An Open Door for Capitalism’s Higher Angels

Why Burma Matters to Obama, Stiglitz, Ruggie and Me


Switch on that light, already!

If ever there was an inflection point for a step-change in the right direction for our species, it’s here now. All that’s needed is the leadership to shine a light on that new direction and make it accessible with some specific, viable options.

An immediate opportunity to do so presents itself in the emerging economic identity of Myanmar, the reborn Burma, which at this very moment is deciding its investment policies, its judicial tenets, its self-identity. But Myanmar won’t wait much longer for the beacon that trancends siloed interests to reveal a ‘better way for all stakeholders.’ After all, the status quo of global finance and commerce already take up a lot of room in that petri dish fraught with the genetic material of Burma’s corrupt past.

Recently, I witnessed some of the best minds in the field of macro economics, finance, human rights and foreign investment weigh in on this opportunity to elevate the practice of democratic capitalism. It’s published in my guest blog on CSRWire.

There’s a high-profile application waiting for that catalyst right now, but the competing factions in Myanmar won’t wait much longer for the beacon that trancends siloed interests to reveal a ‘better way for all stakeholders.’ After all, the status quo of global finance and commerce already take up a lot of room in that petri dish fraught with the genetic material of Burma’s corrupt past.

Sick With Longing

Certainly, the Western zeitgeist is sick to death with what’s not working and, some would say, is teetering on the brink of despair. At the very least, there’s consensus that institutions at the core of our collective identity are rotten. In sports to organized religion, revered childhood icons have been shattered — from Joe Paterno to the parish priest. Core institutions like banking and investments to whom they have entrusted their welfare and hard-earned futures, found to deceive them with legal Ponzi schemes that disposess them of their homes.

On the larger field of international commerce, they learn daily in the media — formal and social media — that the financial systems are manipulated by transnational machinery programmed to squeeze financial profits with total indifference at every opportunity, and that the checks and balances of human interest are frayed to the point of cracking apart. Entire nations in Europe flirt with bankruptcy and their citizens roil in the ensuing constraint on their welfare, not less their future.

Plethora of (Hidden) Antidotes

A dreary context to be sure. But wait, wait — don’t despair. Because at the same time, a plethora of solution directions are waiting in the wings, thriving in small pockets of skunkworks and regional laboratories around the world. Many of them even courageously assert what I posit is the only appropriate goal for out times: to shift from ‘wealth for the few’ to ‘well being for all life on Earth’.

Moreover, the fact that they even exist under the ponderous weight of the current system, shows the indomitable spirit of humanity. And remind us that our collective works miracles.

The immediate challenge is that these bright lights are hidden in discrete pockets. Their collective wattage has not yet been strung together in the mindspace of society.These apparent incidents just need to be conceived as the critical mass that it is. (Now that would be a worthy application of marketing communications, in my view.)

One way to get a bird’s eye view of this cauldron of commonweal creativity is to check out social media platforms — whose broad lens reveals hundreds of “groups” gathering around the options for evolved financial practices and systems, economic systems, even how to measure them — e.g. not in products manufactured but in measures of social and environmental well-being. Here’s a sample. (It reads like an updated, animated version of Paul Hawken’s book that catalogued the state of alternative development in 2007, Blessed Unrest

For example, today on LinkedIN: There are groups commenting on how design thinking can take on a conundrum and birth an elegant out of the box solution that includes well-being for all stakeholders, for example. There are groups who remind us that the private financial institutions are not the only vehicle for economic exchange — ‘Hey,’ they ask, ‘what about cooperatives? What about time exchanges?’ etc. There are groups building the capacity of management skills to include nurturing collaborative solutions, whether by encouraging values-led decsion making, or “feminine” leadership models. There are groups talking about the success models of ‘social entrepreneurship’ which puts the competitive, innovative impulses of our species to work for social good.

There are groups talking about ‘sustainable’ business management — (Tread carefully in this popular Big Tent. Its ambiguity has always been a dangerous problem from my point of view First, to ‘sustain’ the status quo is to keep business focused on the goal of “wealth creation” instead of “well-being creation”. Second, because the term is perverted to mean “sustainability” of the company that’s talking about it. Third, the ‘sustainabilty movement, like the ‘green movement’ has been co-opted by the Marketing Machine into a misleading meme that distracts and mollifies buyers from the fact that they are supporting the status quo or a superficially modified version of it.)

