A Buddhist Monk’s Take on Business

Today’s post will be about a different approach to business and life. It will be about the work of a Buddhist monk / businessman, Geshe Michael Roach. Geshe is an academic degree, like PhD, in Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

In some cases, the business lessons of Michael Roach seems to differ from what we learn from traditional Western sources. In other cases, both traditions seem to match each other. I want to discuss a principle from his book, Karmic Management: What Goes Around Comes Around in Your Business and Life.

Michael Roach has another book called The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life. In that book, he discusses common business problems and their solutions. I recommend both books, not only for businesspeople, but also for everyone who works as an employee.

A Holistic Approach to Business

In the Western tradition, when we think of starting a business, we think of how we can maximize our profits. In some cases, we also think about how we can benefit the customers. Michael Roach has a more holistic approach to business.

He argues that in order to be successful and sustainable, a business has to benefit its suppliers, employees, customers, and humanity at large.

In the Western approach, we try to minimize the costs of suppliers and employees. In most cases, we ignore the humanity at large. And we want to provide as little as possible to the customers that we can get away with. How sustainable is such an approach?

Suppliers

If you think about it, Michael Roach’s approach is simple common sense. I must say that this idea has changed the way I looked at business. Up until then, I used to purchase the cheapest option provided by my suppliers, for example in case of web hosting.

After learning Michael Roach’s approach I became more liberal with my spending. I changed my hosting to SiteGround and I don’t regret that decision.

Even though not the same, this idea also reminds me of Dan Peña’s approach of spending 125% of the income of a business in order to facilitate a fast growth.

Employees

The intuitive approach is to minimize the number of employees to maximize profits. As a result, we try to do as much as possible ourselves. You don’t have to be a businessperson to hire another person and make use of their services.

I met many people not wanting to hire a cleaning service for their homes, because they think it would be an extra cost on their budget. But think about how much an hour of your time costs and how much an hour for cleaning services costs. If you do the math, you’re losing money by not hiring a cleaning service, if your hourly rate is greater than the hourly cost of a cleaning service.

Think about all the tasks that you’re doing that you can delegate to a virtual assistant. Tim Ferriss is advocating the use of a virtual assistant in his book the Four Hour Working Week.

By hiring a virtual assistant, you’re taking advantage of the income inequality between developed countries and developing countries. This is completely ethical and moral, because by hiring them, you’re contributing to the reduction of this inequality.

Treating your employees well, providing them with the benefits and education is critical to attract good employees and to engage them. With websites such as Glassdoor, it is not a secret anymore what’s going on in a company. Candidates look at those websites before they are making their decision to apply to a job.

Customers

The third component of the business, customers, receive considerable attention in some Western companies as well. Getting and maintaining the goodwill of the customer is critical for the success and sustainability of the business.

Back in the day, some businesses were built on the idea that a sucker was born every minute. They thought they could cheat a person out of their money and that wouldn’t matter, because they would find another person to cheat after that.

Needless to say, this is a horrible idea in the age of the Internet and transparency. Nowadays, as soon as you cheat someone out of their money, they immediately go to Internet to complain about your business. A simple Google query on your business can easily expose all the complaints about your business and that’s a recipe for disaster for your business.

The opposite of that statement is also true. The best marketing is word of mouth marketing. If you provide the best products and services for the best price you can provide, you don’t need to worry about marketing. Your customers will do the marketing for you.

Think about a company like Google. Their services for the general public is free and they are already dominating the market, but they are still providing great experience to their users. For example, when I’m not sure about the usage of an English term or idiom, I type it in to their search box and their autocomplete functionality shows me the correct usage, which is a great help when writing a blog post.

Humanity at Large

Humanity at large is usually ignored when making business decisions. Think about the impact of your business on humanity at large. How would the world look like if all the businesses in the world acted like yours? Would the world be a better place for everyone or not?

I believe we will be considering the impact of businesses on the environment and humanity more and more in the future. People, at least the ones with disposable income, will be buying more from ethical businesses. Being an ethical business will be a marketing asset in itself. Think about recent trends such as electric cars, renewable energy, fair trade, and organic farming.

Transparency in the Age of the Internet

If you think about it, Michael Roach’s karmic management principles are based on the well-known win-win principle. As the Internet increases transparency, the benefits of karmic management principles are amplified.

Companies can’t maintain a positive façade, while abusing their employees, suppliers, customers, the environment, and the humanity at large. Those abuses are reported immediately on the Internet and they will be a dent in the marketing efforts and hence in the business of a company.

Summary

As Gary Vaynerchuk says, “karma is practical.” That statement will be more and more true as the world becomes more and more transparent thanks to the Internet. In the age of the Internet, the sustainability and success of a business will depend on the value it provides to its suppliers, employees, customers, and humanity at large.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.

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