Aug 26

by Miriam Garvi

I’ve never been one to care much about costs as long as I think they are called for, but tonight’s attempt at clothes shopping made me think about the value of things, what I am prepared to pay and to whom. It made me realize that many times when I look at something I’m telling myself: “This might be acceptable”. As in: the fabric is not paper thin, it is one of the few items in the store that is not synthetic, the design is more than two square pieces of cloth sown together and the seams have been finished off. Acceptable quality at a decent price - though a closer look indicates it was assembled hastily and without much care.

I had almost made up my mind to purchase one such very cheap item at Zara, when the label “made in Bangladesh” jumped at me. Bangladesh, the apparel industry, and factory tragedies… And then of course value and cost take on a whole different meaning. How would I value the work of the pairs of hands that made this shirt? If I knew something about who had made my clothes for me, how much would they then be worth? And what kind of quality would I expect in return? Indeed, if setting the price were entirely up to me, what would I be willing to pay for good fabric, for nice design and for good handiwork? And if I could find exactly what I wanted, what kind of clothes - whose clothes - would I really want to wear?

I ended up buying a whole different shirt, in a whole different store, at a whole different price, simply because it looked better. But I wish I could know something about the human effort that went into making me that new shirt, and how many pieces of clothing the person behind the sowing machine would need to work on every day in order to achieve the same standard of living as myself. I feel it would help me put things into perspective. And perhaps next time when I open my closet I would feel somewhat differently about the contents, because they would not just be clothes, but something someone helped make for my benefit. And that would imbue something as mundane as clothes shopping with a little bit of deeper meaning…

Nov 6

by Staffan Göranson

Under the war cry «Greed is Good», Ayn Rand argued that egoism is a blessing for humankind, and that laissez-faire capitalism is the highest form of morality. Many have adhered to this tantalizing ideology, not only influential economists like Alan Greenspan, but also a large number of ordinary people. Seduced by the vision of more of everything for themselves, many have been closely tracking their pension funds, overborrowing their securities, speculating on financial markets hoping it will make their fortune.

In one of Sweden’s most well-known companies, which I happen to know quite well - a corporation well reputed for its long traditions, reliability, serious products and long-term goals - a new CEO was hired not very long ago. This CEO kept repeating that the three most important objectives for the company were: 1) short-term profits, 2) short-term profits, and 3) short-term profits. Before long, this mantra was eating into all of those core values which had gained this corporation its excellent reputation in the first place.

My father recently passed away at the age of 89. His own father had died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1920, while my father was still in his mother’s womb. As a young widow with two boys to take care of, my grand-mother struggled to provide for her sons. My father left school at the age of 13 to take on a job in a factory. His first weekly pay was $1.50. He kept 10 cents for himself and offered his mother the rest. The strong sense of satisfaction that he felt as he gave the pay to his mother stayed in his memory throughout his life. Later, once he had established a factory of his own, he found the same kind of inner satisfaction when he saw how products he had designed and developed fulfilled the need of a client.

Throughout my business career, I have come to know many businessmen who have succeeded in building their fortunes. Despite the momentary kicks of excitement of seeing one’s bank account grow, they remain restless souls, unable to find contentment. Greed is greed, even when it is dressed up in philosophical and moral clothing. Its selfishness blinds us to the meaningful, yet simple dimension that is to be found when we contribute to fulfilling the true needs of ourselves and others. Even though little was left in the end of what my father had built during his long entrepreneurial career, the contentment of fulfilling others’ needs remained intact. He left me a rich legacy, not in money but in wisdom.

Jun 8

by Miriam Garvi

Ten years ago, as I was busy interailing across Europe, interviewing Scandinavians abroad for my master’s thesis, I was fascinated by how the Internet was providing new opportunities for people to settle down and work from a location of their own choosing. In my business studies, I had seen little or no room for the individual, and I embraced the idea of «quality of life» as something that would acknowledge the diversity of people’s driving forces.

One common notion these days is that quality in life equals work-life balance, translating into expectations of success on all arenas including the professional, private/family, private/social and private/hobby spheres. And there are many consultants and life coaches out there offering their recipes for successful self-realization.

