Happiness or Value?

21st century capitalism is shifting focus from making money to making meaning (ends vs. means, trailing indicators v leading indicators). This is good and necessary.  However, ‘happiness' is starting to dominate discussions about 21st C capitalism, even in governments' measures of economic growth.  While it is important to find happiness in life, make no mistake, even in the 21st C, business is all about value, not emotion.  To keep creating jobs, paying taxes for schools, donating to the arts, growing communities, etc., business must first and foremost create and deliver real value to customers (and then to other stakeholders, like shareholders).  Happiness  Value!

This is not to say that happiness isn't important.  It is.  It makes total business sense to try to create an environment in which employees can be happy.  The way Tony Hsieh has run Zappos is a great example of a ‘happy' culture...which delivers significant value.  But a company, a person, an experience is not responsible for another's happiness.

Happiness is taking on a tone of a right, of entitlement.  We must not go from "it's all about mywealth/stuff" to "it's all about my happiness" with "MY" remaining front and center.  Usually, happiness focuses on ‘me' - extrinsic, external things making me happy - my friends, my family, my job, my stuff, my stature, etc.  If happiness is the goal, it's a fool's errand - the desire/need to constantly feed it is insatiable.  The incredibly prescient Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." As Saul Kaplan, a sage and friend, asked, what if the Founding Fathers had replaced ‘happiness' with ‘goodness'?

John Stuart Mill, a stalwart believer in free-markets and liberty, said, "Those only are happy who have their mind fixed on some object other than their own happiness...not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else they find happiness by the way."

What if that meant creating something truly good, truly valuable, consistently, for someone else?  Isn't that what companies should be doing? If they don't, we won't need to worry about happy employees and customers. So, in this 21st century, let's focus our energies, time, and resources on providing real and significant value.