Friday, June 27, 2014

The Church of Starbucks

In the aftermath of Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly's excommunication from the LDS Church, several friends of mine lamented over their own exclusion from the Church (culturally, not literally). Another friend (the friendly neighborhood atheist) made the comment, "You can always come hang out with me at the Church of Starbucks." While I'm positive he meant joining him as a customer, I think he unintentionally touched on the similarity between a church and Starbucks' business model. A couple major aspects of religion are ethics and character development. Conforming to a certain brand of ethics and developing one's character takes willpower. As Charles Duhigg explains below, it is this notion of teaching willpower that Starbucks has embraced.

In his book The Power of Habit, Duhigg tells the story of Travis Leach, a high school dropout raised by drug addicts. He witnessed his first overdose--his father--at nine years old. This kind of upbringing left him emotionally unstable, making it difficult to hold a job due to his tendency to either scream back at upset customers or break down in tears when a shift became overwhelming. That was until he began working at Starbucks. Six years later, he was the manager of two Starbucks (40 employees), debt free, a steady salary, and a 401(k). "He's never late to work. He does not get upset on the job."[1] But what is even more surprising is Travis' view of Starbucks:

The training has, Travis says, changed his life. Starbucks has taught him how to live, how to focus, how to get to work on time, and how to master his emotions. Most crucially, it has taught him willpower. "Starbucks is the most important thing that has ever happened to me," he told me. "I owe everything to this company."[2]

Duhigg describes Starbucks as "one of the nation's largest educators," providing "the kind of life skills that schools, families, and communities have failed to provide."[3] First-year employees spend over 50 hours in Starbucks classrooms. These classrooms make willpower the core element of their education. Willpower is made into an organizational habit. Starbucks realized that most employees did their jobs well most of the time. It was only during "inflection points"--moments of great stress or uncertainty--that some faltered. Routines for difficult situations were provided. Responses to triggers were taught via role play. Rewards for jobs well done were identified. "Starbucks taught their employees how to handle moments of adversity by giving them willpower habit loops."[4] This involved the LATTE method: Listen to the customer, Acknowledge the complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and Explain why the problem occurred. By deciding one's reaction to a particular cue before hand, routine would set in when triggered. Not only is Starbucks teaching self-control, they are actually providing space for it. Research demonstrates that an increased feeling of autonomy combats the depletion of willpower. "For companies and organizations," writes Duhigg,

this insight has enormous implications. Simply giving employees a sense of agency--a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority--can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs...The same lessons hold true at Starbucks. Today, the company is focused on giving employees a greater sense of authority. They have asked workers to redesign how espresso machines and cash registers are laid out, to decide for themselves how customers should be greeted and where merchandise should be displayed..."We've started asking partners to use their intellect and creativity, rather than telling them 'take the coffee out of the box, put the cup here, follow this rule,'" said Kris Engskov, a vice president at Starbucks. "People want to be in control of their lives."[5]

My friend may be on to something. If we want to learn how to treat others, manage our emotions properly, and develop a stronger will and increased autonomy, Starbucks may be the church to attend.


1. Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do in Life and Business (New York: Random House, 2012), 130.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., 145.

5. Ibid., 151.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Drucker Insight: The Purpose of Zion?

I was recently thinking about the following quote from psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (which I was made aware of by Nathaniel Givens):

The correlate to the singularity of human existence is the uniqueness of every human being...If all men were perfect, then every individual would be replaceable by anyone else. From the very imperfection of men follows the indispensability and inexchangeability of each individual; for each is imperfect in his own fashion. No man is universally gifted; but the bias of the individual makes for his uniqueness.[1]

And yet, moral perfection seems to be a goal in many religions, including Mormonism. Perhaps this is why Zion--a collective salvation--is so central to Mormon thought. An insight as to why this is can be gleaned from Peter Drucker, the Father of Management. He explained the purpose behind management and organization:

To be sure, the fundamental task of management remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change.[2]

Elsewhere, he said, "Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is about..."

Organizations are meant to make the weaknesses of individuals irrelevant. I might have to revisit this Drucker insight and its relation to Zion in the near future. Until then, enjoy the following video about Peter Drucker. 


