Reflections on Human Motivation

August 30, 2013

Ernest Becker's "Escape from Evil" is one of the most sobering, humbling  and mind-opening books I’ve read in a long time. It is a companion to Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Denial of Death", which I re-read after many years just following my first reading of "Escape from Evil". My notes below include some modification of my reaction to "Escape.." based on the subsequent reading of "Denial of Death".
This may be the most profoundly illuminating descriptions of human motivation which I have ever read. I identify with it again and again.. There is however a central assertion and conviction of Becker's with which I disagree, at least as I understand Becker.  More below.

The Motivating and Orienting Power of the Declaration of Independence and P&G's PVP

August 27, 2013

July 25, 2013

Reading Isaiah Berlin’s “The Power of Ideas,” and specifically the chapter, “The Purpose of Philosophy,” brought a fresh and, for me, compelling perspective on the importance and nature of the Declaration of Independence and Procter & Gamble’s Purpose, Values and Principles.  It may seem a bit outlandish to be discussing these two documents in a parallel fashion; but, as I hope to make clear, there is a reason for doing this.  That reason is founded in the fact that both of these documents provide an important framework, or "model" as Isaiah Berlin would describe it, of how a group of people have chosen and intend to operate and live--a model which embraces their fundamental mission or purpose; the outcomes they seek; and the paths they will pursue to achieve them.  They do this in a decisive, concrete, aspirational and comprehensive manner, yet one that provides the space for application of future learning.  Doing this, as these two documents do, carries great value for the future.

At the same time, both of these statements contain important internal tensions surrounding the relative priority of the goals and the means for achieving them.  These tensions, while bringing challenge, also bring energy and debate needed for future progress.

Let me quote just a portion of the chapter I refer to from Isaiah Berlin’s book to provide context for what I am discussing here.  He asserts that many who have thought about history have seen that different epics do not differ so much based on the “empirical content of what the successive civilizations saw or thought as the basic patterns in which they perceive them, the models and terms of which they conceive them, the category spectacles through which they view them.”

Berlin illustrates his point by observing, for example, that civilizations or institutions which are founded on the belief that God created man for a specific purpose, that there is an afterlife in which man’s sins will be visited upon him, are radically different from the world of a man who believes in none of these things, and that, as a result, the political beliefs, the tastes, the personal relationships of the former will deeply and systemically differ from those of the latter.  To illustrate further, he observes that two very different views of the role of the State -- one being that of “a traffic policeman and night watchman preventing collisions", or another, the State's being a “great cooperative endeavor of individuals seeking to fulfill a common end” -- that these two views lead to laws, practices and expected behaviors which vary greatly.

Here are perhaps the most famous lines of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This sentence of 35 words communicates as succinct and decisive a view of the conditions under which men should live as has ever been written.  It has been a model or framework which no matter how imperfectly realized has guided the development of our nation for over 230 years.

Turning to business, most businesses will view the objective facts of the world around them in similar terms:  They serve multiple constituencies;  consumers matter; people count; a business needs to make a profit; it lives in the community and in an increasingly global world; change is happening faster and innovation is more vital than ever, as is disciplined execution.  How these realities are priorized and internalized into an operating set of goals and principles and values varies from company-to-company.  Even more, how these principles and values are lived varies.  Some companies will choose shareholder return as a singular focus.  For others, like P&G, the consumer will be the starting point.  Some will bring greater emphasis to the importance of people and that will show up in the emphasis on recruiting, training and career development.  Some will place greater weight on the long-term; others on the short-term.

Here is Procter & Gamble's Statement of Purpose:  

We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.

As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper. 

Here are P&G’s Principles:  Integrity; Leadership; Ownership; Passion for Winning; Trust.


So what about the commonality of the Declaration of Independence and Procter & Gamble’s Purpose, Values and Principles? 

Just this:  Both of these statements express important choices as to what the institution’s goals are and what outcomes will manifest the achievement of these goals.  They also delineate certain values and behaviors necessary to achieve these goals. 

They have had lasting impact.  They are living documents.

They are statements that we all know are never fully fulfilled.  They are stars, goals to which we aspire.  They are reference points against which we can and must compare our current behavior and adapt and improve it to better meet these aspirations. 

They are laced with internal tensions.  P&G's Purpose, Values and Principles, for example, espouse, at the same time, the importance of innovation and teamwork, leaving open the case-by-case consideration of how they will be balanced.  P&G’s Purpose intentionally melds a commitment to consumers, employees, shareholders and our communities; but deciding how to balance these commitments, short- and long-term, is seldom self-evident.

The Declaration of Independence espouses equality and endowed rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all men.  Yet this leaves open the question of the relative role of the State and the Federal Government in helping assure each individual the realization of these ends.  And what if there is conflict between what one state permits compared to another.  We lived for almost a century under the mantel of a Declaration of Independence which espoused equality while slavery existed in half the country.  We lived even longer with some States giving women the right to vote while others denied it, until finally a Federal constitutional amendment was passed which made women's right to vote a national right. And we live with the same dichotomy today as States differ in recognizing the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. 

None of these tensions depreciates the value of these documents, provided we continue to hold the Purpose clear and examine, and indeed debate, how, in light of new knowledge and today’s circumstances, we can better fulfill the essential goals they embrace. 

It is notable how few countries and how few companies actually try to anchor their decisions on a living statement of purpose and set of values like these.  Even long-developed nations, as in Western Europe, seldom refer to foundation documents in the way we do in the United States.  Very few companies, in my experience, test their decisions and behaviors against a statement of purpose and values as we do at Procter & Gamble.

As we have seen, and again referring to the Declaration of Independence, the concept of equality has taken on different meanings over time, whether that be racial segregation, recognition of same-sex marriage, or women's suffrage.  In the future, I personally hope our commitment to “equality” will continue to expand and come to embrace the belief that all children should have the benefit of early childhood development that enables them to start life on close to an equal footing compared to those who are most well off.  

So, too, I’m sure, the actions and behaviors required to best fulfill the Purpose of Procter & Gamble will be conceived in new ways, hopefully wisely and consistent with new learning and the surrounding environment, but always with the guiding principle of being the finest consumer goods company imaginable based on fulfilling our Purpose and living our Values.