Whole Foods’ “Slump” Is Not a Failure of Conscious Capitalism
Gui Curi
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I think the problem with Whole Foods reveals some blindspots in the Conscious Capitalism model. The core principles assume that values, multi-stakeholder relationships, and higher purpose are sufficient to create a new model of value creation. But they are not. It requires a networked approach to organizational design, a community approach to stakeholder engagement, and a platform approach to business strategy. Whole Foods had none of these things. They decentralized in a hierarchical way rather than a networked way (each store and region ran like it’s own little kingdom). They still engaged customers as a passive audience rather than active creators (where’s the community of vegans, gluten-free eaters or paleos?), and their business model is still that of a traditional retailer. Whole Foods shifted the mental model of the market, but not itself. John Mackey tried to use libertarianism as a management system, but the organizing principle of our time is networks, not markets. Until Conscious Capitalism becomes a fully realized management system beyond a set of ideals and concepts, it’s adherents will still struggle to achieve sustainable success. Take a look at the Container Store, another founding company of Conscious Capitalism, and you will see the same problem.

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