A print of the famous Japanese painting by Katsushika Hokusai, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa,” hangs prominently in my faculty office. It depicts three boats in heavy seas on the point of encountering a giant wave, with Mount Fuji visible in the distance.
I see in this piece of art an analogy for what I call the “Three Cs” of business: contribute, cooperate and compete.
CONTRIBUTE: Business is like a fleet of ships sailing toward a common destination, i.e., a shared purpose. The shared purpose of business follows from the first pillar of Catholic Social Teaching, which is the infinite, incommunicable and immutable value of every single human person, created in the image and likeness of God.
The shared purpose of business, therefore, is to contribute to human flourishing: to produce services that serve others, to develop meaningful relationships and to grow as a person while providing for loved ones. This is why we wake up in the morning; it’s why we work hard at our jobs and share our talents with others. It’s why the people in Hokusai’s painting boarded those tiny boats to go across the stormy waters to distribute mail. Mount Fuji serves as a compass, to help them recognize where they’re going and why. At Notre Dame, our compass is the Gospel and the Catholic mission of the University.
COOPERATE: Three boats, not one, set sail in the painting. This reflects the centrality of cooperation in business, which is foremost a community of people. If you get into one of the boats, you’re responsible for everyone else in your own boat as well as for the people in the other boats.
Cooperation involves a willingness to share priorities with others, i.e., making something my priority because it is your priority, in solidarity because we have a shared purpose. Solidarity is the second pillar of Catholic Social Teaching, which means that businesses should take particular care of those stakeholders with the greatest needs.
COMPETE: Like the ocean, the environment of business is competitive, challenging and always changing. It requires excellence in everything that we do in order to be able to compete well, to reach our destination despite the storm — just like the boats in the painting.
Competing well has two dimensions: external competition in the marketplace and internal competition toward the best version of ourselves. In turn, success requires an environment of subsidiarity, where we help each other achieve excellence — in solidarity and with a shared purpose — by granting each other the freedom to grow to the best of our abilities, assisting each other when required. Subsidiarity, the third pillar of Catholic Social Teaching, comes from the Latin word “subsidium,” which means help.
Business education at Notre Dame seeks to incorporate all three of these interconnected aspects in that order — contribution, cooperation, competition. We contribute to human flourishing as the shared purpose of business, cooperate well in solidarity in the sharing of priorities so that everyone benefits from business, and then compete with excellence in an environment of subsidiary where we help each other as a team in a shared practice.
This perspective centers on the three pillars of Catholic Social Teaching, most of which is catholic with a small “c” based on universal human values. The three pillars of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity can be understood, appreciated and contributed to by anyone.
Interim Dean, Mendoza College of Business