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Beyond Selfishness

In an article written well before Enron became a euphemism for corporate irresponsibility, the authors make the case that such misdeeds, so prevalent in recent months, are symptoms of a syndrome of selfishness that has taken hold of our business institutions, our societies and our minds. Drawing on history, literature, philosophy and management thinking, they argue that the syndrome is built on a series of half-truths — or fabrications — each of which has driven a debilitating wedge into society.

Our narrow view of ourselves as “economic man” has driven a wedge of distrust between our individual wants and our social needs. A distorted view of shareholder value has driven a wedge of disengagement between those who create economic performance and those who harvest it. Our obsession with heroic leadership has created a wedge of disconnection between leaders and everyone else. The glorification of the “lean and mean” organization has driven a wedge of discontinuity between short-term and long-term goals. And the convenient, widely held notion that “a rising tide lifts all boats” has ratified a wedge of disparity between the prime beneficiaries of stock-price increases and the large numbers of people disadvantaged by the corresponding actions.

The authors challenge and deconstruct each of these flawed premises and offer an alternative. Real prosperity, they say, combines economic development with social generosity — and that requires a new philosophy of social and managerial engagement.

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