Charlie asked about a “theory of everything for society.” Is There One?
Before we can do anything profound, we need to develop a societal theory of everything. Recent discussions on the national level have broached this subject, but haven't gone far enough.
We are all fortunate to have the Charlie Rose show on PBS to have truly relevant,
instructive discussions about life in all its aspects. Charlie asks many of the world’s
finest thinkers and doers some of the best questions it is possible to ask.
This post turns to a couple messages we took from some of his recent interviews,
addresses them through our colored glasses and gives an ultimate answer to Charlie.
He interviewed David Brooks, a highly respected New York Times journalist and
author, recently (11/21/'11) about the supercommittee report and its admission of
failure. The interview was good and Brooks had some instructive things to say. Most
important for our purposes, though, paraphrasing here, Rose asked Brooks whether,
in political economics, government and society, there is a counterpart to the scientific
community's search for a "theory of everything," referring by name to Einstein and
Stephen Hawking. David gave a thoughtful response, saying that he believes the U.S.
is unique in the sense that we have an ability to put large groups of people together and
manage them as they deal with complex, complicated matters better than other nations
do. This aptitude in part he connects to our understanding that all kinds of people,
diversity in every way, can come together and make great things happen - and we know
how to do that.
We believe David and Charlie missed a golden opportunity to add real enlightenment to
the public discourse:
a. David’s answer was a reasonable way to characterize a demonstrated ability
that exists in the U.S.
b. At best, though, it was an incomplete answer to a profound question.
c. Charlie asked an ultimate question, David gave about a B- response and
Charlie failed to pursue the matter. Either Charlie did not know he had asked an
ultimate question or did not know that David’s response was quite inadequate or
d. It was, therefore, an ultimate opportunity lost.
On 11/29/’11 Mr. Rose interviewed two journalists, Mattathias Schwartz and John
Helemann, about the Occupy movement – where it is and where it might go. Their
responses were in line with the outcomes that can be produced by a societal “theory of
everything.” Through selflessness (and selfless behavior), individuals and organizations
can maximize their own self-value as a by-product. Both the Occupy and Tea Party
movements have the seeds of the theory’s grounding in their movements. The Occupy
movement has its own blind spots, such as having part of its platform(as informal as it
is so far) perceivable, somewhat correctly, as free, free, free. In addition, they do not
fully know they have an ultimate nature to their purpose. The Tea Party movement also
unknowingly shares part of this purpose in its nature, except its platform is perceivable
(also somewhat correctly) as me, me, me.
Charlie also interviewed Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of salesforce.com. on 11/
29/’11. Mr. Benioff’s corporation appears to have built at least part of the foundation
principles of the societal “theory of everything” into its corporate DNA – their 1,1,1
philanthropy model for one thing. They are; a. a significant exception to inward-focused
corporate behavior as we have seen it in recent years and b. still only partly there.
One need not study Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Smith and others in context to try to capture
an evolution or synthesis in their thinking and teaching. It is certain, though, that they
would agree with the functional relationship, set forth below, between self interest and
other interest. Adam Smith explicitly endorsed it.
The natural law, social contract, etc. ideas all crystallize in the following, straight
forward "theory of everything" for societies, governments and political economics. This
would have been an ultimate answer to Charlie Rose's ultimate question. Connecting
self interest and other interest is the purpose and the challenge, just as in physics
connecting quantum mechanics and general relativity is the purpose and the challenge.
We offer the functional relationship here, in kitchen table mathematical language,
preceded by a narrative explanation:
a. Theory of Everything for Political Economics, Governments and Societies:
(1) Our self interest and self value ( for organizations and individuals alike) is maximized
over the long run as a direct function of focusing on and optimizing the value
provided to those persons and groups whose lives we affect (our stakeholders).
(2) Self interest is best satisfied by focusing on and serving others – those whose lives
we affect in a meaningful way.
b. NOTE: Here it is in a mathematics- like formula relationship:
IVM = f(S1VO, S2VO,……….SnVO), where
1. I means “institutional,” which really is an all-inclusive synonym
for “organizational” for our purposes.
2. V means “value,” and value is financial, ethical, security, quality, safety, etc. – the
finite and knowable list of things valued by each stakeholder group (marketing
groups are some of the knowledge leaders here).
3. M means “maximization,” where value is defined.
4. f means “function of” – it really indicates that an organization’s long term value
is directly dependent on how well it does in optimizing the value packages it
provides to each stakeholder group in the context of all the other groups.
5. S means “stakeholder,” – those main groups affected by an organization.
6. O means “optimize,” and optimize means doing as well as possible for each group
in the context of doing the same for every other stakeholder group.
It is important to add that every organization (institution) has a finite number of main
stakeholder groups. In general they are; a. Customers, b. Employees, c. Investors, d. Suppliers, e.
Communities where they have a presence and f. The general public interest or common good.
There is a substantial amount of empirical research directly and indirectly supporting this “theory
of everything” and there are many stories about specific organizations whose value is high and
continuously growing over decades, and they all have at least some of the characteristics that
fit the theory. We need not be concerned about a refutation of it. Rather, we are searching for
the right ways to present it to organizations and have them take the risk of adopting it as their
philosophical and behavioral paradigm.
There are of course other concepts related to the theory, such as “globally ubiquitous
human characteristics” - virtues, traits or paths to these virtues, values and a yearning
for or possession of the fundamental rights of life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and
property - at least that property each human has that is his or her own aptitudes.
This kind of approach to public interest decision-making, let alone decision-making
in large corporations and in governments will take more wisdom and fortitude than
currently is evident - especially in Congress and the Administration, and certainly on
No one else appears to want to take this fully on, either because they do not understand
it, have not focused on it or simply do not want to "go there", but we are going there.
Ultimate questions must be asked (a thought effort in itself), answered and acted upon.
It is all actionable at the organizational level through seminars, lovingly tough love
seminars and similar forums and through follow up - like teaching and helping people
rise to the highest level of human behavior ----too much to ask? We think not. Just
the opposite is true. It is that main remaining leap to the high plateau implicit in the
question, “is there a theory of everything for economies, societies, governments and
That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. It can be called naïve, pollyannaish, innocent
and similar names. It is none of these. It simply invites us all to “mature up.” It is at
the very heart of pursuit of the common good and public interest, theoretically precise,
commercially robust and societally optimum. It respects national sovereignty while
recognizing we now have one global village and market. Opportunity costs will move
toward zero as all organizations (including governments) adopt it.