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Joan Fontrodona Felip, , Professor at IESE University of Navarra

A change of mentality

Sat, 07 Dec 2013 11:14:00 +0000 Published in La Vanguardia

We were so much in need of good news that, as soon as the first signs of economic recovery appeared, headlines that had not been seen since the glorious years of the economic boom were unleashed. No one remembers the mea culpa that some people used to sing with (false?) compunction, or those who predicted the demise of the economic system as we knew it with the cry "nothing will ever be the same again". I fear that everything will be the same again, if not worse.

What have we learned from the crisis? It would be very sad if the only thing we learned was that economic and financial techniques must be perfected, as if everything were a matter of improving our "limited rationality"; or, worse still, that we learned that everything is a matter of increasing regulation, as if everything could be solved with more control, forgetting that human beings are cunning enough to bypass any control system imposed on us. We should have learned the need for a change of mentality in how we understand companies and the economic and financial system. It is not so much a question of changing the capitalist system (or perhaps it is) because the elements are there and the variables are what they are; but it is a question of adding a little moral imagination that will lead us to order and relate these variables in a different way.

The focus of entrepreneurial activity should not be on capital, but rather on the work
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The commonly accepted model , which understands that the business is there to make money and maximize shareholder value, is the one that has led us to the current status . It is not enough to perfect it or set limits to it: it must be redesigned. There have been proposals along these lines. Some, such as the concept of "shared value" coined by Michael Porter, are very continuist. Others, such as the idea of "socialbusiness " by Mohamed Yunus - for whom the investor has no other right than to recover the money he has lent - are clearly groundbreaking. Proposals such as benefit corporations, hybrid companies or social entrepreneurship - or cooperatives, which are very typical of our country - are in line with this paradigm shift.

What is my proposal? It should not be capital that is at the center of business activity, but rather work. The aim of business should not be the growth of capital but the development of people. Talking about these issues with a management team of a large business , the president asked me in amazement: "So, if a business is not there to make money, what is it there for? "What is it for," I replied, "To make you and your people happier. Do we dare to measure the success of a business not by the profits it generates, and not by the Degree of happiness it promotes?