Prof. Max Torres: Getting Business Off Steroids

28/12/2010

Consider what free markets have done for society. Certainly, they have unleashed creativity, innovation and enterprise, which have led to jaw-dropping wealth and prosperity. But the cost has been great, says Maximilian B. Torres, a visiting professor at IESE, who believes that society as a whole and integrity on a personal level have both suffered needlessly as a result of professionals' inability or unwillingness to self-regulate. 

Whether we're talking doping in sports, or "cooking the books" in business, the problems grabbing headlines today are symptomatic of something deeper. Professionals are corrupting themselves by freely pursuing skewed incentives. 

Can we change the way we are for the better, as we compete for the prizes at stake in our chosen fields of activity? In business, can we build a "new capitalism" that rests on the prudent use of human freedom and leads to sustainable prosperity, rather than social calamity?

Questions to Clarify the Big Picture

When professionals are only oriented toward victory, they act in a way intended to maximize wealth, power, status and prestige. When they are oriented toward excellence, however, they act in a way intended to maximize knowledge, health, aesthetic appreciation and sociability: goods that work to optimize the alternative set of values. 

How can we encourage professionals to aim for excellence? In his paper "Getting Business off Steroids", Torres offers three key questions to help decision makers clarify the big picture and make proper choices. 

  1. If I act in the following way, will this action plan accomplish my immediate objective?

  2. Will accomplishing my immediate objective in this way make me and my organization more knowledgeable and adept at accomplishing similar objectives in the future?

  3. Will accomplishing my immediate objective in this way increase cooperation around me, leading to greater trust?

Put simply, if all three questions can be answered affirmatively, the action under consideration is feasible. If they cannot be answered in the affirmative, the action under consideration is deficient and best avoided.

With these three questions in mind, rational thought processes and more virtuous choices can be self-fostered, which will guide an interior change and, ultimately, cultural transformation. In this way, the professional world can embark on a new era of excellence and enjoy the market freedom our activity presently depends upon.

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