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Can Entrepreneurs Be Truly Altruistic?

More than a century ago Alfred Russel Wallace was wondering if the Theory of evolution is not in contradiction with some features of the human mind. There is no need for art and beauty for survival, yet we tend to spend a lot of time on this. At least some of us, and this includes business people and professionals.

Mathematics and other forms of abstract thinking are also not directly related with survival. But, the most important aspect of the human nature, that puzzled the gentleman mentioned before, is altruism, the drive to help somebody with a personal cost and without seeking any sort of personal gain.

While there is a debate on veritable altruism, there is also a healthy stream of “give-before-and-profit-will-come” advice in articles like this one. And, I do agree, most of the times these articles are better in style and more adept at the use of English. The only problem I see is the research to back the claims.

Of course, is good to be nice, and being nice will entice the other to reciprocate. But, can we speak by real altruism in business? The social exchange theory definitely argues for a positive answer to this question, human mind has developed through socialization this mechanism of altruism and reciprocation without any thought for personal gain.

But, is this good for business? That’s the question!

Being altruistic will definitely ruin your business. This is why social responsibility campaigns that are run by big companies sound so fake and are so easy to forget. It’s about making profit and we all know it. There’s no point apparently in claiming altruism and selling social responsibility.

Yet, altruism works in business as a side project when your company is already successful and there is money to spend for the general good without the risk of losing your business. Altruism is for charities, and there is a lot of room of doing good in this not public but not private sector.

So, my answer to this dilemma is that altruism, true altruism, has nothing to do with doing business. Trying to look like somebody that practices altruism will be quickly labeled as insincere.