1. From Frankl's The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (New York: Bantam Books, 1967), 56. 

2. Peter Drucker, The Essential Drucker (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 4.

3. Ibid., 10 (italics mine). 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Business Ethics and the Spiritual Life

You gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need.
You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you're on the street,
You gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed.
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.
And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You'll get the chance to put the knife in

- Pink Floyd, "Dogs," Animals (Harvest/EMI, 1977)

A couple years ago, an article in Bloomberg Businessweek titled "How the Mormons Make Money" quoted from historian D. Michael Quinn on the way Mormonism approaches finances and business: 

The Mormon Church is very different than any other church. … Traditional Christianity and Judaism make a clear distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, while Mormon theology specifically denies that there is such a distinction...In the Mormon [leadership’s] worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor, as the old phrase goes in the Biblical sense, as it is to make a million dollars. 

Quinn is working on a history of the LDS Church's business and financial activities (supposedly the third in his Mormon Hierarchy trilogy) and already has published some impressive work on the subject. Nonetheless, this overlap of the spiritual and temporal is found both in Judaism and medieval Christianity. But this lack of a "clear distinction" between the spiritual and temporal in Mormonism was also recognized (in a rather critical way) by author and historian Bernard DeVoto in a 1925 article:

Following the principles laid down in God's book they have developed prosperity from a poverty as great as their intellectual squalor, and this in face of persecution, exile, and even confiscation. God, in effect, has made good. There is wealth in plenty in Utah, and a material culture as modern as any in the nation. All this they have achieved by reading God's book and acting on it, by following God as few other artists have ever been followed. The Doctrine and Covenants has interpenetrated every part of their lives, business methods with their worship and metaphysics with their trade.

That is why any Saint today will stop in the act of selling you a gallon of gasoline or cutting your hair to discuss the fact that God has "body, parts, and passions," and is by actual sexual conjugation the father of mankind. That is why your bell-boy is likely to stay a moment after receiving his tip to warn you of the wrath to come or to set you right about the Sermon on the Mount. Your banker will mingle the lost tribes with his caution against overdrafts.[1]

This "close involvement in economic affairs" was "one of the most negative aspects of contemporary Mormonism" according to DeVoto (and often Hugh Nibley for that matter).[2] He later admitted in a personal letter that this piece and others were "ignorant, brash, prejudiced, malicious, and...irresponsible."[3] 

While some decry the mixing of the spiritual and temporal, an article in the most recent issue of Graziadio Business Review (from Pepperdine University) argues that this is exactly what businesses and universities need and are separated only to their detriment:

This growing separation of the work world from the faith world has led to...the need for meaning. As people search for spirituality, it is in part a search to find meaning in their lives. There is an overriding need to know that their life matters now and that perhaps their contributions will have some lasting impact after death...In this search for spirituality, whatever form it might take, we very often see, even in Christians, and maybe particularly in Christians, a separation of “professional life” from “spiritual life.” A very visible and well-documented display of this happened with Ken Lay, the now infamous CEO and chairman of Enron. The son of a Baptist preacher, Lay clearly articulated his Christian faith and yet was involved in one of the most egregious corporate scandals of its time. Ultimately, Lay was convicted of six counts of conspiracy and fraud and four counts of fraud and false statements in a scandal that led to one of the biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history, cost thousands of employees their jobs and life savings, and cost investors billions of dollars.[4] 

This separation of the "professional (temporal) life" from "spiritual life" can actually plague both the way businesses operate and the way they are viewed by the public. The spiritual (along with the ethics it creates) should be a natural part of business. This includes the way we treat and view others (the Golden Rule):

A growing body of research has demonstrated that organizations which build high performance management systems are much more successful than comparable companies. The evidence from this extensive research suggests that leaders who carefully align personnel systems that select, train, empower, and reward employees with a commitment to both the employees’ welfare and the success of the organization are more profitable, more creative, and more innovative than their counterparts. At the heart of this leadership approach is the treating of employees as valued partners who can contribute to important management decisions, translate organization programs and policies into action, deliver excellent service to customers, and create added value and wealth for their companiesThis “high trust” approach to organization governance contrasts markedly with traditional top-down management thinking that typifies many modern organizations—and that often leads to underutilizing the talents of today’s employees.[5]

