Passion, Idealism and Gross Domestic Happiness in 2009

December 31st, 2008

There is a sweet spot for companies (and individuals) between the profit motive and the idea of making the world a better place.  Milton Friedman notwithstanding, most corporate managers hope to do more than line shareholders’ pockets.

Glenn Kelman, CEO of online real estate company Redfin, has a post about the “mercenaries” vs. the “idealists” in business.  He makes two insightful, tightly intertwined points:

1)  Many top-performing companies get that way- in part- by pursuing an idealistic goal.  His best example was of Alcoa chasing a specific, hard-nosed figure.  It wasn’t cash-related, though.  It was reducing the number of employee work-related injuries, which improved morale and reduced labor costs, one of Alcoa’s biggest expenses.

2)  We frequently work the other way too- caring deeply about something and then figuring out how to make money from it.

Glenn’s point is that the green-eyeshade types will miss the boat by focusing only on the numbers.  It takes ideals- focused ideals- to build a really successful business.

Jumping threads only slightly, one of my goals for 2009 is to focus on my family’s equivalent of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index:

GNH, like the Genuine Progress Indicator, refers to the concept of a quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness. The two measures are both motivated by the notion that subjective measures like well-being are more relevant and important than more objective measures like consumption.

Here’s to a year of economic and personal well-being in 2009.

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