Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The "Pay it Forward" of Business

In the 2000 film "Pay It Forward," people change their expectations about giving. Instead of getting "paid back" when they do something for or give something to somebody else, they tell the person to "pay it forward." The expression catches on nationwide, changing how people look at giving to others.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva vow is an individual's pledge not to fully attain Nirvana until all of humanity attains similar enlightenment. This contagious ethic aims for a chain-reaction in enlightenment.

So what do idealistic films and Eastern religion have to do with Capitalism? Nothing - and everything.

CEOSpace founder Berny Dohrmann does not seem to have either the movie or the bodhisattva vow in mind in his concept of "collaborative capitalism." But the broad principal is the same: when you serve others and nourish the principal of advancing the community first, you begin a movement that returns much more than if you had pursued your own interest to the exclusion of all others.

Dohrmann explains how collaborative capitalism differs from competitive capitalism, and maintains that his notion of collaborative capitalism inherently favors transparency.

In competition-based capitalism the founding principal of business is "The less you know the more I make." The more your endeavor is commoditized by price comparison of known characteristics, the greater your need to reject transparency and thereby preserve pricing flexibility.

In collaboration-based capitalism the founding principal is the creation of value. Value is the catalyst of hyper growth and innovation in markets.

If that sounds a lot more like good old-fashioned honest pricing for honest value than a revolutionary concept, it is. But when Dohrmann first examined the road Capitalism was taking, he realized that honesty and transparency had become unusual under the existing model of the day.

So in 1981, he created CEOSpace, the "original social network," to implement a collaborative capitalist model, eventually expanding to 140 clubs around the world. All members eventually went to one or more of Dohrmann's intensive 10-day seminars, held five times a year.

And that's where a business leader's concept of capitalism gets flipped upside-down.

Each participant shows up with a SNAP, or "human commercial," a clear, concise (30 seconds or less) description of what he can provide--but that "commercial" is at first only background information.

Upon meeting another member, a CEOSpace participant does not ask how he can get help in peddling his product and services. Rather, he immediately asks, "How can I help you?"

Participants work collaboratively, networking to create additional value, matching others' real needs with their own capabilities and resources. If there is "competition" in the model, it is competition to be highly regarded as helpful to other members. The guiding concern is that others flourish; if you are creating value for the CEOSpace community, all the incentives are structured for your own business to flourish as well. The more you help others, the more your own services are "advertised".

If you're tempted to write off Collaborative Capitalism as "Kumbayah Capitalism," a quick look at the program's testimonials should give you pause. Lifelong conservative business leaders, CEOs from the tech field to restaurant management, and authors and trainers agree: CEOSpace gets results.

While Dohrmann's model has common-sense advantages in any economic climate, the events since late 2008 put a fine point on what we mean by "value." The principles at issue can be traced across decades, bearing out the divergence of the modern-day financial system from a value approach. Value is whatever the market will pay for a given product or service; but value becomes purely notional and unmoored from reality, when transparency is evaded or simply foiled outright.

In the midst of the "Great Recession," entrepreneurial capitalism is not only holding its own, it is even (slightly) expanding. Industry and government leaders agree that recovery will depend on the continued and growing expansion of the entrepreneurial sector.

A confluence of easily available social media and a new recognition of the role of value and transparency certainly augur well for Dohrmann's collaborative approach. Sitting at the crossroads of social networking and transparent entrepreneurial capitalism, CEOSpace's "Pay-It-Forward" networking may just be the wave of the future.

For more information on CEO Space or Bernhard Dohrmann, go to or simply click the videos link on the links to the right of this story here at

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