Book Quotations – From “Beyond Reasonable Greed”

Beyond Reasonable Greed

Book Title: Beyond Reasonable Greed: Why Sustainable Business is a Much Better Idea!

Authors: Wayne Visser and Clem Sunter

Publication details: Tafelberg Human & Rousseau, 2002

For more information: See the Book Profile


  1. Magic is the revelation that results from a profound change in perception or understanding

  2. Bad magic has moved many companies into a state that is beyond reasonable greed

  3. The board of directors have become a group privileged people driven by unreasonable greed & feathering their own nests

  4. Corporate governance is sometimes not worth the (shredded) paper it is written on

  5. If the people implementing corporate governance do not have their hearts in the right place, it becomes a charade

  6. We must constantly shapeshift, liberating ourselves from the old form that defined and constrained us in the past

  7. Shapeshifting means morphing into a completely new being, with new characteristics & potential for the future

  8. Sustainability is a new way of perceiving business – its purpose, its methods & its impacts

  9. For companies that can adapt & respond to sustainability, there are new markets to capture & profits to be made

  10. For companies that are ill-prepared, sustainability is going to become a financial burden, even a threat to survival

  11. In order to make real progress towards sustainability, companies must first admit that we face a serious global crisis

  12. The fact of the matter is that our lifestyles, our products & our business processes are unsustainable

  13. We need companies that have the foresight & courage to be part of the solution, rather than remain the problem

  14. Being in business today is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland – a chaotic & confusing place to be

  15. The demigod once known as the shareholder has mutated into the multiheaded beast called the stakeholder

  16. Introspective accounting has been turned inside-out & become accountability to the big wide world out there

  17. Suddenly, the formerly mute public citizen has an amplified voice through technology-enabled networking

  18. Today, the bark of a small NGO watchdog can echo and resonate around the world

  19. Amidst whirlwind changes, many companies operate on high alert, in a permanent state of emergency response

  20. Our corporate culture is saturated with military jargon, with strategies, tactics, competition, targeting & launching

  21. Businesses struggle to distinguish between short-term storms and the long-term trend of a climate that’s changing

  22. When business fails to distinguish the long-term effect of gradual changes, it displays classic boiled frog syndrome

  23. There are many threats that could boil the corporate toads, from creeping income inequality to climate change

  24. Most companies are already in hot water – perhaps mistaking the cooking pot for a jacuzzi?

  25. The rules of the game are changing in radical ways that will make cherished business thinking & practices obselete

  26. The best chance for companies to survive change is to develop a better understanding of how evolution itself works

  27. Remember that evolution also happens in great leaps of sudden transformation, so-called discontinuities

  28. Mathematicians know well that dynamic systems often go non-linear after a specific tipping point is reached

  29. Change is often like an epidemic – it starts slowly, but when it reaches the steep part of the S-curve, watch out!

  30. In change, the tipping point is always a relatively small number, substantially less than the expected 50 percent

  31. The universe & society as a rational, mechanical construct is giving way to a new, creative, holistic understanding

  32. Sustainability stands on the brink of transforming the underlying business model of the past few hundred years

  33. Holism is a fundamental tendency in nature & society to form wholes of every-greater synergy

  34. The relationship between things – be they objects, people or systems – is as important as the things themselves

  35. The greatest creativity – in nature, huamns, organisations & society – happens when different fields overlap

  36. Some strategies of global business are like selfish cancer cells taking over – and ultimately killing – their host body

  37. The current model driving business has outlived its usefulness

  38. The symbols of success so beloved by CEOs, the financial media & market analysts alike are beginning to look empty

  39. Business already faces clear and present dangers in the economic, social and environmental spheres

  40. No society can function fairly or effectively if every individual is blindly pursuing his or her self-interest

  41. Each time the world changes, humanity is forced to let go of some of its most cherished beliefs

  42. As a global society, we desperately need to create a new mythology to guide & inspire our collective psyche

  43. We are living through a time of profound change & no more so than in the business arena

  44. The old ways of the past are no longer appropriate for a postindustrial, sustainability-driven society

  45. Sustainability is not only a new scientific concept, it is an entirely new busienss philosophy based on a new mythology

  46. Sustainability requires that business thinks differently about its role in society and how it goes about what it does

