The Dynamics of Prosperity: A Framework
Which do you think is the better attitude towards prosperity of the business or organisation for which you work:
- "I should try to create high quality products for those who need them."
- "I try to take advantage of my customers without them knowing it, so that our profits go up."
- (Maybe something else? What?)
We don't usually admit to thinking in the second way, but does it surreptitiously influence what we do on a day to day basis? Suppose I am an employee of a business. I am faced with day-to-day decisions:
- To what should I direct my effort and time to make the business prosper - today, the next month, the next year?
- What can I do to make my business prosper?
The answer to questions like this indicates what framework of reward or recompense is in place in the culture and context in which we operate. The underlying framework that I tacitly hold about from what deliberate actions prosperity tends to come.
The framework determines what we believe will lead to prosperity and what will not. Whatever framework is in place at any time, in any context, will have a large influence on what individuals will do in order to prosper. It is the framework of the dynamics of prosperity.
Good frameworks reward human functioning that is of high quality in a variety of ways and of genuine benefit, and discourage poor or harmful functioning. Bad frameworks do the opposite. The first framework above ("I should try to create high quality products for those who need them.") encourages high quality workmanship, good identification of needs and good product design, and also, indirectly, such things as trust, dignity and generosity, while the other encourages cheating, law-breaking and mistrust. Most of our frameworks are in between.
Not only must we have good frameworks, but it is important that we understand the frameworks in which we operate and clearly identify them because:
The questions we started with can help us identify and understand our frameworks: "To what do business people devote their time, effort and thinking, to enhance the prosperity of their companies?"
Here are some suggestions for what might indicate a good framework, a list of answers that might be given when operating under a good framework:
- they indicate the health and sustainability of the economy and society we live in, especially the longer term health and sustainability,
- it is the responsibility of Government to create and manage and uphold good frameworks.
- Trying to identify what real and important problems there are and how my firm could help to solve them.
- Designing a good product or service that will effectively, and with minimum negative side-effects, solve a particular problem.
- Informing those who would benefit from it that our product is available. Making it attractive to them.
- Monitoring the entry into the market of the product, to ensure that it does solve the problems and does not have negative side-effects, including in the longer term and in other parts of the world.
Those are the kind of thing we might find in textbooks on management, though using slightly more ethicalised language than the books would.
But the actual practice, on the ground, is different. Here is a list of what we actually find ourselves spending our time and effort (the best portions of our lives) on. These are the kinds of things that my line manager will tell me to do, or his senior manager will tell him to ensure.
These answers indicate a framework that is not quite as bad as the one that promotes evil and chaos, but is one in which many essentially unnecessary activities are rewarded, and many essentially good activities are not rewarded. It is, to say the least, an unhealthy framework.
- Market creation. Persuading the public that they need something that they did not realise till my firm could supply it that they need it.
- Thinking up new novelties to attract the attention of the buying public.
- Packaging things to attract sales.
- Selling. Spending effort going round people (or cold-calling them, or sending out directed mailshots, etc.) trying to persuade them to buy my product or service. Converting wants into needs.
- Market research. Trying to identify new niches in the market.
- Streamlining our sales efforts and supply chains.
- BPR: Business Process Reorganization. "Shifting the furniture on the Titanic?"
- Trying to make my production processes more efficient than the next person.
- Finding ways to 'lock in' customers and suppliers. (That is, finding additional ways other than merely providing them with such good products and service that they will always return.) e.g. EFT.
- Finding loopholes in the law that I can take advantage of.
- Finding loopholes in contracts I make with my customers and suppliers and others, so that I can use them to my advantage.
- Trying to damage competitors.
- Making contacts. So that powerful and influential people will award contracts to us rather than to our competitors. Or so that they will support us in other ways.
- Media manipulation, to ensure that only positive things are said about us and no negative things.
A large proportion of the human resource of this country is being expended on such activities by those who have the prosperity of their companies at heart, because they are the ones that are deemed to bring reward and prosperity. Not in producing actual benefit.
We call upon the Government to wake up, and establish a more healthy framework. This will, of course, take time. The ship of state cannot be turned round on a sixpence. But the process of healing should be started now. We call upon Government to:
- understand the actual framework of the dynamics of prosperity that is actually operating,
- understand the one that should operate, and the important differences between them,
- research and understand what hinders the good framework from operating,
- draw up plans and strategy to move from one to the other,
- remove things that hinder the operating of the good framework,
- commit resources to build up and maintain the good framework.
We call upon business people to wake up, and come together to foster good parts of the framework as far as possible. Of course, it is difficult to go totally against the frameworks that are in place. But no framework is totally rigid, and there is always some element of rewarding good functioning that is possible. And, in at least some ways, business sectors and professions themselves can forge their own partial frameworks. We call upon business and the professions to:
- understand what frameworks they operate in at present,
- understand what frameworks they should operate in,
- identify areas of flexibility that will enable them to move from the first to the second,
- identify constraints which cannot be overcome in such moves,
- draw up plans and strategy to work together to make such moves as are possible and most likely to be effective,
- remove things in their operations that hinder such moves,
- boldly commit resources to such moves,
- agree not to take advantage of those who try to make such moves,
- work with Government to build the complete new framework.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. Comments, queries welcome.
First written: 24 August 1999. Last updated: 7 February 2001 email. 22 May 2005 new intro. 19 November 2006 unet. 21 April 2014 rid ../.