Are you living your purpose every day? How are you making a difference in the world? Our guestblogger, Dave Baldwin reviewed Conscious Capitalism by Whole Foods’ John Mackey and explores these ideas in today’s post. Enjoy!


Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey came into my life at an opportune time, as I recently made the decision to start a new business. It served as a practical guide that helped me get inspired about the real purpose of the business I’m creating. It also helped me to see how I might create accountability structures that make my vision a reality.


For the past several years, I’ve been exploring what I consider to be the fundamental driving question of my life: how can I help artists make good money from their art? John Mackey has obviously been asking himself the same question, or a variation on it—and he has demonstrated a much greater degree of mastery in this area. For those of you unfamiliar with Mackey, he is one of the founders of Whole Foods. Through Conscious Capitalism, he shares his experience of building a profitable company driven by a higher purpose.


Early in the book, Mackey shares about an incident in 1981 where flooding nearly destroyed the business (the predecessor of what is now Whole Foods). When it looked like all hope was lost and the store would not be able to recover from the damage, the community showed up to volunteer. Customers came to help clean up the mess, and employees worked off the clock even when the business could not make payroll. When I read that vignette, I realized something critical: that’s the kind of business I want to build. I want to build a business that gives so much value—so consistently, to so many people—that the local community will not let it fail.


How does one go about building a business like Whole Foods? As Simon Sinek puts it in Start With Why (see my earlier review), “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Mackey essentially uses Whole Foods as an example of how to build a scalable system that consistently delivers on the “why” at the heart of the business.


As Mackey makes clear throughout the remainder of the book, people fall in love with businesses when those businesses do not exist purely to maximize profit—but to serve a higher purpose. Mackey uses Whole Foods and a sprinkling of other companies as examples of what it looks like to hold a business accountable to a holistic set of values, treating profit as one factor among many. He details how Whole Foods develops close-knit relationships with its employees, its suppliers, its investors, the local community, and the environment. Whether you shop at Whole Foods or not, you may have heard that it is not uncommon for raving fans to stand in line all night waiting for a new store to open. Companies do not achieve this type of result by seeking to maximize profit alone.


The most important question: what can a small business or solopreneur take away from Mackey’s book? What I’ve learned for myself is the vital importance of creating a set of goals and metrics—independent of my financial goals—that are aligned with the purpose of my business. Another way to think of it: if you never had to worry about money again, would you still build a business? If so, what would motivate you to get out of bed every morning? For me personally, I want to create opportunities for people to make a good living doing what they love to do. I want to connect people, communities, and resources. I plan to build environments where people regularly become close friends and allies. To really apply the material in the book, you have to honestly ask yourself: what do you value more than money? Specifically, what would you take a pay cut for? What principle, belief or value means enough to you that you would make personal financial sacrifices for it—for example, moving to a smaller house or giving up your favorite luxury?


Perhaps the most important aspect of Conscious Capitalism is its motivational component. If you have ever had trouble motivating yourself to build your business or advance your career—and let’s face it; who hasn’t?—you may well have been focusing on the wrong goals. At the personal level, a new house or a fancy car is a short-lived motivator. (See also my review of Drive by Daniel Pink). Money is not a motivator by itself. It is a medium of exchange designed to facilitate commerce. Purpose is a motivator.


Does Mackey paint an overly idealistic picture of Whole Foods, and of business in general? Probably. But for me as a reader, objectivity wasn’t the point. I was looking for something that could motivate me, inspire me, and give me some useful and practical ideas about how to advance my mission in life. The book accomplished those goals. I had to put on a pair of rose-colored glasses to absorb the core message, but that’s part of the nature of being an entrepreneur. I suspect that if we knew every danger and pitfall of business at the outset, no one would ever go into business. Sometimes, in order to move forward into the Great Unknown, it’s better to err on the side of naïveté. It seems to me that successful entrepreneurs exhibit that tendency.


If you are searching for the inner purpose that motivates you—or if the ultimate vision of your business is fuzzy—give Conscious Capitalism a read. You might find some golden nuggets that will help you move to the next level.


Dave BaldwinAbout Dave:


Dave Baldwin is a writer who lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can find more of Dave’s writings on his blog about writing, creativity, and business.