Rob Adams of the innovation agency Six Fingers will be looking at new theories and ideas emerging in the world that are contributing towards change in society, life and our ways of working

Text: Rob Adams 
Image: Saskia Kropff

Capital. There are countless definitions and descriptions for this term. The common denominator: wealth. The total of capital goods, i.e. the sum of money. The word capital in itself is quite an ugly word. Hard and impossible to pronounce with a smile, just try it. It’s also a noun, which means that it exists. Just like a house, a star or a piranha. So it can be a subject, a direct object or an indirect object.

Capital is often used as a subject. The first thing that comes to mind is the very influential book named after it, Das Kapital by Karl Marx. A critical work, especially when it comes to how production is organised and with it how capital is distributed. This book has a special connection to the Brainport region, because Marx’s family has a connection to Gerard Philips’ family. The sister of Gerard’s grandmother was Karl’s mother, or to put it more simply, Gerard’s father was Karl’s nephew.

By defining capital as wealth, the concept of growth is quickly embraced. Growth in volume and therefore in power. The companies that are the most capital-rich determine the direction the world takes to a large degree, for better or for worse. They have catchy slogans that indicate how much they care about the world. But the first venture capitalist who genuinely means it has yet to be born. There was a time when companies were not only focused on growth, but they also took good care of their environments. The corporate group that this same Gerard helped co-found provided houses, sports clubs and education for the children of its employees. Growth in capital also meant growth in society. In my opinion, capital only becomes interesting when it’s combined with words like cultural, social and societal.

‘So be very wary when capital becomes some economic goal that needs to grow for the sake of growing.’

Is the combination of capital with cultural, social and societal not something we have abandoned? Which companies really still care? We live in a region that calls itself Brainport, but where eight per cent of the population still has low literacy. At vocational schools, the low literacy rate nationwide is as high as 25 per cent and there is little reason to believe that this region would be much different. A region where people work hard and think a lot, but where at the same time life expectancy is a full year less than in the rest of the Netherlands due to the poor air quality. Our lungs apparently cannot cope. Isn’t working with the collective genius of the Brainport region on issues like these exactly what is possible? Being able to offer more perspectives on a small scale to the people who live and work in the region and love it here? Increasing the quality of life and our happiness in life so that it is at least equal to the economic growth? Is that not thinking in terms of capital?

What if the definition of capital as wealth meant ‘the wealth to do something wonderful’? What if that were the essence of wealth? The ability to create and add something wonderful and meaningful to the world. Wouldn’t that be the greatest capital? And is it compatible with entrepreneurship? Gerard and Karl’s family may well have fed them some ideas after all.

Isn’t making small changes for the better the greatest thing we can achieve as human beings? As humans we are stewards, not owners of the world. Not owners, but educators of our children. So let’s take good care of the world around us, because in the end, we too are just passers-by in our society. If we use our capital to make the world more beautiful for the youth and for future generations, then we are not multiplying capital as if it is a kind of virus, but instead increasing its impact on all the little things that surround us.

Capital in itself has no end goal. The goal is often to grow it into money, but money alone has no value. So be very wary when capital becomes some economic goal that needs to grow for the sake of growing. Because then the goal can suffocate all the little things. As Krishnamurti beautifully put it: ‘Life has no purpose, a purpose is a limitation’. So rather than defining a purpose, define the role that you want to take on within your organisation. Every entrepreneur can play a major role in positively influencing the little things around them. So, to more or less finish off with Karl, entrepreneurs of the world unite!

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