Kabbalah and Business: The Dynamic Corporation – Chapter 4 – mastering one's markets: where quality rules

Chapter 4

The domestic atmosphere that a company aims to create by encouraging a familial spirit within its ranks must be offset by an aggressive stance vis-a-vis the outside markets it seeks to serve. Here, an assumption of confidence in one's powers to influence and dominate is the posture of choice. Whereas a deferential style may help spur internal cooperation and productivity, when facing one's markets one must learn to adopt an attitude of assertive pride in the service or product he is offering.

It is crucial, however, that this corporate pride be tied to one thing only: quality. Reputation, value, service, and even profit-return must never replace the quality of a product as the jewel in the company crown. In markets as vast and far-flung as those which confront the modern manufacturer, representing one's product to customers becomes a contrived task. With most end-users nothing more than anonymous fish in the big consumer ocean, the only reasonable option is to "cast your bread upon the waters" and let the product speak for itself.

The intrinsically impersonal character of contemporary markets serves to propel modern corporations toward aggressive self-promotion aimed at securing hegemony within those markets. In an interactive mass-economy, where the unbridled desire for market-rule can lead to either prosperity or peril for all involved, a company must justify its pretensions to power and domination. This is where the balance between a nurturing style within the company and an aggressive one without serves to insure against the self-destructive tendencies often observed in corporate life.

The goal of establishing market-hegemony demands that the company devise a relational paradigm for interacting with markets that is based upon a monarchic model. Unlike relating to employees, where a casual familial style promotes growth, winning potential markets demands a much more formal corporate persona. Jewish law dictates that whereas both father and teacher are allowed to decline the honors normally accorded them, a king is absolutely prohibited from compromising the dignity of his office–even if motivated by devotion to his subjects. The esteem attached to kingship is no mere privilege of office; it is an integral aspect of the kingly function. For the ascendant corporation, this means avoiding the tendency to pander to its markets if doing so entails compromising its standards of excellence.

The pride one takes in the quality of a product is ultimately a reflection of the respect he maintains for the markets at which the product is directed. If a king is unable to compromise the honor of his office, this is only because it would compromise the honor of his kingdom and his subjects. The risk of losing market popularity is indeed small if it is clear to all that the standard of quality one maintains in a product reflects the image one has of those for whom that product is intended.

Clear dedication to a creative ideal is what most protects the corporate self from false pride and conceit. Especially as regards a company's internal health, which can be endangered by individual ego and ambition, the ability of management to model selflessness in its commitment to corporate excellence will bolster the entire company without jeopardizing the dignity of the executive office itself.

This can be clearly seen from the example of the Biblical king of Israel, for whom the Heavenly Kingdom serves as inspiration for his own earthly rule. In the Bible's description of the celebration that accompanied the arrival of the holy ark in Jerusalem, we find King David unabashedly dancing and leaping before the approaching ark. He is subsequently chastised by his wife Michal for demeaning the dignity of his office in comporting himself so frivolously before his subjects. In his reply to her, we find the testimony of a sovereign who understands that the honor of his office belongs not to his person but to the Power that has invested him with his kingly responsibility:

And David said to Michal: It was before G-d, who has chosen me above your father and all his house to be appointed as a prince over the people of G-d, over Israel; it was before G-d that I frolicked. May I demean myself even more, and be lowly in my own eyes–yet before the servants of whom you have spoken, with them will I be honored.

This incident, together with King David's response, indicates that the unique humility of kingship need not always be concealed when its revelation allows others to share in the joy of serving the ideal which legitimizes one's royal powers. In our context, the ultimate advantage of the executive adopting an occasionally self-effacing and transparent managerial style is that it allows the employees to validate his authority by exposing them to the creative vision in which it is grounded.

To the same extent that "abasing" oneself before employees is justified when done for the sake of sharing his vision and enthusiasm, so too is the occasional expression of pride in a company's creative achievements an appropriate demonstration. This odd combination of pride and humility essential to Jewish leadership is compared in the Kabbalah to the surging (gei'ut) and ebbing (shefel) of the sea. The numerical equivalence of these words (gei'utshefel = 410), suggesting the pendular motion of the ocean tide, serves to teach us as well that it is the extent of a leader's humility which determines the degree of power he can instinctively allow himself to assume.

What marks the humility of kingship as so unique is the sense of mission and responsibility with which it is imbued. By reining his ego, the king ensures that the ideal which he seeks to promote will strike deep into the heart of his subjects, just as the trajectory of an arrow is determined by the degree of restraint exerted in pulling back the bow-string. For the corporate "archer" whose target is his market, the challenge of identifying a unique and worthy need for him to serve should provide a focus for his powers of humility and restraint. Once he succeeds in recognizing that outer need, he sets his product in motion so that it may proceed toward its intended mark.

The task of identifying an objective need in the world to which one can offer a singular response must be the foremost concern of any aspiring company. The extent to which the corporate power can suppress its own "self-interest," be that defined as any goal other than the "common good" of the market, will determine its success in fulfilling its creative mission.

The quality of a product is measured by its distinctiveness of function as well as of form. Its ability to serve the need that it was designed for, while at the same time evoke the creative vision and power that produced it, will determine its ultimate quality. The strength that one is measuring when considering quality is referred to in Hebrew as on ("potency"), a gauge of the impact one makes through the act of creative self-expression. It is this imprint left upon a product which carries a message of excellence into markets of the future, thereby ensuring a company's enduring relevance and survival.

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