The Power Of Economic Inefficiency
I’m a business guy.
I love free markets. I believe capitalism provides the best road to opportunity, stability, and prosperity for individuals and nations alike.
However, too many good people are getting kicked to the curb in the onrush of globalization, the takeover of technology, the rise of an insulated, borderless elite that has zero clue about the impact of their 30,000-foot decisions on the rest of us.
What’s the answer? Politicians worldwide hurl slogans and media chatterers opine. But I would invite you to look back . . . way back . . . to a barley field in the ancient land of Judea. There, not far from Bethlehem, a young woman is braving the sun, walking slowly around the edge of the field, following the harvesters, picking up the grain left behind—gleaning. Her name is Ruth. She is poor, a young widow who lives with her mother-in-law, also a widow. In that time and place, women without the protection of a man were truly at the bottom of society. Ignored, even despised—except by God.
You see, the harvesters were obeying God’s command: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather your gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare; neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9.)
Inefficient? Yes. Leaving money on the table? Absolutely. Not exactly a textbook example of best practices!
And yet, I believe God in His management wisdom offers us a better practice: that is, a need for we free-marketers, whether we’re running the red-wheat harvest in North Dakota or figuring out optimum head count for our startup on the North Side of Chicago, to ditch a bloodless “efficiency.” To take seriously, and incorporate into the day-in, day-out running of our business, a deeper awareness of the real and human cost of our decisions.
Consider: who is the “gleaner” in your world? Is it the young single mom juggling college and baby, who could really use a few more hours in your store? Is it the veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom who brings a ton of leadership and logistics skill but whose “work experience” looks thin on paper? Or how about the newly arrived immigrant—the “sojourner,” in biblical terms—striving to succeed in the best tradition of American capitalism?
Business leader, Wall Streeter, hospital exec, scrappy entrepreneur, CFO, school bureaucrat, hiring manager—please, see people. Not just line items or dots on the org chart. It’s too easy in business to turn people into abstractions, and thus the headlines about some Fortune 500 company cutting a thousand jobs. We forget that there’s a man or a woman attached to every one of those jobs.
I’m a business guy, so yes, I know hard calls have to be made sometimes. I get responsibility to shareholders, staying nimble in turbulent times. But just maybe, a little less nimbleness, a little less efficiency, and a lot more empathy could be the (ancient) secret to making your organization thrive.
Robert Dickie III is the author of “Love Your Work: 4 Practical Ways You Can Pivot to Your Best Career (Moody Publishers 2017). He has served as a decorated Air Force Officer, the CEO of an international company, and as the leader of several non-profits. In July 2011 he became the President of Crown.