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“Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness,” Jack Dorsey tweeted in the aftermath of Musk’s takeover of Twitter. While it can sound like a lot of existential mumbo jumbo, misplaced in the corridors of power, it’s a vital sign of a shift in the way the digital economy is going to work. Laissez faire will no longer do as economic policy, either in big government, big corporation, or small entrepreneurship.
Until now it has been widely accepted that all profit machinery will involve some amount of collateral damage. So while 10-minute delivery services may seem stressful to riders, it is a move that maximises returns. While we periodically protest against mining, we also accept, or are forced to, that ‘progress’ means a couple of thousand acres of forest, ecologically vital grasslands and coastal zones will be sacrificed for the greater good, electricity and connectivity for all. And so far ‘the greater good’ has been determined by profit, industrial and corporate growth. No more.
The call today is to establish growth based on ‘consciousness’. Is it possible to be both philosopher and corporate czar? Is it possible to both create wealth and consider the needs of humanity? What is fair? What is equitable? And what, really, is profit? In a previous iteration of this column ‘The Aligned Mind’, we spoke with key Indian business leaders, Harsh Mariwala, Ajay Piramal, Anu Aga, Bibek Debroy who consciously consider wealth, its equitable creation and distribution as a function of the creator economy. The Dasra Philanthropy report of 2021 showed Indian philanthropy growing, the biggest source being HNI families. This comes from an inherent culture of seeing artha, wealth, profit as not mere luxury, but duty, and necessary to alleviate the sufferings of humanity. Conscious creation is intrinsic to Indian entrepreneurship.
However, it’s a route we have forgotten in the frenzy to take the economy forward, partly because ‘conscious’ creation has always been equated with ‘slow’ or ‘not wanting profit badly enough’. But when the richest men in the world, and in India, from Azim Premji to Musk and Dorsey, now hold their wealth accountable to its contribution to awareness, it changes how economies must function and see themselves.
Profitability must in the end raise consciousness for as many people as possible. This was, sadly, also the founding principle of the now ill-fated WeWork, a brilliant opportunity that was lost due to a lack of clarity between what constitutes success and what constitutes self-aggrandisement. Its key backer Masayoshi Son, a man with a penchant for the eccentric but pushy on profits, expansive in his thinking, in terms of both profit and value, has just handed the reigns of Softbank to Junichi Miyakawa, a man who almost became a Zen monk. It stands as a lesson in the need for a philosophical basis to idealistic enterprise. The highest risks must now be taken with the greatest grounding.
What the world’s biggest wealth creators are signalling is that the creator economy can no longer be material alone. Start-ups and corporations now have to go past looking at bland mission statements and token ‘healthy’ work cultures to find meaning and purpose, maximise profit for as many people as possible. This is after all, what Dhirubhai Ambani did for the average shareholder way before ESOPs made it fashionable. Companies, employers, and employees that fail to see themselves as shaping the way the economy thinks and feels, the sentient economy, not just a functional one, will quickly fall out of sync. Because when share value falls, when management changes hands, when a product or service must revamp itself, the holding power will come from the common perceived sentience of the company: its consciousness.
Companies that have to outlast the turbulence of the world must have a living, thriving consciousness that is tuned in, and responsive, much like Twitter, to the conversations of the hive mind. Individuals and companies that tune into their consciousness are the ones that will become bigger than their limited selves.
How to recognise and participate in the sentient economy
1. Look to purpose. Beyond profit, tokenism, consumerism, what is the core value that holds? If the company/entity doesn’t have one, it won’t hold.
2. Invest in companies that demonstrate an insight into humanity’s evolving needs.
3. Sentience is necessarily adaptive. “Old” values are no virtue. Are they dynamic?
4. Externalisation of profit. What does this profit feed into that nurtures the planet, people, humanity?5. Expansiveness over narrowness demonstrates an understanding of interconnection and interdependence. One-mindedness is a short road.