  47. For business to survive & thrive in an age of sustainability, it must rethink its identity, its underlying nature

  48. At the moment, the majority of businesses embody the characteristics of a lion – an impressive predator

  49. The future calls for different strengths in business, such as those of the mighty elephant – a wise leader

  50. Faced with the changes & challenges ahead, the skill of shapeshifting is going to be indispensable to companies

  51. The world is changing so fast that only a company with the adaptability and resourcefulness of a fox will survive

  52. Sustainability only works when it is a passionately embraced philosophy that infuses every business level and action

  53. There is nothing small about multinationals – the critical thing is what they do with their immense size and power

  54. As military jargon crept into the boardroom – strategy, tactics, targeting – so did the persona of the predator

  55. Companies regularly shrug off their social & environmental impacts in the pursuit of economic growth & profits

  56. Business has become used to viewing its economic contribution as a justifiable end in its own right

  57. Companies, and their government regulators, seem unable or unwilling to say no to harmful economic growth

  58. The biggest myths of our time – which pervade business – are that growth is always good and bigger is always better

  59. In contrast to trickle-down economics, in most companies, the benefits always seem to trickle upwards

  60. Prevailing economic incentives make it almost impossible to not to choose profits over people & the planet

  61. Nature’s underlying characteristic is one of interdependent relationships & symbiotic co-operation

  62. Competition in nature only takes place within a broader context of co-operation

  63. In a sustainability era, a company’s success will depend on cultivating multi-stakeholder, win-win relationships

  64. Cowboy companies believe there are no restrictions on growth, resource consumption or waste generation

  65. The world has become a smaller, fuller place, in which the corporate cowboy lifestyle is no longer appropriate

  66. Are we ready to accept that the common good is not being served by today’s predatory business model?

  67. For companies that wish to endure – to be literally sustainable – adaptation is the key

  68. Most companies have a very poor radar system for detecting & responding to threats that build slowly over time

  69. Forget quarterly; companies are going to need to learn what it means to survive epochs & symbolic ice ages

  70. Sustainable companies survive & thrive by their capacity to identify, nurture & sustain cooperative relationships

  71. Like Dumbo, sustainable companies need to believe they can fly against the odds & in the face of public perception

  72. In business, we are short-sighted slaves to this year’s calendar, next quarter’s performance & this week’s diary

  73. Business & economic growth will always be dumb – rather than smart – until it mimics the intelligence of ecosystems

  74. Sustainability extends accountability to stakeholders; so sustainable companies choose to engage constructively

  75. Unsustainable companies waste time, energy & money trying to manipulate or fight their stakeholders

  76. Sustainability raises the bar of legislation; so sustainable companies proactively anticipate the rising tide

  77. Unsustainable companies will increasingly incur fines, penalties & clean-up costs & be targeted for litigation

  78. As the rules of trade shift, sustainable companies will increasingly refuse to trade with predatory companies

  79. In the future, access to finance by unsustainable companies will become more difficult and expensive

  80. Avoiding the costs of social and environmental impacts will make sustainable companies more profitable in future

  81. The switch to a sustainable economy is creating new market opportunities that smart companies are investing in

  82. Unsustainable companies will increasingly fail the corporate governance acid test applied by investors

  83. Government policies must make companies reap the full cost of the social & environmental impacts they sow

  84. Unsustainable companies must expect to suffer consumer boycotts, civil lawsuits & disruptive NGO activism

  85. In the high stakes game of public reputation, sustainable companies are more likely to attract loyal support

  86. Only when sustainability is an investment criteria will sustainable companies will reap fair financial rewards

  87. Values are exactly what they say they are – a reflection of the things we value

  88. Companies’ values are made visible by their actions, not their words or spin doctor’s marketing material

  89. Profit maximisation is often anti-competitive, driving companies towards market domination & monopolistic control

  90. Companies have adopted the predator persona so completely that hunting & killing in the market feels natural

  91. Businesses are not genetically programmed to be predators & neither are the people that work for them

  92. Why do we teach our kids to be caring at home & then teach our executives to be ruthless in the workplace?


Can We Survive the Future

Can We Survive the Future:

Only if Business Shapeshifts from Lions into Elephants

Article by Wayne Visser

Rabbit Holes and Boiled Frogs

Being in business these days is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. The latter, if you remember Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a chaotic and confusing place to be. All the tried and tested rules of the past don’t seem to work so well anymore. The formerly familiar environment keeps transforming itself into new, unrecognisable landscapes. Strange, distracting characters have a habit of popping up randomly and then suddenly disappearing. And the clear, rational perspectives that used to spell out solutions keep getting stretched, warped and turned on their head, like the reflected images in a house of weird mirrors.

To illustrate what I mean, the demigod once known as the shareholder has mutated into a multi-headed beast called the stakeholder. Accounting, the time-honoured introspective discipline of counting beans (or gold or money or shares), has been turned inside out and become nerve-racking accountability to the big wide world out there. And profitability, which used to be a trustworthy financial measure, has multiplied into a triple bottom line by blurring together economic, social and environmental performance.

