Trend-Watcher Sees Moral Transformation of Capitalism

Article excerpt

It's a turbulent time in the business world. Prestigious firms are under scrutiny for their practices, and corporate high-fliers are going to court and sometimes to jail. Yet it's also a time when people are seeking new ways to incorporate spiritual practices and moral values into their workaday lives.

The focus on spirituality has become so pervasive, says Patricia Aburdene, one of the foremost trend trackers in the United States, that it stands as "today's greatest megatrend." Its impact on personal lives is spreading into institutions. And spirituality in business, she contends, is converging with other socioeconomic trends to foster a moral transformation in capitalism.

More businesses, for instance, are taking seriously their responsibility to communities as well as to shareholders. Some 70 million Americans are making choices in the marketplace as "values- driven consumers." Many CEOs are repudiating the corporate myth of "lean and mean" and the "profits at all costs" path to prosperity.

In a poll of 25,000 people in 23 countries by the Conference Board, a marketplace research group, two-thirds said they want business to "expand beyond the traditional emphasis on profits and contribute to broader social objectives."

Ms. Aburdene has a track record in deciphering the signs of significant long-term change. In the first "Megatrends" book more than 20 years ago, she and John Naisbitt described the birth of the "Information Economy," an idea scoffed at by many. In another bestseller a decade later, they predicted a networked, technology- driven era in business.

Now in her new book, "Megatrends 2010," Aburdene shares stories of business in transition and marshals facts and figures to show how transcendent values are beginning to reshape capitalism.

In a recent interview, she discussed the prospects for a sea change in corporate life. Here are some excerpts:

You speak of social, economic, and spiritual trends converging to foster a moral transformation of capitalism. Given the scandals of recent years, why is such a rosy outlook justified?

Social transformation happens only when there is a combination of economic necessity and new values. We are exactly at that point now in society. The accounting scandals, the tech bubble, the market crash are compelling capitalism to take a look at itself. But there must also be a positive sense of new options, and those exist in the form of rising interest in spirituality in business, the dynamic growth of socially responsible investing, shareholder activism, and the power of values-driven consumers in the marketplace.

Many people say they've felt a clash between their personal values and those of the corporate world. How is that changing?

There are two manifestations. People no longer want that spiritual part of themselves to be abandoned when they work and are searching for meaning and morals in the workplace. And corporate leaders now recognize that we live in a technologically based society where, in order to be consistently innovative, a corporation has to draw on the creativity of its employees.

Even the old-fashioned business types have to grudgingly agree that we find creativity, inspiration, and innovation within, from that deep spiritual part of ourselves.

What's the most significant evidence that spirituality is a force in business today?

First, the trend is developing in businesses all across the country, not just in certain geographic areas. Second, many employees have long been interested in the moral aspects of business, but when you see large numbers of CEOs getting interested in spirituality, you can be sure its influence is accelerating. And you have a diversity [in approach] - one CEO may start conference calls with prayer, for instance, while another may engage in meditation programs.

What do you say to those who question the practicality of spirituality in the business world? …