The Importance of Love in Organizations
The Importance of Love in Organizations
By Matthew T. Lee
In the short film, “Faith At a $700 Billion Company” (https://faithandco.spu.edu/film-detail/faith-at-a-700-billion-company/), Ron Johnson, former Vice President of Retail Operations for Apple, Inc., explains how he connected his religious faith with his secular work. He was intrigued by the possibility of translating the Gospel “into the secular world” through the design of Apple’s retail stores in a manner that, in his words, would “make love visual through work.” The financial success of the relational approach of Apple’s stores is undeniable. But are these stores properly understood as manifestations of love? What exactly is love?
The word love has many meanings and there are also many types of love: parental, spiritual, romantic, compassionate, and so forth. Is there an essential core present in all expressions of love? In my chapter in Michael Pirson’s edited book Love and Organization (Routledge, 2022, https://www.routledge.com/Love-and-Organization-Lessons-of-Love-for-Human-Dignity-Leadership-and/Pirson/p/book/9781032183190), I suggested that although love is often understood as a feeling (noun), and perhaps less often as an action (verb), a complete understanding of love includes many parts of speech and “constituents that promote flourishing for self and others… arranged with practical wisdom according to a unifying grammar… in a manner that signifies a life-affirming story.” In other words, love is not reducible to any single part of speech or definition. Instead, as St. Thomas Aquinas and others have long understood, love—in an interpersonal sense—is perhaps best understood as a disposition to contribute to the good of the beloved (i.e., contributory love) and to relate to the beloved in healthy, life-affirming ways (i.e., unitive love). My colleagues and I are in the midst of a three-year project funded by the Templeton Foundation to empirically study this understanding of love across a variety of relationship types and both the ‘contributory’ and ‘unitive’ aspects of love identified by Aquinas seem to resonate with survey respondents (https://www.templeton.org/grant/the-construct-and-assessment-of-interpersonal-love).
What is the relevance of this perspective on love at the organizational, rather than interpersonal, level? In other words, for the creation of Beloved Communities rather than just loving interpersonal relations? Manuel Guillen answered this question in his insightful book, Motivations in Organizations (Routledge, 2021, https://www.routledge.com/Motivation-in-Organisations-Searching-for-a-Meaningful-Work-Life-Balance/Guillen/p/book/9780367626778) by asserting that, “all motivations at work can be summarized by a logic of love.” For Guillen, this means that we are always moved by our loves, by “those things we consider good.” We might love the wrong things, or love the right things in the wrong way, but love is always present in organizational contexts, including in business organizations. As Apple’s Ron Johnson put it, his motivation for Apple’s retail stores was not profit generation, but rather to “enrich lives.” Guillen notes that we can be motivated by four kinds of goods: useful (e.g., money), pleasant (e.g., esteem, happiness), moral (e.g., universal beneficence), and spiritual (e.g., Ultimate concern). Johnson states that he and his collaborators were not primarily motivated by merely useful goods when they envisioned and designed the Apple stores. There were concerned more holistically with the other goods as well.
Skeptics rightly wonder about whether the logic of love and the logic of the market are fundamentally incompatible. In other words, can love be fully present in anything other than a pure, gift economy—perhaps an ‘economy of grace’? Is real love possible in a market economy that often seems to be characterized by commodification, extraction, and objectifying ‘transactions,’ rather than generative ‘relations’? Love is important in organizations because it points beyond the limitations of zero-sum competitions, harmful externalities, and net-negative outcomes. Love, at its best, is unconditional and overabundant. Love resists the lure of disconnection and entropy that characterizes so much human activity, and perhaps even the current drift of the universe. We catch a glimpse of love in workplaces that transcend a narrow focus on the ‘useful’ and engage in creative ways with the higher order goods. It is helpful to turn Ron Johnson’s statement about his experience at Apple into a question and ask of our own endeavors, “How are we making love ‘visual’ through our work?”
Matthew Lee is a Professor of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and Director of the Flourishing Network at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University.
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