InReview – Issue 30

Saving the Corporate Soul & (Who Knows?) Maybe Your Own by David Batstone; San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2003; 270 pp.

David Batstone is a professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco and executive editor of Washington DC-based Sojourners magazine. He has a track record as an intensely-creative entrepreneur, with a passion to combine business excellence and positive social impact. He was a founding editor of Business 2.0 magazine and is familiar with the Silicon Valley venture capital, high tech scene. Batstone’s “breadth expertise” serves him well in this fine new book. Undoubtedly there will be criticism from those having “depth expertise” in specific areas he addresses, but his overall case is compelling.

For Batstone, the “soul of the corporation” is its people or, more specifically, the values that the people bring with them to work. “Saving the corporate soul” means aligning corporate activities, structures, and policies with those deeply-held values, rather than allowing the financial numbers to drive everything. Batstone’s own values, his humanistic concern for people, obviously motivate his argument, but he also offers hard evidence that ethical and value-driven corporations usually achieve business success, not just sainthood. It is not an either/or, “business success vs. human values,” proposition. It is a both/and, win/win situation.

Batstone proposes eight principles having to do with (1) responsible, accountable leadership and corporate governance, (2) transparency and integrity in business operations, (3) corporate concern for communities, not just markets, (4) care for customers, (5) valuing workers, (6) respecting the environment, (7) striving for diversity and equality, and (8) responsible, ethical global operations. Each chapter-length discussion opens with the principle, then poses a dozen or more questions as a way of checking the company’s “vital signs” in this area, and then rolls through his argument.

Batstone is bold and unapologetic in giving his own opinions about the necessary steps to take on this or that topic. He includes lots of stories and sidebars giving the experience and counsel of various businesses. One of the best things about the book is its many positive business examples. Batstone is no whining nay-sayer. He manages to make his points with strength but without offense. This is not an ethics book in any narrow sense nor is it a prophetic diatribe against corporations or globalization. It is a case for making sure that ethical and human concerns are part of the core ideology of the corporation. It is a wise and balanced discussion that will stimulate growth and learning among those who resonate with his opinions, as well as with those who do not.

Reviewed by David Gill

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Saving the Corporate Soul is a book I read with some anticipation. It fits the themes we have been discussing in Ethix, and Batstone is certainly qualified to speak to them. Parts of the book I liked very much, but I must say I was generally disappointed.

I thought he did particularly well with the chapter on “Respect for the Environment.” He didn’t fall in the trap of oversimplifying the problem (and the solution) as many authors do. Rather, he recognizes the complexity of the demands on people in business and builds great examples of tough compromises that worked for the benefit of both the business and the environment. The “real life” nuances that were a part of the reality of his interview subjects gave credibility to the proposals.

My major struggles with the book came in two areas. First, from beginning to end his negative theme about work in the corporate world simply doesn’t fit my own experience. “Corporate workers from the mailroom to the highest executive office express dissatisfaction with their work. They feel crushed by widespread greed, selfishness, and quest for profit at any cost,” he says on page one. Of course, everyone can find something wrong with where they work. But in my experience, there are many who find significant joy and fulfillment in what they do, and his tone is entirely too negative.

Second, I find Batstone very naive about business in some of his less well researched proposals. He decries the exporting of jobs in the chapter on “Valuing the Workers,” then challenges the corporations again in the chapter on “Globalization” because they simply open a Pizza Hut rather than distribute opportunity to the world’s population. In the “Leadership and Governance” chapter, he has strong ideas about reforming compensation for executives, but offers no proposal on how companies respond to market forces for executive compensation. He boldly proposes that everyone participate in stock options without considering what this means for the person not performing well. He makes United Airlines, now in bankruptcy, a model company for worker control.

In summary, I found the questions raised in this book to be valuable for discussion. But I also found many of his ideas incomplete (how do you carry them out in a competitive business world), naive, or wrong. I would recommend the book for the discussion it would encourage, but would suggest it be accompanied by something like Good Business to offer alternative ways of looking at the topics.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

The Limits Of Privacy by Amitai Etzioni; New York, Basic Books, 1999; xii, 280 pp.

Amitai Etzioni was named the first University Professor at The George Washington University in 1980, where he is the Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. He is the author of twenty two books.

Technology and homeland security have greatly increased the level of concern expressed in the U.S. over loss of privacy. Science fiction adds to these concerns when it portrays tracking technology well beyond where it is today–though perhaps as it will be in a few years. Thus many writers focus their attention on stopping “big brother” and seeking to slow technology in order to protect individual privacy.

Etzioni takes a different approach. He argues that privacy is a rather recent issue rather than the fundamental right people often assume. Until 1890 the US, as many other countries, had only a “vague sense of privacy.” Further, he argues that the privacy of the individual is often in conflict with the public good. “This book is largely about the other side of the privacy equation. It is about our investment in the common good. Although we cherish privacy in a free society, we must address the moral, legal, and social issues that arise when serving the common good entails violating privacy ” (p. 2).

After a brief history of issues of privacy and the common good, begun in chapter one and concluded in chapter six, he embarks on detailed and carefully thought areas where personal privacy and the common good collide. This includes public health (a topic that would be significantly enriched by an update on SARS), child safety, dealing with crime, protection through clear identification, and medical records.

The privacy issues become more intense on a regular basis with continuing breakthroughs in technology. The recent announcements from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Authority (DARPA) include the ability to identify people by the way they walk, yet another opportunity for both protection and misuse. It is easy to get caught in the concerns over misuse and miss the issues related to the common good.

Regardless of your own individual position, this book is an important read. It challenges us to avoid the side of “privacy at any cost” and move the argument to “what are the areas of appropriate and inappropriate privacy.” I recommend this book as a significant contribution to that discussion.

Review by Al Erisman

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Matrix Reloaded (Warner Brothers, 2003). Directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski.

The original Matrix is a tough act to follow. It successfully pioneered and melded two distinct genre — metaphysical sci-fi, and mind-warping action — like interlocking strands of DNA. The Matrix: Reloaded unwinds these strands into a film that’s more like two turbo-charged sequels on one screen. Nonetheless, it succeeds as a strong follow-up to an unbeatable original.

In this latest edition of the battle between humanity and the machines, we learn that the human inhabitants of Zion aren’t alone in their hope-filled struggle for liberation from the Matrix; they’re joined by rogue programs, vying for their own forms of self-expression. And while Neo’s virtual world powers have continued to increase, the machines are also advancing, setting their sights on the destruction of Zion. As it becomes clear that Morpheus’ faith in Neo as “the One” is justified, Neo must figure out what this really means. Through a series of cartoonish Special FX interrupted by metaphysical chats with ethereal characters such as “the Oracle,” “the Keymaker,” and “the Architect,” Neo begins to answer at a deeper level, the question posed in the original film: “What is the Matrix?”

Reloaded’s success as a sequel lies in the fact that it sticks to the themes of the original.  Despite their virtual omniscience, the machines and programs comprising the Matrix cannot comprehend the core elements of humanity: faith, hope and love. A radical act of love ultimately defies logic, and therefore cannot be reduced in its pure essence to a software simulation.  It is this pure essence that eludes the Matrix and imbues Neo with greater power than the machines ever planned for any entity.  Although we have to wait for the third installment this November to see how it all ends, Reloaded drops plenty of hints.  I’m betting on happily ever after.

Reviewed by Gerard Beenen