Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
December 2010 - Volume 10, No. 12
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Business & Community

Two conflicting models:  Business and Community

A clash of models

To build a business and to build a community are not the same thing. The Business model initially has the people serving business, or the centers of power, the direction being bottom to top. The Community model initially has the people serving the community, the direction being top to bottom.

The mental sets of each are essentially opposite. The businessman or woman looks at the world and works to re-form it for the sake of building business. And the idea is that when business is built or enhanced, the benefits will ‘trickle down’ to benefit the world or the people. At root it’s a hierarchical model, superior/inferior, boss/ worker, management/labor, greater value/lesser value. When the problems of the body politic are considered primarily economic, the business model is favored for fixing the problems, because of its implicit efficiency and upwardly serving mindset.

The Community focus, on the other hand, looks at the needs of people or communities as primary, and the people re-form their lives and enterprise for the sake of the greater or perhaps specific community good. The hope is that when people, either individually or in groups, are served, the larger community and the world as a whole will benefit. Instead of a hierarchical model, it’s more democratic (egalitarian, based on social equality). When the problems of the body politic focus on the needs of people, the community model is favored because that’s it’s direct and primary focus.


This distinction helps us understand the mood (and the craziness) of our recent national elections. Generally speaking, Republicans trust the business model. Run the government like a business and the people will be OK. I noticed in Republican campaign and ‘victory speeches’, business language was common: tighten, budget, trust business to correct itself, remove government ‘interference’, streamline, bottom line, don’t tax or fetter wealth. Add to that self-reliance and personal responsibility. Take care of business and people take care of themselves.

Democrats, on the other hand, are by nature more inclined to use government to care more directly for the people, and especially the people who are disadvantaged. In many ways they will act to protect people from the abuses of business and power.

Healthcare reform is an example. There are those whose primary interest is to prohibit any inhibitory effect on business, and there are those whose primary interest is more egalitarian access to health care itself.

President Obama, to my memory, has a strong community organization background from his Chicago days. I also recall that very early in his presidential campaign his opposition instantly set out to discredit that background. Community organization does not have as its primary focus the health of Dow Jones or Nasdaq numbers.

When push comes to shove, government tends to take the side of (and serve) the powerful, an implicit function of the Business model.


This same clash of models exists in families. The Business model has a ‘head of the family’ and then the rest of the family. The family supports the ‘head’ and the head then cares for the family from that hierarchical position (this ‘head’ may be male or female). And often there’s a division of power where one has ‘headship’ in one area and the other has ‘headship’ in another area. In such cases, these divisions are fiercely separate domains. Cooperation usually means ‘don’t interfere.’

This is a common scenario: The family member who goes ‘out into the world’ and is successful, either in business or climbing the ladders of industry and commerce, has trouble being a ‘part of the family’ when he or she comes home. The Business model can ‘manage’ a family, but it doesn’t know how to build a family. In my counseling, men will frequently complain they get no “respect” from family members. Respect is a Business model concept. This request usually signals a lack of shared mutuality and “care” within the family. In a “Community model” family, the term “respect” is seldom necessary.

The Shadow Side of Each

I find it a useful exercise when seeking to understand something or someone to consciously look for its shadow side as well.

Greed is the shadow side of the Business model especially when business becomes an end in itself for the business person. If the function of the business is sales, then the purpose of sales is for the sake of the business, and not for the sake of the customer. “Customer care” becomes a pacifying charade, which we too frequently feel all around us these days. In business, what’s more important at the Holidays, the financial bottom line of the merchants, or the happiness and well-being of the populace? If you listen to and read the news it’s obvious which value (or god) the holidays serve.

It’s a common conclusion that the genesis of the financial crisis of these past few years has its roots in the greed of the ‘high managers’ in banking and business. Yet we look at the resistance of business when government tries to ‘govern’ this excess. The Business model would encourage us to distrust government (and at times with some good reason). I read a year or so ago that classic economic theory has been based on a rational model of human persons. Now (finally!) the economists are beginning to ask psychologists for insight. We’ve always known better! For both the haves and the have-nots, greed will more often trump logic, empathy and caring.

If the shadow side of the Business model is personal greed, the shadow side of the Community model is what I’ll call ‘victim entitlement.’ Business model greed prevents the benefits of business enterprise from ‘trickling down’ to enhance the lives of the people. The Community model’s ‘victim power’ (itself a variant of greed) sabotages the work of “helping folks” from enhancing the well-being of the community. When you ‘play the victim’ you may not get happy, but you can certainly command attention, as well as community resources. (This latter phenomenon is a thesis I’ve been developing, eventually to publish.)

The Hope for Cooperation

Although the two models represent a polarity (similar in structure to a psychological bi-polar disorder), the consideration has always been that they must overlap with a unifying and higher order center, which I’ll call here “the welfare of the commonwealth.” Too often today we see a “battle to death” mentality in which cooperation is lost (like in divorce court). The art of “reaching across the aisle” in our legislatures and communities is in great danger these days.

Incidentally, my thesis about the “Tea Party” phenomenon is that politically we have a bi-polar “empty middle,” which, like a vacuum attracts empty people. No depth, narrow vision, shallow personality, empty words and a great place for demons to congregate. This “empty middle” can also a blind spot for both business and community model folks. I’ll tell my clients, that’s where we fall in love - in our blind spots.

These thoughts are still not yet fully formed within me. I believe strongly in my original thesis, but am struggling for a language to make fuller sense of them. Please be generous with your comments and critique.

I do hope to assist in finding a way back from the severe polarities we’re experiencing today. Each side has its gifts for the ‘welfare of the commonwealth’ - even though the language and conceptual maps of each are quite different from each other. And the great secret is to maintain dialogue - talking and listening - at all costs.

As a marriage counselor, I do the same work to bring men and women together for building a better marriage and family. I figure if this is possible, anything’s possible! So, continue to

Pay attention!

Comments (2)

  • Bill, I continue to be impressed with your thoughtfulness and insight. As one who has been troubled by what I term the “mercantile mentality” for years; and, who is currently trying to adapt a Harvard Business Review visioning process for a non-profit organization, your newsletter was timely. Thank you.

    — Geff Boyer, 12/1/2010
  • Thanks Bill. Very insightful. I like the link between politics and family. I’m always looking for links. It somehows simplifies life.

    — Tom McGettrick, 12/2/2010

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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