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P H I L O S O P H Y F O R B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736
Issue number 81
3rd May 2017
Edited by Tom Veblen
I. 'The Evolving Commercial Society' by Jack Clumpkens
II. 'The New Shape of Work and Play' by Peter Miller
III. 'Translating Human Endeavor Into Human Well-Being' by Tom Veblen
Philosophizing on Business in Society
In May 1993 a dozen of us, experienced business persons all, sat down
to compare notes on the state of world and our place in it. It was
becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the changes in our
markets and industries and with the blizzard of government diktats
regulating the conduct of our business affairs.
We talked it through. Given the social, cultural, and economic forces
driving our industries and firms, it was apparent that the time had
come to think and act anew. And so we decided to do just that,
committing to deepen our understanding about the meaning of business
To give our inquiry traction we named it The Superior Business Firm
Roundtable, and adopted a maxim:
Where there is much desire to learn,
there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions;
for opinion among good men is but knowledge in the making.
Getting to the heart of the matter
What our extended dialectic reveals is a "way of business" that leads
to superiority (excellence). It begins with the practitioner. To
master the art of business the superior practitioner comprehends the
grand scheme of things, creates a superior business scheme, and
materializes a winning endeavor. Self-governing they learn by doing.
Honing their practice through the continual rediscovery and renewal
of purpose and principle, they press on through the vagaries of
fortune to capitalize on opportunity as it arises.
Mindful American business persons understand that their work does not
stop with simply creating and managing material wealth. Experiencing
business as a distinct kind of human endeavor, they understand that
its higher purpose is to advance human well-being through the
creation and management of material wealth. They recognize that the
contributions of business to the health and vigor of their society
has a direct bearing on their own survival and prosperity.
Business practitioners who succeed exhibit a proclivity for action
and achievement, possess a high tolerance for ambiguity and risk, and
show a sustained capacity for learning and personal growth which
leads, in the end, to wisdom.
It is no surprise, given the tenacity of those drawn to The Superior
Business Firm Roundtable's mission and methodology, that there
emerged naturally from its dialectic a philosophy of business. Its
* Being human, business is paradoxical, exhibiting all the good and
bad proclivities of human nature-greed and magnanimity, selfishness
and big-heartedness, fear and courage, right and wrong, and so forth.
In chorus it is a collaborative endeavor, an adversarial contest, and
a moral drama.
* As a social and cultural phenomenon, American business advances
national well-being by creating and astutely managing wealth. The
metaphysical component of this wealth -- the knowledge and wisdom
accumulated by practitioners -- is particularly valuable in advancing
the nation's modernization.
* Superior business practitioners pursue the art of business in a
principled manner, creating and managing wealth within the limits
imposed by their capabilities, community charter, and market
* There is a right Way of Business that leads to superior business
performance and accomplishment.
* The vagaries of fortune play a strong role in determining the
outcome for any business venture.
* Solving the practical problems of business day to day, and year to
year, superior business persons build up bodies of information and
judgement applicable to solving social problems at all levels of
* Modern business is self-governing. Socially symbiotic, it enables
the flourishing of commercial society.
* Commercial society holds promise for creating an enlightened world
Extending the inquiry
A fundamental challenge for business persons is, of course, how to
better their endeavor, individually and institutionally. To
comprehend this process in a world gone "digital and global," The
Superior Business Firm Roundtable focuses on the driving trends.
* In the realm of productivity, (the inner workings of business),
increasingly sophisticated technologies, shifting human values, and
more complex organizational forms;
* In the realm of competition, (the marketplace), globalization,
e-commerce, and social regulation; and,
* In the realm of community, (the whole of society), increasing
diversity, cultural tensions, and strained societal governance.
Essays by Roundtable members log our progress toward understanding
the implications for business of the changes occurring in commercial
society, work, and social governance. Here are three of them.
(c) Tom C. Veblen 2017
The Evolving Commercial Society by Jack Clumpkens
Jack Clumpkens emigrated from the Netherlands to the United
States in 1991. Educated at the University of Amsterdam, his
business career has been with Dutch Telecom, and now with
the American subsidiary of the Airbus Defense & Space, Inc.
Clumpkens resides in Arlington, Virginia.
Western Civilization's Enlightenment builds on the belief that human
betterment -- individually, institutionally, and communally -- is
possible. Adam Smith, one of the Enlightenment's most prescient
interpreters, tells us that "commercial society" is the preferred way
for a society to advance this notion of modernization. Commercial
society has proven to be a profoundly transforming concept. States
adopting the concept experience significant and sustainable advance
in their society's well-being.
Throughout the world there is emerging a growing cadre of business
practitioners and firms intent on creating and executing winning
business schemes. How enlightened they are, or will become, is the
critical issue, for it is the enlightened practitioner and firm that
shows the way to modernity by practicing their art, thus weaving
themselves into the very fabric of their culture and society.
Is the notion of business-centricity still the right one for our
society today? By whose measure? Can it elicit the innovation and
growth needed for our society to prosper in a globalizing world? The
full case for revitalizing our society as a collaborative or
commercial state awaits specification. And whose job is that?
The New Shape of Work and Play by Peter Miller
Peter Miller is an internationally recognized master of
photogravure etching. His business experience includes time
spent with SRI International and the founding of Access
Japan KK and the Kamakura Print Collection. Miller resides
in Kamakura, Japan.
Nations that started out as commercial societies, and those that have
reinvented themselves, like the United States, have experienced
remarkable gains in material prosperity. Societies wise enough to
share these gains widely have generally been content to entrust
business practitioners with the responsibility for creating,
prudently managing, and investing social capital.
Social capital becomes increasingly difficult to manage as material
prosperity grows. It is this paradox that Peter Miller addresses in
his essay The New Shape of Work and Play. Radically challenging the
notion of jobs as the all-consuming purpose of social policy,
Miller's essay suggests a balance of work and play are a more fitting
objective. Everyone knows their best ideas originate in freedom from
constraint. Why not, then, use the stunning advances in productivity
and automation wrought by industrial and cybernetic revolutions to
release everyone's creative energy, not merely that of a happy few?
Translating Human Endeavor into Human Well-Being by Tom Veblen
Tom Veblen is convener of the Superior Business Firm
Roundtable, and one of its founders. His business career
includes leadership positions with Cargill, Incorporated
and Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International). He
founded and directed two business consultancies, Food System
Associates, Inc. and its successor Enterprise Consulting,
Inc. Veblen resides in Washington, DC.
The outpouring of new ideas and ways of doing things experienced in
the U. S. is a direct result of its exceptional scheme of societal
governance. The United States' founders, passionate about individual
liberty, organized their nation as a Grand Republic, imbuing it with
the principles underlying "commercial society." 
The United States' two centuries of modernization has been a
learn-by-doing process of betterment. The result: an historic
outpouring of innovative ideas, novel technologies, and valued goods
and services that advances human well-being, orchestrated in
important ways by business. Here's the thing. Will we continue to
view ourselves as a society in transition? A society reinventing
itself. Evolving. A society of self-governing individuals and
institutions disposed to capitalize on change, rather than being
plagued by it. A society in which motivated business leaders bring
their experience-gained wisdom to the paramount issue of societal
governance and management-locally, nationally, and globally. Or not?
A book summarizing the Roundtable's dialectic -- Business: The Heart of
the Matter, An Inquiry into Purpose and Principle -- is slated for
publication May, 2017. Look for it on Amazon.
For information contact:
The Superior Business Firm Roundtable