Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees, and lions; on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations, and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.
In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari makes a compelling observation about corporations and the role they play in our economics.
For one thing, corporations are a figment of our collective imaginations – a legal fiction, as termed by lawyers.
Before the creation of corporations, people themselves were personally held liable for loans, private property, transactions gone wrong. A scenario which, as you can imagine, discouraged entrepreneurship. People were afraid to start businesses and absorb economic risks. Rightly so.
Today, as has been the trend over the past few centuries, such companies have become dominant players on the economic scene. It’s easy to forget these entities only exist in our imaginations. And as illustrations by many corporations’ behaviors, they often do.
How did companies become such a driving force in our world’s economy? Through telling effective stories, and convincing people to believe in them. It’s through this belief that millions of strangers are able to cooperate and work towards common goals. These ideas are concretized by company vision, mission, and values. Some might call this branding.
What’s ironic, is, (most) companies operate with the bottom line in mind, not the interest of its people. When in fact, the company is comprised of – you guessed it – people. The primary customers are, in general, people. I call this is the people’s paradox.
Many of us operate with the assumption that companies have the best interest of their employees in mind. Given the company itself functions in the interest of profit, we need to be mindful of these implications and how they affect us as people, not as assets or capital.