Furthermore, a "growing body of evidence from business research seems to clearly suggest that virtuous leadership and honoring moral duties build commitment and increase long-term wealth. As business leaders and business schools take advantage of the research knowledge available to them, they have the opportunity to raise their standard of performance and create added value for the stakeholders that they serve."[6]

For all the harsh criticisms of business and corporations receive, I'm somewhat surprised that (1) business leaders ignore the growing evidence for the profitability of good ethics and (2) critics continue to paint the professional and the spiritual as two separate worlds (and struggle to keep them there). 


1. Bernard DeVoto, "God -- Litterateur," The Guardian: A Literary Monthly Published in Philadelphia 1:5 (March 1925). Thanks to Allen for pointing this out to me. 

2. Leland A. Fetzer, "Bernard DeVoto and Mormon Tradition," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 6:3-4 (1971): 28.

3. Ibid.: 30. 

4. Linda A. Livingstone, "Integrating a Spiritual Life into the Work Life: The Significance of Faith-Based Values in Academia," Graziadio Business Review 17:1 (2014).  

5. Cam Caldwell, "Forging Ethics-Based Business Partners: The Integration of Business, Employees, and Education," Graziadio Business Review 17:1 (2014). It may be worth noting that the research cited is from David Ulrich, one of the most influential human resource experts in the world and a fellow Latter-day Saint. 

6. Ibid. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Joseph Spencer's Monastic Zion

In structure and style, in theme and emphasis, the law revealed to the Saints in 1831 looks much less like the charter for an economic order than--and I suspect that this claim will surprise--like the constituting rule of a monastery...Every form of living together will naturally have crucial economic consequences, but it is a mistake to think that the chief aim of what is laid out in the law of consecration is just the establishment of a certain economic order. In this respect, the law of consecration shares more with Christianity's monastic tradition than it does with the tradition of economic utopianism. Moreover, the monastic or cenobitic project began in opposition not to economic oppression but to the anchorite tradition of retreating into the wilderness as a lone hermit, retired form the world and from community. - Joseph Spencer[1]

Joseph Spencer's comparison of Zion to Christian monasteries was far from a surprise to me. In the comments thread of Nathaniel's T&S post "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Business and Theology," an individual stated that we should "study plantation economies to find out how the church economy works." I suggested that "a more fruitful comparison would be the voluntary participation in medieval monasteries," clarifying later that the analogy is better connected to the concept of Zion and not necessarily the modern church. This outlook was inspired by economist Nathan Smith's paper "The Economics of Monasticism."[2] I hope to lay out some of the practical workings of a monastery in this post and see what application these might have to our concept of Zion.

Smith describes the worship motive behind monastic orders:

If we are not to attempt to explain the worship motive, it might seem that we should treat monasticism as a black box as well, e.g., “religions just tell some people to become monks and nuns.” But this is doubly inaccurate, first because the monastic life is optional—no Christian church has declared it to be either necessary or sufficient for salvation—second because monasticism itself was not invented by Church hierarchs and imposed from above, but is an example of what Hayek called “spontaneous order.” In the emergence and spread of monasticism a sort of invisible hand seemed to be at work: each individual ascetic or monk, to paraphrase Adam Smith, “neither intended to promote [the emergence of monasticism], nor knew how much he was promoting it,” but in seeking his own salvation by fleeing the world, he was “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of intention,” though St. Anthony might have been glad to see the movement he and others like him inspired, just as a businessman might be glad to discover that his quest for gain was promoting the public interest as well.[3]

