The four founders of Abrasive Technology met when they worked together at a large billion-dollar company. When they didn’t feel their talents were being utilized, and were frustrated by inefficient processes and bureaucracy, they left that organization. They simply wanted to be engineers who could create great things and trusted others would want to do the same. While the principles were not rooted in Conscious Capitalism back when Abrasive Technology started in 1971 – things have certainly evolved – today’s mindset really got its formal beginning in 1996-97. That’s when Abrasive Technology started its movement toward a flat organization. In our global organization (nine sites around the world), we have no managers, no bosses – nothing – and haven’t for 16 years.
In 1996, we began working with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in an effort to modify our organizational structure with the goal to empower people. Even within the great CCL leadership transformation think tank, we didn’t find a group of people in the organization at that time who said, “Oh yeah, we get this. We know what you want to do.” When we started on this more intentional journey that would include culture and people and alignment of incentives, we largely felt “out there” on our own.
We gave CCL our purpose (in its most simplistic form): to make people’s lives better. We now encapsulate that idea using the phrase “shaping the world around us.” This means that a person could use a product made by our diamond grinding wheels in almost every facet of life, every day. We’re literally shaping the products and the things around you. Additionally, with our values and our behaviors and the way that we engage with people and our culture, we shape our world, our individual world, our team world and our collective world by how we interact with each other. We do so intentionally. And so again, we believe we shape the world around us.
Conscious Capitalism works very well with a flat organization based on empowered associates and mutual trust. I find it’s a tribe of people who believe Conscious Capitalism is a language – a way to communicate how to put people and doing the right thing first, and seeing profit as a manifestation of those efforts. That’s the fundamental principle of Conscious Capitalism, and the major difference between it and strictly profit-seeking organizations.
Conscious Capitalism is a collective who are seeking to do business in a more pure and authentic way. But this isn’t a concept where you can say, “I’m a Conscious Capitalist and this is all I’m going to go follow.” A movement of the heart isn’t really like that. When you have people involved and emotions and dynamic atmospheres, applying a one-size-fits-all conscious capitalism concept doesn’t work. I don‘t feel that is what Conscious Capitalism ascribes to be. I find it’s a place where people can come and share ideas and do work in a different way than the majority of the businesses in the world.
Conscious Capitalism is a subset of this more human movement that we’re seeing in the world. Everything in the world is becoming more authentic. In some specific circumstances I see some automation actually going away – people want to talk to human beings and interact with each other. Technology enables us to act in ways with other humans, in ways that we haven’t been able to before. In the past, people were thought of as resources. They were just another piece of equipment which enabled the company to create profit. What we’ve learned with self-actualization and our ability to be more self-aware, intentional and conscious, is that we are all individuals. And that being individual is a critical thing. The business that ignores a person as a complete person is only going to get part of their story and engagement.
In some regards, in the most macro scale, self-awareness and self-actualization are luxuries that have been bestowed upon us by the success of the Baby Boomers. The boomers and previous generations didn’t have the luxury of asking: “What are my values and what do I really want?”
These notions around “Who am I as a human and what does a company want to be from a purpose based thing?” are new and largely possible due to the successes that have been created by previous generations. For that we are most grateful.
CEO, Abrasive Technology