10 Things We Learned in a Mindblowing Conversation with Purpose Economy Professor Kees Klomp
“The business of business isn’t business. It is to serve life.”
It’s rare that a conversation with someone challenges you so deeply that you have to take stock afterwards and try and replay what you just heard. But spend an hour with Kees Klomp and you’ll soon realise he has that power.
Luckily we recorded the conversation so I could do exactly that.
I first came across Kees and his Karmanomics blog about 8 years ago. Soon after we invited him over to speak at our annual Summercamp to share his unique business philosophy where East meets West, leading to his nickname The Buddhist Businessman.
His ideas have always been challenging — none more so that when he stood up in front of 100 entrepreneurs to close the same event a year later and share his views on why he believes true purpose comes from pain, not passion.
Kees’ work and role has evolved over the years from being a social entrepreneur and activist, to now a serial author and newly appointed Professor on the Purpose Economy at Rotterdam University.
But at his beliefs haven’t changed. That is he believes, like us, that we need a new economic model focused on wellbeing.
We re-connected with Kees once again when he was a recent guest on our Friday Fireside series and after listening to it again I’ve summarised my key takeaways from our conversation below:
- Meaning and purpose aren’t the same thing
Kees sees meaning is an individual experience, whereas purpose is a connected one. The first wave of the purpose economy is about the search for meaning – what Simon Sinek would call your why – and this has been driven by millennials. The second wave is about purpose driven by centennials — this is collective and about creating a fundamental system change to address a very real existential threat. In short, meaning creates incremental change (‘what’s in it for me?’), purpose is about system change (‘what’s in it for us?’).
- Most talk about purpose in business is actually just marketing
Also known as purpose washing, many companies these days are talking about purpose as a clever marketing tool to look like they’re doing the right thing, but still within the business as usual framework. Don’t be fooled.
- Resistance is one of the biggest compliments you can get
As a changemaker or business owner looking to do things differently if you come up against resistance to your work, it probably means you’re doing something worthwhile. Take this as a compliment and keep challenging the status quo.
- We should never accept an injustice as ‘just the way things are’
Kees told the story about how he was deeply affected by the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. His Grandfather inspired him to believe that rather than be a bystander, he should listen to what this discomfort is teaching him. A problem is a problem and it’s our responsibility to find solutions.
- Where there are winners there are losers
In a separated, capitalist world billionaires like Elon Musk are the success stories — they’ve won at the game. But in an interconnected one they’re the epitome of a failure in the system. A society is only as strong as the weakest, your failure is my failure.
- We need a better measure of the health of a company than money
In the future we’ll have alternative measures such as the biodiversity performance of a company but for now we have just one. Using money as a measure of a company’s performance – or GDP as a way to measure the health of a nation – is in Kees’ words ‘borderline idiotic’.
- If we want to change the system we need to change the story
Inspired by the work of modern day philosopher Charles Eisenstein, Kees says we need to move away from a story of separation, and individualism, to a story of interbeing, and inter-connectedness. Without this fundamental shift in the underlying beliefs, nothing will change on the system level.
- Most business education is unfit for purpose
Education is all narrative and therefore it makes sense to start re-educating business leaders at the root level. Kees has recently taken on his new academic role to reimagine what business school education looks like for the purpose economy.
- You can’t separate the economy from ecology
As Satish Kumar, the inspirational founder of Schumacher College says “economy is a subtext of ecology. If you teach only economy, you are teaching just half of the picture. Without ecology there can be no economy.”
- Don’t fight the system, focus on new sprouts
If we focus on a love of life on earth, of nature, of people, rather than a hatred of capitalism, we’ll start moving towards a better world. As Eisenstein says ‘the revolution is love’.
But where to start with all of this work? It can be overwhelming. Be careful of trying to save the world. As Kees says ‘there’s a fine line between being a changemaker and being a narcissistic arsehole’. But he left us with this mantra:
“Stop doing business and start being human.”