There are groups talking about the spiritual imperative of economic well-being. There are groups talking about the role of individuals in investing their retirement funds in socially responsible equities (SRI), or in Triple Bottom Line companies. There are groups giving awards for marketing practices that talk about ‘green’ behaviors. There are groups that talk about environmental imperatives.

Call for Cohering Vision and the Leadership to Shine a Light on It

In short, there is a cacophony of opinion and proven outcomes that challenge the status quo and go beyond that to propose specific solution directions for pieces of it. Where is the cohesive beacon that illuminates the meaningful, scalable initiatives? that magnetizes their shared vision toward a shared goal of tangible impact? Where is the leadership that identifies the irresistable will to make things better and magnetizes it into a cohesive critical mass that makes real change happen?

What do you think?



Poker has had a resurgence since its heyday, and it shows up in popular media.  Sophisticated and cool on the big screen and even popular on TV, with cameras fixed on baize tables and the sedentary bodies perched at their edge. Some would find it a tedious spectator sport of course. But part of the reason this s/low action TV drama compels millions of fans has got to be the intense action behind the action. Figuring out who’s bluffing, who’s got the goods, and how will they sweat out this game of “I dare you” until the pot is big enough to snare. Now, that’s pretty juicy drama, on a big screen in your living room.

‘Did that sunglassed stoneface at 12 o’clock twitch an eyebrow twice in a row?’ or, ‘What’s behind that blustery persona at the far end of the table? Didn’t she blurt something out like that the last time he had a full house?’ That drama teaches the spectator, who sees everyone’s hand on the screen, how to read “the tell,” the involuntary physical behavior that belies the truth about the competitor’s actual strength. Let’s not waste the opportunity to transfer that skill to the rest of the room.

In the casino that is capitalism today, “tells” can be useful tools, too. After all, the stakes are high — think global financial meltdown, public companies failing overnight — and the players are rewarded for hiding their apparent vulnerability. Even from themselves. So how would an investor, or an employee, or a buyer of their products and services actually know the truth of a company’s position on an issue, or ability to ensure the safety of its operations to the well being of all they touch? Look for the tells.

For example, Hendrick Hertzberg found a ex post facto Tell in 2008, which hinted at the dark, hidden chasm between insiders and marketers:

“A.I.G.? OMG!  September 21, 2008

Sorting through my junk mail yesterday, I came upon a silvery envelope marked CONFIDENTIAL. Then I noticed the return address: A.I.G.

Not just A.I.G., either, but something really special: “A.I.G. Private Client Group.”

The envelope contained a tasteful card, sort of like a Christmas card, with a lovely picture of a huge, Hamptons-y mansion shot at purple dusk, with warm lights winking reassuringly from within. Captioning the picture, in white letters against a black background, were these words:

Some Insurance Companies Respond to the
Financial Consequences of a Disaster.
We Help You Avoid Disaster Altogether.

Inside the card, under the flap, was an important personal message. But I have to admit I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.”

Read more

Here is Tell training 101. A repository for signals either of deeper systemic problems that we realize in hindsight we should have listened to, or of signals that may well portend a crack in a foundation wall.

At first, we won’t discriminate much, but just use this space to warm up our Tell antennae. All of us. So it’s more like Tell brainstorm. Let no potential Tell go unturned.

I think with some practice, our community will get bored with the Monday puzzle and
jump right into Wednesday or even Friday, to use a skill-building-by-habit metaphor of crossword puzzling. And I’m guessing that the fastest route there will be how quickly we turn to our internal antennae, our gut, as the truth barometer. Maybe. We’ll see. I don’t want to discourage your own process.

But there are two parts to Tell expertise: first is what we just said. Smelling out the incongruity. The second is when it becomes more than puzzle-solving: when we use that awareness of incongruity between what an organization presents and what it does to pinpoint what that gap might mean to us as its stakeholders.

Don’t worry if part two doesn’t interest you yet. That’s for later, after you’re hooked on finding the daily Tell in our business backyard.