Enlightened Entrepreneurship – Part 2

Enlightened Entrepreneurship – Part 2

I have recommended the concept of enlightened entrepreneurship.  Others are also using the term, but we do not have a common understanding of “enlightened entrepreneurship.”Some people apply it to define a very spiritual or humanistic approach to business and others confuse it with social entrepreneurship, where the purpose of the business is to meet the needs of society more explicitly than the needs of the market.

My concept of Enlightened Entrepreneurship:

Business leadership that recognizes that doing better for the business also means doing better for employees and their families, for customers and suppliers, for communities and the planet. Enlightened entrepreneurs manage their business to achieve its economic objectives while also recognizing and meeting its social responsibilities. Not because it is good marketing or just to feel good, but because it is the best way to build a sustainable business.


Consider the meaning of “enlightened” from the historical context of the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason, which dominated philosophical ideas in Europe from early in the 17th Century.  The principal goals of Enlightenment thinkers were liberty, progress, reason, tolerance, fraternity, and ending the abuses of the church and state. The ideas of the Enlightenment played a major role in inspiring both the American and the French Revolutions. (Ref.: Wikipedia)

Over the last two centuries, Western societies have experienced increasing individual freedom, less dependence on central authorities and the rise of capitalism and free enterprise.  Early in this period (1776), Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations” and first described the principle of the invisible hand guiding entrepreneurs to unintentionally contribute to the greater good of society.

Quote: He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By …  directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. … By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." (Book 4, Chapter 2)

But the excesses of the industrial revolution, exploiting workers and concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few, caused reactions in worker revolts, the rise of trade unions and the ideas of Socialism.

In the 21st Century, we still observe capitalist excesses driven by greed and ego that exploit workers, concentrate wealth and neglect the needs of society. The opposing forces are still battling: some defending capitalism and free markets as delivering prosperity and others blaming corporate CEO’s, entrepreneurs and their political supporters for all the ills of the modern world.  We cannot keep our heads down and ignore these issues while “taking care of business.”

Enlightened entrepreneurs know that they can no longer rely on the invisible hand to help them protect the public interest and meet their social obligations and responsibilities. The modern world is more complicated and modern society is more demanding. The entrepreneur needs to be more aware and more explicit in responding to the demands of the world around him beyond meeting his business objectives.

The next step for Enlightened Entrepreneurship is for us to practice it, promote it and defend it.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

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