company or a government) determines everything about it. When you change the central purpose, everything else must change too, to be able to serve the new purpose. So, when we see an organisation or society changing its central purpose, we can be fairly sure that radical change will follow, because this is one of the most effective ways to promote fundamental change.

 By Chris Thomson

About the author

Chris Thomson has worked as an economist, lawyer, psychotherapist, think-tank director, national advocate, futurist, researcher, coach and trainer. He is an international speaker, and has published many articles. Today Chris focuses on helping people and organisations understand and address the deeper root causes of their problems, with a view to building a world that reflects our potential to be, one day, the most intelligent species on this small planet. He lives in Catalunya, and spends as much time as possible in the mountains.