Smith points out that monastic monks "built, farmed, made machines, studied, wrote books, educated, settled new lands, bought, sold, lent, borrowed, and probably even invented."[4] And yet, this all happened in a system that would be described as socialistic: "monks were completely forbidden to own individual property, and had taken vows of obedience, so that the monastery was (is) a miniature centrally planned economy. In an age when “the magic of the market” is credited with miracles and “communism doesn’t work” is a truism, it may seem almost a paradox that entities organized internally on socialist principles were able to survive at all, let alone persist for centuries and make great contributions to civilization."[4] The "specialized consumption activity" that this commune excelled in was worship, which allowed participants to build a form of "spiritual capital." Regular markets depend on enforceable property rights by a third party (i.e. the state). Monasticism, however, was "a form of spontaneous order that did not require state enforcement of property rights." It was "a consensual, open-access order, based on a social contract...which anyone could join. Oddly enough, the political theories underlying today's most successful states, such as those expressed in Locke's Second Treatise and in America's Declaration of Independence, posit a social contract as the basis for the legitimacy of governments, but the social contract is a fiction: citizens do not really sign one, and the government rules over them anyway. Monasticism is an example, perhaps unique, of true 'government by the consent of the governed.'"[6] What Smith finds is that it is this "spiritual capital" that distinguishes monasticism from its secular socialist counterparts. "Monasteries and convents are able to get commitment from their members because they specialize in worship, for which they offer a more conducive environment than the world can. They therefore attract people with high “spiritual capital,” that is, with a strong “taste for,” or “productivity in,” worship. Not only does the autocorrelation of spiritual capital make members more likely to stay, but ‘learning by doing’ in worship increases members’ commitment over time."[7]

Smith further notes that the “life of the mind” was able to flourish in monasteries without government sustenance. In Smith’s view, modern liberalism had its roots in the medieval schoolmen. Yet, modern liberals (in the classical sense) have only aspired to what “the monastery itself embodied, from the beginning”: government by consent of the governed.[8] This is because

in the case of monasteries, the membership is self-selected, entering as adults into a community with already established rules. In that case, there are no problems of endless negotiation, since the Rule amounts to a take-it-or-leave-it offer by the monastery. Indeed, it seems clear that a real constitution of consent would have to take this form, beginning with a rule and then allowing members to self-select into the community, rather than attempting to bring a pre-existing community, e.g., based on kinship, to consent unanimously to a rule. It is interesting to contrast the real, live social contracts of monasteries with the notions of modern social contract theories.[9]

Despite the socialistic layout of medieval monasteries, sociologist Rodney Stark argues that it was the Christian monasteries that paved the way for modern capitalism.[10] With the church being the largest landowner in Europe, "its liquid assets and annual income probably exceeded that of all of Europe's nobility added together."[11] Innovation in agricultural technology allowed the monastic estates "to specialize in particular crops or products and to sell these at a profit that allowed them to purchase their other needs, which led them to initiate a cash economy."[12] Quoting Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, Stark explains that the monastic estates grew beyond "the simple religious community" and into a "vast complex of buildings, churches, workshops, store-houses, offices, schools and alms-houses..."[13] These changes led to specialization, trade, sophisticated management, credit, and a cash economy. Zion in the early days of Mormonism consisted of a relatively small community. Perhaps this outgrowth from Christian monasteries can provide a paradigm in which we can imagine a global Zion. 

"Key to the law of consecration is stewardship, a certain relationship to material things that is a matter not of having or possession or ownership, but rather and exclusively of use," explains Spencer, connecting it to
the monastic tradition.[14] While property rights were not technically recognized in monasteries, monks did rely on supernatural curses to protect what they viewed as belonging to them (though belief in God's wrath helps produce prosocial behavior on its own).[15][16] When royal and/or military protection was unavailable, divine curses became the defense method of choice. The various curses are described below:
  • Liturgical maledictio – the opposite of liturgical benedictions or divine blessings. Maledictions were “divine curses following prescribed forms that they leveled at persons they wanted to damn at times of community worship.”[17]
  • Clamor – appeals to God, apostles, saints, etc. for protection. Also took the shape of public humiliation or desecration of the supplicated saints in order to bring wrath upon the plunderer.
  • Excommunication and anathema – the cutting off of from sacraments or the Church entirely. This is akin to being "cast out" in D&C 42 as Spencer notes. 
  • Contract cursing – “curse clauses” worked into contracts that threatened to imprecate violators.
In order for curses to be effective, according to economist Peter Leeson, they must be grounded in the target’s existing beliefs. Furthermore, those casting the curse must have a monopoly on cursing. Finally, the curses must be unfalsifiable. Leeson draws a comparison between the medieval maledictions and the curses found within Deuteronomy 28, thus grounding them in the targets’ belief system (compare this with the scriptural language of Joseph Smith's revelations).[18] Religious authority among the monks monopolized cursing, just as priesthood authority in some sense would in a Mormon context, while “vagueness and other-wordly affliction” kept the curses unfalsifiable.[19] The declaration toward the end of Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation fits this vague, other-wordly affliction: "And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue" (D&C 42:60). 