Juggling career and family, life for most really seems to be about give and take rather than balance. About choosing between the quality moment with the kids or the important meeting at work. About taking time for oneself, or investing in one’s closest relationships. Amidst all these internal and external expectations, we prioritize and we compromise.

Success has a funny way sometimes of leaving an unsettling aftertaste.

The driveway

There is little life quality in conforming to the funky mold of successful being, when its achievement comes at the price of what may actually matter most. Finding a purpose that makes it all worthwhile will reveal a pathway that, though much less traveled-by, brings a meaningful dimension to life as we know it.

May 12

by Miriam Garvi

The past century has seen the rise of large organizational structures. For years now we have let ourselves be impressed by the resources and market dominance of mammoth organizations, be they Monsanto, the UN, or even the Red Cross.

Multinationals, global corporations and various institutions are swallowing huge amounts of resources, but what are they giving in return? Many of us invest most of our working lives in anonymous structures which have become powerful instruments in building a great distance between the real centers of decision-making and the realities of those who are living their consequences - including clients, employees and society.

People suffocating in this alienating process are unable to see the meaning of what they are doing, and are left at the mercy of the re-organizing whims of those in power looking to earn the approval of financial markets.

This greatest inefficiency of our time is slowly but surely snuffing out the joy of working and every little flame of creative potential within us.

Making structures even more rigid with the help of supra-national regulation is not the answer for our times. Nor does size give the strength that enables the astonishing. Creative and purposeful contribution can only be stimulated when people are free to see the meaning of it all.

Time has come for a new era:
Smallness in size, greatness in meaning.

Apr 9

by Miriam Garvi

I am one of those who have been following Barack Obama’s rise to power with interest. Especially, I am intrigued by how a simple electoral message consisting of one single word seems to be touching the right cord with so many people out there:

CHANGE

Thanks to the political and rhetorical strategy that has brought Obama to power, change is becoming synonymous with progress, i.e. with the belief that things will inevitably be better if only they are different.

But where is this change taking us?

It is quite evident that changes are occurring both on national and global levels. Climate change, terrorism, a financial system in collapse, massive unemployment on the way are all reports of threats to our existence. And amidst such perceived anxiety, a desperate call for strong leadership emerges.

This year’s G20 summit has been quick to respond, displaying an unprecedented spirit of global cooperation, coordination and collaboration, as the U.S. joins ranks with the EU, and even Russia calls for strong leadership on the global level. As emphasized by Obama at the press conference following the summit, “We all have responsibilities to work together.” And these days such responsibilities are summarized in a global deal to boost world growth, a tantalizing vision that should take us away from the insecurities of a «boom and bust economy» towards globally sustainable economic growth.

There is nothing new about the human mechanism that turns towards strong leadership in order to dampen anxiety. Our responsibilities, to paraphrase Obama, are not to abdicate our own freedom of action, placing our salvation in the hands of those people behind the scenes pulling the strings of influence on the global arena. Our responsibilities are not to buy into an enticing vision of a New World Order, putting all our trust in the panaceas offered by our world leaders without considering what costs will have to be paid in the process. This has been done before, and the result was oppression, genocide, and world war.

What good is change, if it comes at the cost of freedom? We cannot sell out our freedom to a change agency as it promises to take us out of the crisis, only to realize the price of it once there is no turning back.

As change agents, the opportunity is ours to bring about the kind of change that leads to meaningful prosperity. It is time to recognize that greed as a motor for prosperity has faltered. No longer can prosperity be narrowly defined as economic wealth. I have seen leprous people in Africa much happier than people in the West. Meaning, not dollars and cents, is the currency that motivates people to change the world for the better.

Mar 27

by Miriam Garvi

Today’s recession is bringing back the rhetoric of greed to the forefront, both among politicians and journalists, as a way of condemning practices now deemed excessive by the electorate, whilst keeping such practices at a comfortable distance from those who have long been in the position to influence the way we view the world and our own role within it.

It has long been held that greed, or self-interest as philosophers and economists endorsing this position would prefer to call it, is the supreme driving force behind enterprising, growth and development, and as such, the very motor of society.

