We seem to mostly think that public corporations exist to serve private purposes. But, if that were true, it would mean that corporate purpose is an contradiction in terms. There are only corporate means to private purposes. In practice, that means that corporations exist simply to make money. Is that really how we want to approach business purpose?

Seeking profit alone isn’t a bug in the coding of our corporate culture. It’s a feature of the way we think about value.

It’s part of the system. It comes along with the (flawed) assumption that we work together to enjoy the fruits of our labor privately.

This feature of our approach to value has some unsettling implications. Businesses cannot have missions–unless those missions help them make money. Businesses do not exist to promote sustainable ecosystems. Or community flourishing. Or the common good. ‘Doing good’ only makes sense when there’s no better way for a corporation to ‘do well.’ This way of thinking about business is most famously expressed in Milton Friedman’s thesis that “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits.”

If we want mission-driven corporations, businesses that serve the common good, and organizations that put flourishing before profitability, we need to reexamine whether purpose is really what we’ve made it out to be.

Until we find a new way of expressing our corporate purposes, business cannot promote human flourishing.

Perhaps purpose–just like value–is corporate, public, and collective. And maybe, at the center of corporate purpose, is our common good. That center can give our work a resting place. A reference point for compassion.

If business is centered on the common good of peace, it makes sense to talk about corporate purpose.

Business does have a purpose. But it isn’t making money. It’s taking care of one another.