I read an article about 30 years ago about the debate in academia in the 1920s between those who believed that people were influenced by their environment and those who believed that they were influenced by their inner nature. This was at a time when there was a considerable push back from the biblical Christian assumptions which had dominated the few centuries up to the beginning of the First World War.
The loss of cultural confidence following the human cost of the First World War together with the changes in the intellectual environment arising from working through the assumptions of the 18th century “Enlightenment” and the development of “Modernism” in the latter half of the 19th century created the background for this debate. The debate was won by those who believed that people were influenced by their environment. There was a sense that a human being was largely a blank page on which anything could be written.
The “Enlightenment” assumed that human beings were basically good and that they could be improved through education. These two principles underpinned much of the political innovations of the 20th century notably the development of government policies aimed at changing the physical, social and environmental world in order to change personal behaviour for the better. We see this in the inter war years in the political philosophies of communism in Soviet Russia and fascism in Germany and Italy. In the post war years this philosophy supported the development of the Keynesian economic policy together with social democracy in its broad form following the inhumanity of fascism and communism.
How do these developments apply to the world of business?
Many of the early assumptions about business were developed in the period 1600 to 1900 which preceded the philosophical discussions which led to the development of the “Enlightenment” and “Modernism” which I described above. In England many of the early industrialists were French Huguenots who brought their skills over from France after Louis XIV suppressed Protestantism in France in the 1680’s. These early industrialists were strongly influenced by their Reformation Biblical Christian Worldview and therefore much of early business behaviour was conditioned by this outlook. This outlook was obviously different from “Modernism” which was influenced by “The Enlightenment”. The experience of 19th century industrialization contributed to a reassessment which was influenced by 19th Century business behaviour. The increase in the size of businesses after the First World War provided a challenge to the previous methods of organisation and business philosophy.
The availability of IBM tabulation machines in the 1930s provided opportunities to control larger and more complex businesses which have dominated the economies of Western Europe, USA and Japan after WW1. The computer revolution both in its mainframe phase and the PC phase, in the aftermath of WW2, enabled even larger businesses to develop which straddle international borders and yet are controlled by a small group of senior management teams in the US, EU,UK, China, India or Japan. The previous beliefs were dominated by a strong sense of personal responsibility, personal morality, and national culture. Whereas this new mindset has changed with the development of increasingly large transnational companies. These are new organisations are theoretically answerable to shareholders in the host countries or increasingly in the US through their stock market but in practice are often answerable to themselves and their peer group of likeminded corporate leaders.
The recent development of activist shareholders particularly in the US has put a new pressure on management teams and boards to adopt particular strategies which may not be approved of by the management teams themselves or their staff and customers. This is a new experience for a number of the corporate elites. However, they are adopting these new attitudes due to the pressure both through votes in general meetings, law suits and PR battles. So and the wider influences on companies are impacting companies to a much greater extent today than in the past. It remains to be seen if this conversion is genuine or only in order to defend their influence, status and financial rewards. We can see this in operation through the influence of the woke brigade, their demands that not only companies but society as a whole should bow before their agenda regardless of whether their agenda has merit or if in fact it could be positively damaging not only to the company but to society as a whole.
In my opinion, the woke brigade are largely influenced through the new ideology of “Cultural Marxism” which has its origins in the “Frankfurt School” in Germany in the mid-1920s and its subsequent transition through various US universities from the mid-1930s onwards.
There is a saying that “bad company ruins good morals”, and this is supported by substantial anecdotal and academic evidence. If the woke fraternity are promoting business behaviours which are disruptive to the underlying profit motive, which is the fundamental underpinning of all businesses success. Then, we should expect that any business that follows woke ideas could be seriously undermining it’s very foundations.
Today we are assailed by the those who are putting increasing pressure on us to conform to a particular set of ideological assumptions and woe be tide to anyone who does not go along with this new orthodoxy. We have seen this in June 2021 with GB News’ advertising customers being encouraged to boycott the TV station because an almost unknown pressure group who did not like its centre right political views.
It is important that we don’t lose sight of the profit motive for it is this that supports the investment industry which provides the capital for businesses to expand, to grow, to develop new products, to enter new markets and to improve the livelihoods of many millions of individuals in the world. If the profit motive is undermined by the woke fraternity and companies continue to make decisions that are based less on their ability to make profits and more on taking the knee to the latest woke fad then the consequences of a fall in employment incomes, pensions and dividends will be profound and will adversely affect the livelihoods of many millions of people around the world.
In my opinion those in the media both commercial and state controlled don’t seem to understand that they are undermining not only the economic prosperity of other people but of themselves, their friends and colleagues as well. Perhaps as we see more discussion on this matter there may be a more balanced approach. However, it will probably need the economic situation to take a turn for the worse with a concomitant impact on the comfort levels of the middle class commentariat before the necessary reassessment takes place.
In the previous generations the emphasis on personal integrity and its consequent impact on the personal behaviour of those who were running the early industrial businesses, contributed to the wider social changes in England in the 18th and 19th Century. These economic changes played a part in the beneficial changes in social attitudes in the period up to WW1 including the development of democracy in Western Europe and the US. The current generation of business leaders especially those who dance to the woke tune are influenced by a different set of personal and business assumption. It remains to be seen if these changes will be as damaging to our culture and way of life as I think they will do so.
The question must be asked, are all these new assumptions fit for purpose in the 21st century, if in practise they undermine the very foundations not only of the corporate world but society in general. Perhaps we have been so used to an increasing level of comfort and security for so long not that we are unaware of the damage that we are doing to the foundations of our businesses and our society.
So, if we are surrounded by people who are so wholly influenced by the woke agenda that they are disconnected with truth both absolute TRUTH or at least truth independent from their opinion or their approved narrative. Then, the advent of “MY TRUTH” may mean that it easier to lie about colleagues, competitors, cheat customers, climb the corporate ladder by treading on everyone around them. If this mindset is prevalent in your business will it not affect attitudes amongst your colleagues? I think that it will. Would these attitudes be good for the business? I think not.
What are your assumptions for your business, and have you been, or could you be adversely affected by the development of the woke agenda in the future?
If you believe that a rotten apple ultimately infects the whole barrel, then perhaps it is important to review the foundations of your business to make sure that they are sound and that your business is secure. If you want to run a successful business, then you need to surround yourself with the right people. So, do you recruit and surround yourself with the right people whose values support the values of yourself and your business?
A rotten apple ultimately infects the whole barrel.
Surely you don’t want this to happen in your business.
If you think that your business needs a review of its foundations, then please get in touch through email or booking an appointment directly.