Business is the most important way in which human beings cooperate. In his Philosophical Letters, Voltaire explained to his French compatriots how the British had achieved religious toleration by focusing on business:
Go into the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son’s foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn’t understand mumbled over the child, others go to heir church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.
What Voltaire understood is that if diverse people are to cooperate they must focus on their common interest and leave other (important) predilections like religion at home. Unfortunately, the woke movement is bringing religion back into business (and every other aspect of life). The religions have changed but Voltaire would not have been surprised at the consequences, a break down of cooperation and amity. That’s why I am very pleased to see how Brian Armstrong’s mission-focused company principles is growing rapidly:
A handful of founders and CEOs—Brian Armstrong of Coinbase, Jason Fried of Basecamp, Shopify’s Tobias Lütke, Medium’s Ev Williams—have said the unsayable. In the face of shop-floor social-justice activism, they’ve decided, business owners should resolve to stick to business.
No hashtag coders. No message-board threads about anti-racism or neo-pronouns. No open letters meant to get someone fired for a decade-old tweet. No politics. As Armstrong put it in his famous (or infamous) September 27th, 2020 blog post, business should be “mission focused.” A software developer explained that the conciliatory approach has become too costly: “The Slack shit, the company-wide emails, it definitely spills out into real life, and it’s a huge productivity drag.”
In October, a pseudonymous group inspired by Coinbase’s Brian Armstrong came together under the banner “Mission Protocol,” with the aim of getting other companies to start “putting aside activities and conversations” outside the scope of their professional missions. (“Mission focus doesn’t mean being apolitical,” they note. “It means being political about the mission. This mission is what you came together to accomplish, and this mission is what you’re fighting for in your work on the project.”) Paul Graham, a famed venture capitalist and “hacker philosopher,” tweeted his support to 1.3 million followers. Melia Russell, who covers the startup beat for Business Insider, noted that startups were jumping into the Mission Protocol threads “with a hell yes.”
One of the great achievements of the enlightenment was taking religion off the table. The result was peace, prosperity and the industrial revolution. In a similar way, sustaining cooperation among a diverse group of people, operating at a high level of performance is the task of great leaders and it means being mission focused.