Switching filters to build societies around well-being and for the common good

Everyday, we are faced with waves of bad news that can make us want to stay in bed: the climate crisis, wars, economic inequalities, political populism, and so on. A doomsday atmosphere that seems almost logical, or at least unstoppable, as it echoes a general belief: human beings are primarily motivated by greed, hence our societies are organized to maximize financial profits. 

But, what if we switched filters, left that assumption on the side, and took on a more optimistic approach instead? If we assumed humankind was kind, how would it impact the news?

To answer these questions, we’ll start by defining what is humanistic management, then illustrate its theory with empirical evidence that suggests a new way of understanding humanity, to touch upon ideas on how to teach humans to live in a world where they can actually thrive.

🧐 What’s humanistic management?

Humanistic Management refers to a concept that encompasses practices aimed at preserving human dignity, fostering well-being, and promoting human flourishing while respecting the limits of our planet. These three values — dignity, well-being, and flourishing — can be seen as an alternative to the approach of assigning monetary values to everything, which forms the basis of economistic management.

What does it mean?

It mainly means two things:

  • We don’t need to put a price on everything, principally on human beings as they are intrinsically valuable thanks to their dignity.
  • It’s best to think of our organizations in the long-term by aiming for sustainable flourishing, rather than in the short-term by aiming for instant wealth.

How do we get there?

As Albert Einstein said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Getting there would require us to reassess our perspectives and adopt new filters through which we view and address societal issues. To switch narratives, we should consider the way we are as people, the way we organize individually, in groups, in organizations, and in society.

It means moving away from the economistic paradigm where humans are perceived as Homo Economicus (defined as uncaring and self-interested, driven by profit maximization) and our organizations best serve 1% of the population, to move towards a humanistic paradigm where we perceive ourselves as we actually are: Homo Sapiens that evolved according to what best served the common good. The outcome: organizing according to 99% of the population’s nature and needs.

What does it look like?

The most famous organization that applies humanistic management principles is Patagonia, the clothing company known for its socially responsible business practices that prioritizes sustainability, fair trade, and transparency in their operations. 

Among many other policies, it typically encourages its customers to stay healthy by going outdoors, closes its stores between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to let its teams rest during the holidays, and funds environmental initiatives.

Moreover, its former CEO and founder Yvon Chouinard transferred ownership of the company to a non-profit organization and a trust designed to preserve the company’s independence and ensure all its profits go to fighting against climate change and protecting lands from industrial exploitation

And it’s successful.

Very much, yes. Yvon Chouinard transferred the company while it was estimated to be worth $3 billion and made about $100 million profits per year. Interestingly, one of its most successful campaigns, launched in 2012, displayed a jacket while telling people “Do not buy this jacket”, and its profits jumped. 

💞 How does it work at the individual level?

Again, there are infinite ways to apply humanistic principles. A good first step, we thought, is to get to know of the Dutch journalist and historian Rutger Bregman’s 10 principles. They are quoted from his book, Humankind, A Hopeful History Of Humanity, which questions the assumption that humans are greedy, selfish individuals, by debunking or simply questioning socio-anthropological theories.

Can you tell me more about his debunking process?

Rutger Bregman considers our current era within the history of humanity. Verdict: we have never been as numerous, healthy, and wealthy. He attributes these achievements to our instinct for cooperation and our social abilities. According to him, trusting one another is the only path to continue progressing and the best way to empower ourselves to advocate for the common good.

What if he’s wrong?

Rutger acknowledges that his analysis could be flawed, but he doesn’t care, what matters is if people buy into it, it can only lead to good things. Especially through the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy, the driving force behind any utopia. In short, he also believes that we need a change of narratives to create a humanistic paradigm.

What are his 10 principles?

  • “Whenever in doubt, assume that the person in front of you has good intentions toward you.” The idea here is that more things will turn out well for you if you choose to trust everyone rather than no one, by overcoming your negative biases.
  • “Think in terms of win-win scenarios.” In short: if doing good benefits you – think Patagonia – why refrain from it?
  • “Change the world: ask a question.” The principle here is to be curious about others in order to understand them better and enhance your empathy. 
  • “Temper your empathy; cultivate compassion instead.” Rather than feeling what others feel, you can feel for them: compassion distances you from others’ feelings, enabling you to take action to comfort them while preserving your energy. 
  • “Strive to understand others, even when you don’t fully get them.” Putting your goodwill forward is often both a rational and emotional act. Because it makes you, and others, feel good, the humanistic approach often is the smartest choice you can make.
  • “Love your loved ones as others love their loved ones too.” It’s normal to be more emotionally affected by the fate of our loved ones and those close to us than by that of distant individuals. Meaning, there’s no shame in not feeling as affected by catastrophes occurring in faraway places than by ones affecting people that are similar, or close, to you.
  • “Avoid excessive consumption of news and spending too much time on social media.” These factors create a distance between humans that prevents love and encourages hate. (We wrote an article on the detrimental effects of social media on mental health.)
  • “Extend a helping hand to your worst enemy.”
  • “Come out of the closet, don’t be ashamed to do good.” Kindness is contagious, usually we are moved when we see other people giving out acts of kindness and that’s called the “feeling of elevation.”
  • “Be realistic.” Rutger Bregman underlines that realism and cynicism shouldn’t be synonyms anymore, as humanity is fundamentally good.

📚 What does it mean for higher education?

Scholars have suggested schools transform the curricula in depth instead of adding humanistic modules to it. Meaning no more courses dedicated to sustainable development in parallel to other ones. Instead, they believe sustainable development should be an integral part of every course.

What would it look like?

3 teaching modules: 1° Knowing oneself and others; 2° Understanding the world; 3° Transforming the world. A framework that is “not discipline-specific and is intended to support students, faculty, programme managers, higher education institution governors and policy-makers in their efforts to transform the curriculum.” Rather, this framework encourages a shift in paradigm.

Diagram stemming from the work of Yoann Guntzburger, Professor of Management at SKEMA Business School, and Marine Hadengue, Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at SKEMA Business School, for the redesign of management programs.

The new paradigm wouldn’t be solely based on acquiring skills, but on changing “narratives, values, metaphors and symbols that explicitly or implicitly structure the current models” to move forward a paradigm where education gives priority to human dignity and collective well-being, rather than wealth, power or status.

Photo credit : Photo de Helena Lopes sur Unsplash