The Marketplace Is Not Just Fear And Greed

Jim Blasingame Fear and greed, it has been said, are the two primal emotions that drive the marketplace. For the person who first coined this maxim, these two words were handy in their ability to deliver the most meaning with the least letters. But brevity often paints with a broad brush, and the result can deliver an unfortunate impression, as in this maxim, which as you know is a generally accepted truth.

The reason this maxim is unfortunate is because the two words used to make its point both have such negative connotations. I've often wondered why some people look down on business people and speak of capitalism as if it were the worst of all the "isms." Perhaps those who peer down their noses at me have taken the "fear and greed" thing too literally.

It is true what they say about fear and greed, however; they do motivate. And let's not be naive: there is plenty of evidence of the negative effect these two emotions can have in the marketplace. But I propose that there are other emotions that are much more prominent in the marketplace which could have been used - albeit, not as handy - in place of these two.

Here is a short list of nouns, which I believe represent a more balanced and positive perspective on emotional marketplace motivations, and which are much more in evidence than fear and greed:

Ever since it was decided that Homo sapiens would be warm blooded, we've been cursed with the physiological need to eat every day. And about the same time the blood thing was handed down, we were also given a high-maintenance body that requires clothing and shelter for survival. When a customer does business with a friend of mine, instead of saying, "Thanks for the business," he says, "Thanks for the food and shelter."

The desire for security, to possess or have the availability of the essentials of life, is a strong emotion and motivator, and civilization is the better for it.

Unlike birds or reptiles, human babies take a long time to fledge from the nest. And it's just as well because they're so darn cute, and we just like having them around. (At least until about 13. Another friend and parent of teenagers said she sometimes understands why some animals eat their young. But that's another story.) I don't know about you, but my primordial urge to take a mate and procreate, combined with paternal instincts, were pretty strong emotions that motivated me to do quite a bit of productive hunting and gathering in the marketplace.

In this self-serving process, as Adam Smith might have said, we make an "invisible hand" contribution to the world beyond our own nuclear family.

If nothing else, humans are social beings. We create and live in communities. But community comes with a price that must be paid in a currency we call responsibility. Our ability to think in the abstract produces the concept of self. Self-awareness blended with responsibility creates self-respect.

Many an opportunity has been created and a fortune won because someone's self-respect wouldn't let him or her quit. I also believe this emotion contributes significantly to the desire to help the less fortunate.

The harness-mate of self-respect, ambition motivates us beyond mere survival, and of all my examples, is perhaps the nearest kin to greed. But unlike ambition, greed doesn't blend well with any of the emotions on my list. However, when ambition is forged with self-respect, a very positive alloy is born: the quest for excellence.

The quest for excellence produces the intellectual infrastructure upon which productive organizations and markets are built.

There are many things that separate humans from other life forms, but perhaps the most interesting is our primordial passion for tinkering. To any human worth his or her protoplasm, nothing we have is ever "quite right." There surely must be a better way or another route.

Without their nucleic need to innovate, Mr. Edison might never have created the light bulb, and Mr. Kellogg would never have discovered the corn flake. And I don't even want to think about where civilization would be without these two life essentials.

The harness-mate of innovation, creativity wells up from a deeper visceral spring. Unlike innovation, which is typically born of a need, creativity is its own reward. In terms of purity, this motivator may be the most sublime, because it often manifests with total disregard for compensation, whether emotional or contractual. An artist must sell his work in order to have security, but few create just to have security. Diet Coke is an innovation. But the original Coca Cola was a creation.

In the marketplace, creativity is the free-spirit emotion that is always asking "why," and "why not." Creativity is to the marketplace what water is to life: you could have one without the other, but not for very long.

This is perhaps the only emotion on my list that we actually share with other sentient beings. Everyone knows what killed the cat. And you don't have to observe fauna for long to see plenty of examples of curiosity. But curiosity is different in humans in that we can actually do something with the evidence found in our inquiries. And that "something" is often of benefit to others.

No pun intended, but you may find my next statement curious. In humans, curiosity may be our most basic emotion, because when we pursue a curiosity, we do so with the knowledge that we very likely will be able to create innovations that provide security, produce self-respect, and feed our ambition - a pretty handy emotion to have around.

Write this on a rock... No question; fear and greed are strong motivators. But there are many more emotions than these two at work in the marketplace that are more redeeming, and more noteworthy.

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Category: Work-Life, Balance
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