This article is shared by B Lab Hong Kong & Macau and currently available in English only.
More and more people nowadays talk about business as a force for good. Indeed, the awareness is growing and the trend is increasingly evident.
One indication is the presence of Certified B Corps, which now stand over 3,300 across the globe. But what is 3,300 among millions of enterprises worldwide?
No, it is not a big figure. But the significance is not in the absolute number but the underlying trend that it represents.
The following observations on Adam Smith’s insight into the new economy are instructive.
From the Preface to The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building an Disruptively Better Business by Umair Haque (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011)
In 1776, one man found himself at the centre of a maelstrom. Hurricanes of change lashed the globe: growing markets, expanding international trade, a rising middle class, disruptive technologies, novel commercial entities. Yet, where his contemporaries saw chaos, Adam Smith saw hitherto unimagined possibilities.
In The Wealth of Nations, Smith envisioned with startling prescience a very different prosperity: one in which capitalists, not the mercantilists, aristocrats, and agrarians who had preceded them, held sway.
Stop for a moment to consider the keenness of that insight.
In 1776, horses provided power for carts and carriages. Steam-powered locomotives would not arrive until the next century. The economy’s central axis was households, not even medium-sized corporations. Ownership of land, mills, tools, and rights was sharply concentrated in the hands of the nobility, and passed down through patrician generations. ‘Joint-stock companies’, still new forms, required government charter or royal decree for incorporation and, until around 1850, had liability unlimited enough to land an unfortunate shareholder in debtors’ prisons…
It was, in short, not a world in which the capitalist enterprise as we know it today might have been foreseen to flourish. Yet, by seeing through the maelstrom, Smith synthesized, in detail and with ruthless logic, his new vision of prosperity.
I’d like to pose a question: what if the future of capitalism will be as different from its present as Adam Smith’s vision was from its present? What if twenty-first century prosperity differs from industrial era prosperity as radically as it did from its now seemingly prehistoric predecessor?
Consider, for a moment, the striking parallels between Smith’s maelstrom and ours.
I’m no Adam Smith, but I’d to invite you to take a voyage with me. It‘s a journey of imagination, where we’ll envisage production, consumption, and exchange through new eyes.
It’s an expedition on which we’ll explore the zephyers and siroccos that are shaping profitability, performance, and advantage.
And it’s a quest for insight into how commerce, finance, and trade might – just might – be transformed, and more, vitally, become transformative…