We’re Becoming Individual Corporations

Late one night last week, I was browsing available movies on Netflix when I came across The Corporation, a film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan. The story begins with a retelling of how the corporation became a legal entity and eventually emerged as a legal “person”. Even at that point in time, the personality of the corporation was self-interest, more specifically wealth creation. A century transpires and here we are debating the same commentary. Incredible wealth has been created, but at significant cost to the triple bottom line. In the movie, Milton Friedman helped to define externalities as unintended consequences of a transaction between two parties on a third. Based on what you see in the news daily, there are plenty of cases of human illness, pollution, and exploitation, all externalities of business dealings. Don’t forget that the Supreme Court recently ruled that Super PACs are legal and corporations with huge reserves are allowed to lobby for and fund “corporate” elected officials.

So, how has the corporate mindset infiltrated the human mindset and made humans think like corporations? Here are a few examples.

Career Branding – large corporations no longer offer cradle to grave employment, so individuals have to develop unique brands for their transferrable skills. Multinational businesses have been created with the sole intent of helping a human choose a representative logo, colors to help represent his brand, websites to explain his value proposition, and even the development of personal mission and vision statements. For all intensive purposes, you are now the CEO of your career.

Emotional Emptiness – Not only are extractive corporations bankrupting us financially, but they’re bankrupting us emotionally. Those of you with corporate jobs are probably being asked to give 55-plus hours per week, but you are only getting paid for 40. The consequence? You give up significant meaningful time with your family or friends to complete a project or meet a deadline when you should be at your daughter’s band concert. Humans are beginning to commoditize human interaction in the exact moments the interaction is needed most.

Focus on Achievement – Businesses love to plan the work and work the plan. A systematic approach to goal achievement can be wildly successful when used appropriately. Because of the sincere focus on process, achievement and what is next, humans now feel this need to set and meet outrageous goals even if they have no desire to meet them. This places tremendous pressure on relationships and turns the focus away from getting to know someone on a deeper level to figuring out how the other person can help you achieve your targets. It is important to achieve goals, but it is more important to help others and create community.

Cost Containment – Corporations have done a wonderful job of wringing every penny out of their supply chains so that they can drive bottom line profit. Unfortunately, this seems to be happening in non-corporate transactions. An example. I sold a bed yesterday for $125. It was purchased for almost five times that, but the purchaser wouldn’t accept my already low asking price of $150. Because the woman was in need, I lamented and agreed to the offer. I even threw in a gently used Coach purse because I wanted her to have a great Mother’s Day. My point is that the bed is easily worth more than $200, but on incredibly basic transactions, humans feel the need to wring every penny out of the other party in the transaction. As a race, why do we not strive for win-win?

Litigation – In an effort to protect assets, intellectual property or perceptions of brand, corporations have relied on lawyers to do their dirty work in protecting profits. Humans have started to be so concerned about the cost of losing stature in society that they either don’t say what’s on their mind or they contract a lawyer in an attempt to save face. It is very troublesome that a third party intermediary is required to accomplish something that could be done if both parties were active listeners and were seeking win-win. Instead, we have individuals not sticking up for what is right and doing most everything possible to avoid trips to the courthouse.

I give those examples as a precursor for the following question.

What happened to the search for and value of human possibility, meaningful relationships, and eudemonia?

I would like to argue that we’re struggling to determine the point of spending precious time making incremental improvements to iStuff that provides us with no sense of attachment to our community.

“The problem with corporations is the profit motive, there is no such thing as ‘enough’.” – Michael Moore

Let us hope that members of the younger generations focus on the triple bottom line, because many corporations are solely focused on the bottom line.