To survive in this whirlwind of chaotic change, companies have become adept at rapidly adapting to dramatic changes. What business has been less skilled at doing is recognizing or responding to long-term effects of gradual changes. In this sense, it displays the classic “boiled frog syndrome”. If a frog is placed in boiling water, it immediately jumps out providing it is free to do so. However, if the water temperature is cool to begin with and then gradually increased, the frog fails to register any threat to its well-being and consequently allows itself to be literally boiled alive.

There are many examples of threats that could boil the corporate toads: creeping income inequality; the spread of HIV/AIDS; marginalisation of certain regions in the world economy; the cancerous burden of Third World debt; alienation of people with low incomes or no jobs; accelerating biodiversity loss; global climate change; rising chemical concentrations in the Earth’s water systems; disintegration of cultural identities; and the spread of violent crime among the youth, to mention but a few.

Trading in Fangs for Tusks

At the heart of all of these challenges is one of the most profound drivers for step-change in business and the world – sustainability. Sustainability refers to improving human well-being by seeking a proper balance between social, economic and environmental change over the long term. The old ways, which have dominated for the past century or more, are no longer appropriate for a post-industrial, sustainability-driven society. Sustainability is not only a new scientific, political, social and legal concept, but an entirely new business philosophy based on a new mythology. It requires that business think differently about its role in society and how it goes about what it does.

The changes needed in order for business to survive and thrive in an age of sustainability are so fundamental that they are akin to changing its identity, its underlying nature. At the moment, we  …

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Visser, W. (2002) Can We Survive the Future? Only if Business Shapeshifts From Lions into Elephants. Namaste, Volume 19, October.

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Reformation and Pragmagic

Reformation and Pragmagic

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from Beyond Reasonable Greed

As we write this introduction we are very conscious of magic. Magic, it seems, is a catchy theme right now, both in our own lives and in the world around us. This is hardly surprising, what with J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories having come to life on the big silver screen. But the magic we are talking about is not of the wizardry kind. Merlin can stay in his cave. Nor is it of the David Copperfield genre where the audience knows that they’re being hoodwinked but are prepared to suspend their belief in the interests of excitement. No, we are talking about something more genuine, more tangible, more practical – what brain-mind researcher Marilyn Ferguson called ‘pragmagic’.

In our interpretation of the word, magic is the revelation that results from a profound change in perception or understanding. The superstitious world of the Middle Ages was magically transformed by the wizards of art and science – Da Vinci, Galileo, Copernicus and Newton. Then the quantum physicists waved their wands and subtly altered Newton’s clockwork universe. Today, the magic continues as the seemingly impossible is conjured up with breakthroughs in areas like biotechnology, artificial intelligence and human consciousness.

But magic is not restricted to the sciences. Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk weaved their own form of magic to create the New South Africa. Unlike in art and the sciences where the magic is normally provided by individuals working on their own, the magic in politics often comes from the development of a positive chemistry between the leading players. This chemistry then leads to an outcome greater than the contribution of any individual member and takes them all by surprise.

Nevertheless, as with everything in life, there’s good magic and bad magic. The Swastika was bad magic. When Hitler unfurled it, he temporarily turned the most scientifically advanced nation on Earth back into savage barbarians. In his footsteps followed Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who turned their followers into killing machines of their own people. By the millions. And the chemistry was pure evil. Today bad magic continues to bedevil regions like the Middle East and Northern Ireland where thirst for revenge plunges ordinary people into acts of lunacy and callousness. In the name of God or Allah. And He is always on your side.

What, you may be asking, has all this to do with business? Well, magic has everything to do with business and this book. For the simple reason that bad magic has moved many companies into a state that is beyond reasonable greed. And the public have a good idea of the boundary between ‘reasonable’ and ‘obscene’. Recently, in South Africa, we have had several disclosures on the size of individual packages and the terms of share incentive schemes which have caused tremendous hue and cry. They have been clearly out of wack with the norm. To give companies the benefit of the doubt, they may not have consciously exceeded the limits of reasonableness. Their boards probably comprise the normal spectrum of saints and sinners; but somehow they have allowed themselves to be collectively swept along by the prevailing paradigm of success which is purely financial, and that in turn has led to unreasonable behaviour. …

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Cite this chapter

Visser, W. (2002) Reformation and Pragmagic, In W. Visser, Beyond Reasonable Greed: Why Sustainable Business is a Much Better Idea! Cape Town: Tafelberg Human & Rousseau,  11-17.

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