Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

Business and Emotion

Posted on | May 17, 2011 | No Comments

Sometime ago a documentary entitled The Corporation, assuming that companies were indeed equivalent to people, tried to build the psychological profiles of some corporations. While certainly biased, it concluded that these persons were psychopaths, unable to respect their promises, to see the world through others’ eyes, etc.  

This profile is however incomplete and very counterproductive. The same flaws we hold these organizations accountable for could also have been explained by the theories of neurologist Antonio Damasio. The latter demonstrated that individuals who suffered trauma to the brain emotional centres, decision making was gravely impacted, leading to socially unacceptable, even inhumane decisions.

This explanation may fit more closely with business reality. The market is often idealized as perfect and rational. From this vantage point managers aim for a purely rational decision-making process as well, unbiased by any emotion. But I have already discussed the theoretical impossibility of a perfect and purely rational market. Damasio confirms on his side that purely rational decisions are not adapted to the society we live in.

These two elements are extremely important: instead of considering the corporation as an enemy, a psychopath, we should rather see it as an incomplete individual with a profound emotional lack and try to fill this void. This could be done internally (through the implementation of company values, of an ethical code of conduct) and externally (through government regulation). In both cases we have a constructive solution within our reach and are not confined to Manichean and Marxist logic leading to a useless and ceaseless conflict.

It is the more so important to be aware of this that business, on their side, are quite aware of the emotional impact they have on their customers and have no qualms about using it. A BBC news report indeed made a very clear link between cognitive needs leading to religion and those leading to company worship  (taking for example Apple’s groupies).

I wrote recently of the importance for our society to develop cultural mechanism more adapted and more efficient than religion to answer to our cognitive needs. Actually we need to go further and foster awareness of the importance of emotional reactions in decision making – individual as well as collective decisions. In a world where the notion of community is fading away a bit more every day, leaving individuals in greater isolations, and where the power of corporations, society, states and other organizations is growing more and more important, it is necessary for our survival.

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