"My point," Spencer writes, just to make clear that there is more of the monastic than of the governmental, more of the cenobitic than of the economic, at work in the law of consecration as originally given to the Saints. A law focused as much on ensuring that the Saints "weep for the loss of them that die" as on urging the Saints to lay their properties before the bishop cannot be said to be a strictly economic affair. A law that requires the Saints to "bear" with the "infirmities of the sick with " be healed," but which never clarifies how the Saints are to support such people financially, cannot be said to be a strictly economic affair. The law of consecration was thus less about setting forth a divine system of government...than it was about setting forth a rule for the shared fellowship of the Saints...[W]e would do well to understand the law of consecration as an outline of exactly how we as Saints are to live right now, wherever we are, and in company with the Saints. The law of consecration sets out a kind of life--the common life--the Saints are to embrace, a kind of life that has unmistakably economic implications (especially for the rich and the poor!), but one that means to produce the joy of the Saints more than merely the satisfaction of needs.[20]

Perhaps I've been too economic with my analysis of medieval monasteries, but I think Spencer nails it with his analogy. Christians in monastic estates were driven by worship and "spiritual capital," which enhanced their commitment. It was an ideal form of "government by consent of the governed." Innovation, specialization, trade, and other "capitalistic" tendencies can co-exist with religious ideals (and must if expansion is of any concern). Devotion to (and fear of?) God and His covenant can drive proper stewardship. 

We would all do well to take Spencer's monastic Zion and its implications seriously. 


1. Joseph M. Spencer, For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), Kindle edition. "Zion as Project."

2. Nathan Smith, "The Economics of Monasticism," ARDA/ASREC Working Paper (Sept. 6, 2009).

3. Ibid., 2-3.

4. Ibid., 3.

5. Ibid., 4.

6. Ibid., 5.

7. Ibid., 31-32.

8. Ibid., 38.

9. Ibid., 40. 

10. Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005). Stark defines capitalism as follows: "an economics system wherein privately owned, relatively well organized, and stable firms pursue complex commercial activities within a relatively free (unregulated) market, taking a systematic, long-term approach to investing and reinvesting wealth (directly or indirectly) in productive activities involving a hired workforce, and guided by anticipated and actual returns" (pg. 56). 

11. Ibid., 58.

12. Ibid. 

13. Ibid., 59. 

14. Spencer, 2014, "Zion as Project"

15. For supernatural curses and property rights, see Peter T. Leeson, ""God Damn": The Law and Economics of Monastic Malediction," Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization 30:1 (2014): 193-216.

16. For prosocial behavior provoked by belief in God, see Azim F. Shariff, Ara Norenzayan, “God Is Watching You: Priming God Concepts Increases Prosocial Behavior in an Anonymous Economic Game,” Psychological Science 18:9 (2007): 803-809; Shariff, Norenzayan, Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior,” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 21:2 (2011): 85-96; Ryan McKay, Charles Efferson, Harvey Whitehouse, Ernst Fehr, “Wrath of God: Religious Primes and Punishment,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278:1713 (2011): 1858-1863; Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, “Beyond Beliefs: Religions Bind Individuals Into Moral Communities,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 14:1 (2010): 140-150.

17. Leeson, 2014: 205. 

18. Ibid., 209. 

19. Ibid., 212. 

20. Spencer, 2014, "Zion as Project."