From Business to Betterness

Just finished reading Umair Haque’s new ebook, Betterness and I’m thoroughly inspired.  Anyone working in business whether it be small, independent shop or massive multi-national corporation, could benefit from hearing about the shift in thinking that Haque advocates.

The economist turned humanist argues that our current capitalist system is in need of a substantial overhaul, a paradigm shift as he puts it.  He argues that our economy is at a point of diminishing returns, specifically in regards to the value, jobs, income, net worth and overall fulfillment it returns to the people and communities that fuel it.

Instead, Haque believes that businesses have a greater potential to live up to, namely, one built on maximizing human potential through the generation of real Wealth.  Haque calls this evolution “Betterness.”

Where Business says, “I’ll offer you a product or service in exchange for your currency.”  Betterness says, “Through the act of exchange, I’ll ignite your human potential.  You will become better – fitter, smarter, closer, wiser, tougher, humbler, truer, wealthier in terms that add up to a life meaningfully well lived.”

Sound like bullshit?  It’s not, because today’s customer isn’t interested or susceptible to advertising and cheap gimmicks.  Instead, they want to know, as Haque puts it, what brands can do in addition to business that enables them to get more out of themselves.  Bruce Nussbaum is calling it “indie capitalism” when it occurs on smaller, localized scales, but this movement isn’t limited to small production.

The hardest pill to swallow though is that profit is an industrial era conception of performance.  It’s the measuring stick for business, not betterness.  Today’s business is it’s own greatest threat.  The ones that will be the most successful won’t be thinking about developing a competitive advantage through short-term strategies.  Instead, they’re inventing new categories, evolving supply chains, building unwavering philosophies about their purpose in the marketplace and engaging in substantive dialogues with consumers as a means of informing a living, breathing, business plan.

There are plenty of obvious examples – Apple, Google, Nike, Whole Foods, each excelling in certain areas of betterness, while struggling to develop an understanding of others.  So, how is this notion of betterness built from the ground level?  Haque begins to outline the shift from strategies to philosophical thinking that needs to take place.

Visions to Ambitions: the tired vision statements of old are being replaced by ambitions, that answer “why does our organization exist?”  They transcend the interests of shareholders, moving into a larger “purpose space.”  They’re meaningful to people outside of the business and would endure even after the business’ demise.  lululemon is a great example: “lululemon athletica creates components for people to live longer, healthier, more fun lives.”

Mission to Intention: the shift from mission statements to intentions help guide businesses in becoming more than just sellers, through them, they become coaches, mentors, guides and collaborators.  Mission statements focus only on what the business will do well.  Intentions describe what the business will help its customers do well.  At it’s core, it’s a set of daily to do’s that are never compromised, and support the self determination of the individual.

Strategy to Constraints: the shift from short-term strategies to constraints, helps businesses create limitations on their own behavior.  It creates a list of things that they’ll never do as a means of fulfilling the above intentions.  Whole Foods is a great example: “We feature foods that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats.”

Objectives to Imperatives: imperatives are universal, unconditional obligations that must be obeyed without fail.  No one is better at this than Apple and we could all create the list for them, we understand it so well.  Make products that are insanely easy to use.  Build devices that empower people to create in ways they never thoughts possible. Etc.

This transition from business to betterness, in it’s current state, is rough.  It’s vague and hard to imagine because it calls for such a radical shift in how we perceive the role and potential of the businesses that support our existence.  Leaders need to be looking at the bigger picture and asking themselves the essential underlying questions that key in on their reason for being and how it benefits both humanity as a whole as well as the individual.  Anything less, simply will not do.



  1. Christian Gani says:

    I like your careful wording as it relates to Apple and betterness. They’ve certainly been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons of late but seem to have an impenetrable wall around the towers of Cupertino. Nice write up, I’ll dive into the book soon.


  1. […] if not, downright irrelevant measurement of our prosperity.   I’ve talked about this in several posts, but I think Haque’s recent ebook, Betterness, sums up the dilemma we are facing as a […]

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