Journeys With a Daoist in the Business World

05/23/2012 03:24 pm ET | Updated Jul 23, 2012
  • Keith Weigelt Professor, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania

I am a strategist in the Daoist tradition. One tenet of Daoism is that individuals are responsible for their reality. We all have the power to change our reality because of what game theorists call interactive payoffs. When you interact with others, the consequence of your decision depends on the behavior of others. One's world is not filled with solitude. Because consequences depend on one's actions and those of others, you must consider their actions in choosing yours. Think of a young man saying "I love you" for the first time. His experience does not depend on this utterance, but how his partner reacts to it. The world of one who hears, "I love you too" is significantly different from those who hear silence. It is for this reason many fail to reveal their feelings.

In effect, we experience our world through interactions with others. Daoists believe since interactions define the future, they must be actively managed. After all, it is your future too. Goals are achieved by inducing others to cooperate. Strategists get others to choose actions that, when combined with their own, result in desired consequences. The Ancients called it creating harmony. Harmony is often elusive. It is not an easy task to see from the eyes of others and there are many actions available to induce others to cooperate from infatuation to extortion. However difficult, Daoists believe the ability to change reality is less a question of possibility and more one of design. Reality is a process. It is the belief that every action taken impacts the future.

I tell you this so you can better understand my actions. I teach strategy at Wharton Business School. And, though my published research is largely based in game theory, I always held an interest in collecting data on the growing inequality in accumulated wealth between whites and minorities in the United States. The 2010 census shows the median accumulated wealth for whites is $113,000 and that of blacks is $6,000. This measure of almost 20 times is the highest it's been since the metric was created in the mid 1980s.

I often wondered what drove my interest in this inequality. One hypothesis I support is that interests are a function of attachment to past events. The civil rights movement was my first foray with social causes. I was young enough to think I knew the future. Lyndon Johnson described it in a 1965 speech:

You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.' You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying 'you are free to compete with all the others' and still justly believe you have been completely fair...This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom, but opportunity -- not just equality as a right and theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.
(June 4, 1965).

As the wealth inequality grew, I've watched millions of American Blacks endure decades of inter-generational poverty. Blacks were not catching up, they were falling behind. There was ample evidence to question whether the stated vision of civil rights was ever achieved. It became clear to me that equality was not a fact but a long-standing unfulfilled promise. I felt it was time to change reality.

Teaching in a business school offers insights into the value of information: how knowledge creates opportunities and, when combined with capital, generates wealth. So I kept my plan simple. I would first teach business literacy to a community and then devise vehicles to create communities of wealth. I would basically increase their wealth accumulation to reduce the wealth gap. Prior to the expectations of many, the poor save. However, due to many constraints, their returns are low.

We call the campaign REDUCE THE WEALTH GAP. Our goal is simple: to reduce the wealth gap between minorities and whites in the United States. We just completed a successful pilot with a group of 70 participants. We are scaling up (hopefully) to a class of 200 in the fall. I do not know if the campaign will succeed, but I do know it generates hope where little has existed.

The Huffington Post has kindly agreed to host my blog. In a series of posts we will report progress of the campaign and explain issues from a Daoist perspective. Often, the blog will report campaign progress through the words of other participants. These guest reports will provide greater depth in explaining issues.

We hope our readings will generate interest and awareness for the campaign. In return, we ask readers for their social support. We ask simply that you tell others about the campaign. In this forum we do not ask for financial support, we only ask for social support. My hope is to generate interest and awareness for the program. Thank you and I look forward to interacting with you in the future.

Professor Keith Weigelt has partnered with Oxfam America to pilot his savings and investing program. In addition, he has developed a cross-generational program teaching financial literacy and business skills to grammar and high school student. He developed his curriculum four years ago and it's been successfully piloted at inner-city schools in West Philadelphia.