Self-Interest vs. Service is the wrong question


By: Mary Beth McEuen

While at MASSIVE, a forum I attended a couple of weeks ago sponsored by Simon Sinek and Bob Chapman, we had a very enlightening and important dialogue on self-interest vs. service. We came to a place that the problem was when we try to force and either / or mentality onto such a complex human phenomena. I think Paul Lawrence sums up the tension we all feel between self-interest and service very well as he describes how decisions are made relative to our emotionally-laden biological drives which include:

* Drive to Acquirewhat one needs for one’s survival and the conception and survival of one’s offspring.

* Drive to Defend onself and, as needed, one’s offspring from threats.

* Drive to Bond; that is, to form long-term, mutually caring and trusting relationships with other people.

* Drive to Create; that is, to learn, to create, to innovate, and to make sense of the world and of oneself.

The drives to acquire and defend are oriented toward competitiveness and protection often associated with self-interest. In other words, if there is a bag of cookies, we want all of the cookies for ourselves and our loved ones. The drives to bond and create are oriented toward cooperation and human progress. In other words, if there is a bag of cookies, we know we must share them with others in a spirit of service and overall human progress.

So here is what happens. We are in the midst of making a decision on how many cookies to keep for ourselves vs. how many cookies to give to others. The four drives of our brain serve as four criteria for evaluating our “cookie division” dilemma. It is obvious that the four drives are conflicting with each other. Our drive to acquire chimes in saying “take all of the cookies.” Our drive to defend is tugging at us to be sure we have enough cookies so we don’t starve in the future. And at the other end of the tightrope, our drive to bond is pulling at us saying, “what about them? They want some cookies too?” And our drive to create, imbued with emotions such as wonder and awe, prompts us to see the bigger picture and be about creating a world where everyone has their full share of cookies.

Ahhhhh …. the tug and pull of these drives is both exhausting andexhilarating as we strive to find win-win solutions where we both take care of ourselves AND we take care of others. As we translate this to the business world, we can trust that the human mind and brain is very well-equipped to tackle the challenge of both doing well from a business perspective and doing good from a people perspective. The human mind and brain is very well-equipped to make decisions where every stakeholder of business benefits without trade-off. The human mind and brain is very well-equipped to transcend conflict where two positions require a third and better solution where everyone is benefited. Our great challenge is to develop our capacities to be more reflective and more conscious of all of the implications of our decisions and choices. We need to strive to take the perspective of every stakeholder as part of the decision-making process. We need to act as stewards for both ourselves and for the best interests of others.


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