You might think that Sir Richard Branson, the multi-billionaire founder of the Virgin empire of companies, would be a staunch defender of the system of capitalism that has been so kind to him.
But he isn’t. He says, without qualification, that we need to reinvent capitalism, and as such he’s on the side of a growing group of forward-thinkers who believe, especially after the 2008 financial crash, that we don’t reinvent capitalism fast, it may be too late.
“Sadly,” he said in 2011, “big business has lost its way … [it’s become] driven by a short-term focus on profits [and] taking care of the planet and its people often falls to the bottom of the list of priorities … we are on a rapid path to destroy the very natural resources that keep us alive.” He said the one option still open to us is to “reinvent capitalism to truly be a force for good in the world.” 1
On the side of winner-take-all hardball capitalism, an HBR article from 2004 captured the philosophy well. The article, “Hardball: Five Killer Strategies for Trouncing the Competition,” outlined and touted the so-called strategies of the winning companies. The article asserted that winners in business play rough and don’t apologize for it” and “sometimes you must hurt your rivals.” The authors said that in the dog-eat-dog world the real winners disdain the “squishy issues” such as “leadership, corporate culture, customer care … and the like.” (It would be interesting to explore if the authors have revised their views following the 2008 crisis.)
Fortunately, in last few years, there is a growing chorus of calls to rethink and transform capitalism. Gary Hamel, a leading business thinker who focuses on innovation in management, said in 2012 that if you “crack open the head of an average manager … you’ll find a way of thinking that puts the institution in front of, or on top of, the individual … most large enterprises reside on the “institution first, employee second” side of the spectrum. … we need to flip this …”.
By definition, if capitalism is to be reinvented, what is required is a massive rethinking of capitalism itself. Capitalism itself needs to be innovated.
If the new brand of capitalism is to succeed in putting people first, design thinking is already making a profound contribution. This is because the methodology created in design thinking starts with – and stays focused on – real human needs.
The thorough, 200-page “Human-Centered Design Toolkit,” designed initially for projects in the developing world, has been used by organizations such as Acumen Fund, AyurVAID, Heifer International, ICRW, IDE, Micro Drip, and VisionSpring. The methodology, if followed more widely, would singlehandedly bring about a new kind of capitalism.
The guide sets out the design-thinking process under the three stages of “Hear,” “Create” and “Deliver” (which also, coincidentally, creates the acronym HCD). “The reason this process is called ‘human-centered’,” the Toolkit says, “is because it starts with the people we are designing for. The HCD process begins by examining the needs, dreams, and behaviors of the people we want to affect with our solutions. We seek to listen to and understand what they want.”
That’s clearly a far cry from a philosophy that sees capitalism as just a matter of making money and trouncing the competition.
Which philosophy do you stand for?
You can download the Toolkit for free by going to www.hcdconnect.org and following the directions for the download. Even better, you can join the org and connect with others who are all on the side of the forward thinkers, aiming to reinvent capitalism.
- Richard Branson, “Why We Must Reinvent Capitalism,” Time Magazine (December 8, 2011). ↩