But for those less fortunate who are now paying the price for enacted self-interest, as they find themselves laid off from businesses where top executives are cashing in additional bonuses, or left with mortgage loans that they have no means to service, this economic as well as moral rationale of a self-focused society is a far cry from the reality they are living.

Yet in the spirit of Ayn Rand, defenders of this rationale would argue that we owe nothing to the weak, who have only to opt to overcome their weakness by way of reason.

It is interesting how quickly societal thinking turns elitist when we who are doing the thinking are part of the fortunate few. The idea of «natural selection» and of the survival of the fittest is flattering indeed as long as we are the ones surviving. And if the purpose of it all is to be the last man standing, having beaten all contestants in the short-term, profit-making chicken race, then success is becoming rather void of meaning.

It is high time we wake up and see things as they really are, not as the dominant rhetoric, or the dominant logic, would want us to believe things to be. Let us be greedy, greedy for meaning! Let us engage in that which can bear fruit to the benefit of ourselves and others. Let us make a profit, but not a fortune. And let us reinvest for the benefit of mankind.

Jun 26

by Miriam Garvi

I am often fascinated by the artwork that comes alive on the celestial canvas where thunderstorms come and go, displaying their strength and power.

Thunderstorm

Large organizations and institutions pride themselves on size or resource abundance. But there is a strength that goes beyond numbers. When people and vision are interwoven into one organism with different members, an entity - as small and insignificant as it may seem - will come alive with the pulse and the heartbeat that provide a continuous source of strength as the world changes.

The ensuing satisfaction is a priceless sense of meaning.

May 28

by Miriam Garvi

Last night I was listening to a seminar on modern leadership and the importance of setting magnetic goals.

Mountain peak

Nowadays we look to the world of elite sports for leadership guidance and inspiration, a world where years of hard work and training are directed towards that single moment where everything must come together in an outstanding performance. So much of leadership practice seems to be bent on «pumping up our emotions», trying to create a positive emotional balance so as to motivate people to achieve pre-set targets.

When business is defined as climbing new peaks, then what we need from leadership really is quite simple: making people believe in the attainability of the seemingly unattainable and motivating people to stretch themselves so as to reach that target. With the help of visualization techniques and positive thinking, it becomes a matter of pumping up emotions as we push for new records.

But where is the guidance in the emotional magnetism of «feel good» targets? Such coaching cannot help us find the right direction, but it can boost our performance once we know where we want to go.

As I wrote in my previous post Sheltered moments, true progress can never be achieved unless we know the whys of where we are heading. And it requires the kind of dedication to a vision that transcends the volatility of our emotions, where people are committed to making a difference even in the face of adversity because they value the sense of meaning that is generated in the engagement.

Apr 9

by Miriam Garvi

I recently came across this article in the Boston Globe (November 2007) entitled:

“Pursuit of meaningful work blurs the business, nonprofit culture gap”

And so I thought today that I would post this simple question:

Do you know what makes your work meaningful and fulfilling?

Mar 25

by Miriam Garvi

The other day I was walking around among the glass skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

hong-kong.jpg

In business ideals of competition and growth have been put on a pedestal. Markets are redefined so we can claim to be the best or the biggest at something - but what that something is is of little importance as long as we can claim the position. We take great pains to belong to the beautiful people, that exclusive crowd of world citizens who can walk through life in luxurious air-conditioned gallerias with marble flooring where the daily pains of the unfortunate are far from sight. Great image, but what’s our contribution to the world?

Some fifty years ago, venture capital pioneer Georges F. Doriot raised a challenge as he was teaching future business leaders at the Harvard Business School: “Do we want to build or merely enjoy what others ahead of us have made possible? Really, how can one enjoy anything if one is not building for the future of others? Remember that our happiness is in direct proportion to the contributions we make.”

In the era of image, we seem to have forgotten all about legacy - forgotten about the strong imprint that is made when somebody is dedicated to making a difference even when there is no instant pay-off in sight. Such pioneering initiatives inspire us to find our own way of making a meaningful contribution.

Image is exclusive and lies in the eyes of the beholder. Legacy is a challenge for each and every one of us and it is there for the taking.