The Common Good

Why How We Do Anything Means Everything

1118106377When New York business leaders such as LRN company CEO Dov Seidman begin to lend their voices to the crescendo of "values talk" beyond their offices of corporate social responsibility, I begin to see some hope.

It's time for people of faith, and those throughout the corporate world, who understand that morality is central to the bottom line to take note.

Seidman's recent Forbes.com post asking us to "Reconsider Occupy Wall Street" as a corollary to the Arab Spring is a natural outgrowth of his newly released book, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything and his company LRN, which helps businesses develop "ethical corporate cultures."

How is not a "how-to" book. Rather it's more of a "how we do things means everything" book. It could just as well be titled "All I ever learned to succeed in business I learned in Sunday School/Hebrew school."

Monitoring behavior is central to church and synagogue schools as I've known them, but the financial implications of bad behavior were under-appreciated until recent appalling ethical lapses from Wall Street to Main Street put them front and center in the popular consciousness.

Seidman's book is a good practical business companion to my book Rediscovering Values. Business culture must pay much closer attention to "how" they do what they do. They must stop asking "what can we do or get away with" and start asking "what should we do and how to do that."

What's new about this particular approach is Seidman's team at LRN has found ways to attach rigorous metrics analysis to business practices at a company that wants to monitor its behaviors.

As Seidman writes, "How you behave, how you consume, how you build trust in your relationships, and how you relate to others now matters more than ever and in ways it never has before."

This is profoundly true, because we are marvelously and dangerously interconnected in ways we barely understand. So how can we "outbehave" the competition, as Seidman aptly puts it, instead of merely outperforming (with bad behavior) as we ignore the under-acknowledged social contract that benefits us all?

How helps us understand that principled behavior isn't merely something a PR/Corporate Social Responsibility staff or attorneys tell us is important. Rather it is the surest path to success and relevance in business and in life.

Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who lost a substantial portion of his personal fortune in Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, helped launch the Seidman book's new edition, with its foreword by President Bill Clinton. Of the book, Wiesel said, "Dov Seidman's How is a brilliant social-ethical study. It simplifies for the reader the complexity of vital challenges facing humanity today. Students and teachers alike will profit from reading this book."

I'm pleased to quote Hebrew scripture in encouraging us all to put the book's ideas farther into practice.

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray."

We've seen a lot of childish behavior from corporate America in recent years, especially in the financial sector.

Such behavior must not only be confronted but transformed and Seidman's How is one way we can get started.

portrait-jim-wallis11Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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