Relationship-Centered Business: A New Paradigm. ~ Iektje Stephens

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The relationship-centered paradigm is really returning to the original intent of business.

“It does not matter what it is you think you are selling—whether it’s a car, whether it is software, whether it is rock ‘n roll music—what you are selling is a feeling. You are selling a relationship.” ~ Bruce Dickinson

I’ve written about the possibility that business is the key to creating a better world and an enlightened society. In this article I would like to describe what a more enlightened business paradigm might look like.

The business paradigm most of us currently operate within is centered around maximizing profit—but more about that in related article. The new business paradigm—which is already beginning to emerge—is a relationship-centered paradigm. Actually, it’s not really a new business paradigm at all… I mean, why do people engage in business in the first place? To take care of each other—to provide each other with food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, care, transportation and a means of communication.

In other words: to meet the needs of other people.

Profit is important because it allows a business to be self-sustaining and to continue meeting the needs of others. Thus, profit is an essential condition for business, but it should not be an end in and of itself. When profit becomes the sole purpose of business (which is the case with most businesses today), the essence of what business is about becomes perverted. Therefore, the relationship-centered paradigm is really returning to the original intent of business.

Bruce Dickinson, the CEO and founder of Cardiff Aviation, who is best known as the lead singer of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, explains eloquently and clearly why business is all about relationships. (I have put the videos of the full speech at the bottom of this post; it is well worth your time to watch them!)

“We are here to have relationships with each other. That’s why we’re here. We are not here for very long. … Eventually we will grow old and die. … The thing about us as human beings is that we are not very good at a lot of things. … What we are designed to do is to be social creatures. We love to be with people. … That is what our lives are all about. And when you market something to somebody, that’s what you are selling. … You are selling a feeling; you are selling an emotion. … If the world is bombarded with things and services, all of them lose their value. …The value is not in the image; it’s in the experience. … Never lose sight of the fundamentals. It’s about detail; it is about respect for your customer—for the individual customer—not just for millions of faceless people. If you do that, then you can build something which will have loyalty and which will have lasting value, because we are all about emotion, we are all about feelings.”  ~ Bruce Dickinson

What would a relationship-centered business paradigm look like?

When the human relationship is the central organizing principle of business, it changes the way business is conducted in a fundamental way—it alters a constant reference point. If you change the central organizing principle from profit to relationships, your definition of success changes. It changes from how much profit your company makes each quarter to how much your customers love you, how happy the people who work for you are, how well you are serving your community and how environmentally sustainable your business is.

If everybody involved can make a living in the process, then you have a successful business. Thus, the goal of business becomes maximizing benefit instead of maximizing profit.

When the definition of success changes, the tools that measure success will likely change as well. (Maybe a “benefit index” would be created for that purpose.)

For example, a Fortune-500 company that would be considered successful in the profit-centered paradigm might no longer be considered successful in the relationship-centered paradigm. People would deem the company a failure if it paid its executives exorbitant salaries and bonuses while paying workers the minimum wage; if it sold a low quality product that was hazardous to its customers’ health; damaged the environment or required animal abuse in the course of production.

“Today’s economic system rewards selfishness and greed. What would an economic system look like that, like some ancient cultures, rewarded generosity instead?” ~ Charles Eisenstein.

This might seem like a totally unrealistic notion and something that “will never work in the real world.” It is, in fact, already happening! What’s more, businesses that operate from a relationship-centered model are more successful than businesses that operate from a traditional profit-centered model.

Take, for example, the “B-Corporation,” which stands for “Benefit Corporation.” Companies can become B-Corp certified by going through an elaborate assessment of the company’s impact on the environment, the community, and the people who work for them.

When given a choice, most people would rather not do business with companies that inflict harm in order to maximize their profits.

This is evident by the growing popularity of organic produce, farmer’s markets and fair trade products. It is also evident in the growing worldwide anger and resentment towards “evil corporations” and “greedy banks.”

Apparently, B-Corporations are a more successful business model than traditional for-profit corporations, and have a better chance of surviving an economic crisis. Thus, by turning the main focus of the business away from profit, ironically businesses end up making more profit!

Check out the B-Corporation site so you can see which businesses are operating under this model.

In related articles on elephant journal, I provide more examples of successful businesses that are already manifesting the relationship-centered paradigm, and are maximizing benefit in their relationships with their customers, employees, community and the environment.

Part 1: Bruce Dickinson – Speech @ Forum IAB, Warsaw – 23rd May 2012

Part 2: Bruce Dickinson – Speech @ Forum IAB, Warsaw – 23rd May 2012

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Photo: Photo: adels/flickr

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Iektje Stephens

Iektje Stephens is a psychologist in private practice. She lives with her husband and daughter in Austin, TX. Some words to describe her are Shambhalian, animal lover, Iron Maiden fan, LGBT ally and tree hugger. Above all she is passionate about all things having to do with creating enlightened society. Check out her website and Facebook page.

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anonymous Aug 26, 2014 12:53pm

I like how this is developing. It's presented in a sensible, appealing way and the illustration is great.