in Life Optimization

The Hippies Were Wrong, But So Are The Businessmen

from Glamhag on flickr

I never paid much attention to hippies or the New Age movement. I’ve been too busy consuming everything I could about the tech industry instead. Peace, love, and rock n roll were for my parent’s generation, not mine.

But as I get older I find myself drawn more and more into ‘the woo-woo stuff‘. From a daily meditation routine, to gratitude journals, to appreciating the ability to spend a day doing nothing, it’s provided a healthy counterpart to my ambitious businessman side. (Stop me if I ever start babbling about the healing powers of crystals.)

However, I don’t think either extreme is a good idea – businessman or hippie. Each represents an archetype on opposing ends of the Subjective/Objective duality, and as we all know, to live well one must balance each of those sides.

The hippies did a great job of not being attached to materialistic things like money and possessions. And they spent a lot of time pursuing spiritual enlightenment through yogis, psychedelics, or meditation. Life was a party all the time, which is great! But they never really impacted anyone outside of their own subjective reality. Plus, if everyone acted like that, the modern world would fall apart. We can’t all frolic in the fields sticking it to the Man, at least not if we want to have a post-Industrial Revolution quality of life.

The archetypal businessmen, meanwhile, is motived by one thing only – profit. He spends all his time creating money, which is a neutral proxy for universal value. Therefore he spends all his time creating objective value for others – theoretically that value is measured exactly by his salary, but in reality it’s distorted somewhat. Regardless, businessmen often fall into the trap of sinking their entire lives into the firm, getting that promotion, that corner office, and that suburban mansion, only to realize on their deathbed that they were never truly happy.

The archetypal hippy and the the archetypical businessman are opposites. One seeks peace, love, happiness, an easy, calm life, and generally not taking things too seriously. Meanwhile the other seeks profit, working hard and playing hard, ‘killing it’, and taking things seriously. One fixates on the present, the other the future. Which appears closer to an artist, and which to a scientist? I hope the parallels here are obvious outside of my head….

What Would a Hippy Businessman Look Like?

I could go on. Heart and mind, intuition and logic, so on and so forth. You get the idea. But if living well is balancing the two extremeness, what would a hippy businessman look like?

A hippie businessman would be motivated both by money and by wellness. He would enjoy his work, while positively impacting others. He would follow his heart, and not just the bottom line. He is both mindful and ambitious. A stressful moneymaking venture is not his style, nor an  passive lifestyle business that allows him to sit back and rake it in. The Why is as important to him as the What.

Who are good examples of hippie businessmen? Steve Jobs is invariably the first that comes to mind, given his early days dabbling in acid, vegetarianism, and yoga. And it’s true that Apple’s take on computers is a lot more organic, friendly, and ‘soft’, than Microsoft.

However, I don’t think Steve is the best example of a Hippy Businessman, because his personal life is infamously chaotic. He was abrasive to both coworkers and family, barely had a life outside of work, and generally was not a person who ‘took it easy’. He was a perfectionist

A better example would be someone like Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, whose book’s subtitle “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” says all you need to know. His business is not the end-all, be-all in his life. He pays enough attention to it to make it successful, sustainable, and fair, but does not live to work. Nor does he work to live. He works, and he plays, and the two are not the same, although he enjoys and is fulfilled by both. He spends time with his family and makes sure that his employees can as well.

The true hippy businessman is not someone you see profiled on the front page of Fortune. Their business does well, but not incredibly so, because their business isn’t what they pour all of themselves into. They choose to be great instead of big. Instead you would know one by what their family and friends think of them. They always make it home for dinner, and they value their personal relationships as much as their professional ones. Not a corporate warrior who puts in their 9 to 5 and calls it a day, but someone who takes pleasure in being good at what they do.

Do Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Count?

I’m not sure if I know any hippy businessmen in my real life. I’ve met a few lifestyle entrepreneurs who travel the world off the funds of branding agencies, nonprofits, and consulting, but I’m hesitant to make those count. Their businesses appear to be means to and end, rather than end in itself.  But maybe I’m being too picky.

Here’s a good article about a guy who left his funded startup to start a lifestyle business that touches on the above themes. The way I see it, a hippy business would be the perfect combination of the two. Their business is more than just a source of income, but less than the reason for their existence.

Who do you think is a a good example of a hippy businessman?

  • Steve FH

    I enjoyed your post. I interpreted your view of hippy to mean a happy go lucky person who only seeks pleasure in the moment. I would add it is someone who follows his or her passion without concern about how others see or value that passion. With that in mind I think of examples of hippy businessman as someone like the owner/chef of Al’s Place in San Francisco, or Yamaguchi san, the owner of Frey’s Famous in Tokyo…both very successful by traditional business metrics, but their top scores are the outcomes of their passion not the objectives of their businesses.