The Pursuit of Flourishing vs. The Pursuit of Pleasure

When I discovered the word, eudaimonia, it helped explain the competing forces I've always heard, witnessed, and felt in the world of business.

Lifestyle vs. growth. Bootstrapped vs. investors. People vs. product. Culture vs. strategy. Collaborate vs. compete. Liquidity event vs. cash flows. And so on.

In my opinion, most of business is about hedonia, the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. We hope there will be little competition, we celebrate the big customer, and we love making money. We're enamored by tech startups that raise tens of millions in venture capital and maverick entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. And we talk about companies like Amazon, Starbucks, or Facebook when they either acquire smaller competitors or expand so quickly to put competition out of business.

But in recent years, we've increasingly seen the intrigue of social ventures and "conscious capitalism," the importance of culture and core values, the adoption of vision and mission statements, the discussion of purpose, and the introduction of "triple bottom-line" companies.

Diversity is being valued not for compliance purposes but to enrich the workplace. More startups and established companies are incorporating mindfulness and yoga at work. Large companies are being increasingly judged on their social consciousness. Emotional intelligence is being valued in employees more than cognitive intelligence. What used to be "VP of Human Resources" is now "Chief People Officer." And rather than lists of the largest companies, we now pay attention to the best places to work.

My point here is that business is becoming more about eudaimonia, the pursuit of flourishing and meaning. It's perfectly normal now to discuss the human side of business in addition to the hedonia-related side that includes competition, profit, and growth. All of those are necessary in a capitalist, free-market economy that provides the ability to pursue and create wealth with little government intervention. But it doesn't have to be done without attention to humanity and soul.

I'd like to think that hedonia is more of a short-term idea focused on the self, and that eudaimonia is more of a long-term idea that integrates others. So if business is indeed increasingly becoming about eudaimonia, then I'm even more excited about what the future holds...for all of us.