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A reading list for Quaker business, ethics, and innovation


Here is my current reading list related to Quaker business, ethics, and innovation for social change. My interest is to explore entrepreneurship—in spirit, culture, and practice—with intellectual clarity and moral honesty.

  1. Quaker history, theology, and practice in business
  2. Conscious business readings
  3. Intrepreneur’s toolbox
  4. Liberal vision

I’m planning to write more about some of these items on this blog, and I will update this entry as I publish comments or find other resources that advance the conversation. If you know of works that I should check out, please let me know: My email is “john” followed by “@cyclexo.com”, and you can reach me on Twitter @johnstephens.

Quaker history, theology, and practice in business

These are writings about business and economics, authored mostly by members of the Religious Society of Freinds. Writings by non-Quakers about Quaker stuff would also be listed here.

Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf

Writing throughout the 1970s, Greanleaf confronts the trials of a society dominated by large institutions, and outlines a restorative model of governance at the heart of conscious business. Greanleaf’s perspective is unabashedly shaped by Quaker theology in several respects, but his vision is expansive and non-sectarian. This seminal book came to me from the collection of a dear Friend who was the model servant leader when we worked together.

The Quaker Economist

Jack Powellson published TQE as a newsletter from 2001–2007, bringing a liberal perspective to decisive global questions facing Friends and all people of conscience. I have a reader, published in 2002, collecting several of Powellson’s essays.

Powellson also made A History of Wealth and Power (formerly Centuries of Economic Endeavor) available online for free. A History of Wealth and Power discusses the constellation of liberal values that helped promote economic development in Japan and Europe.

Executive Soul by Margaret Benefiel

When I first asked some Quakers on Facebook for recommendations on practical writings about business by Friends, Benefiel was the first name that came up. I have Soul at Work and The Soul of a Leader.

Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn

Another book recommended to me by a Quaker business professor, who said it “contains general guidelines for commerce that are surprisingly modern”. I already owned a copy, edited by Eric K. Taylor, and I like it a lot.

Quakers and Capitalism by Steven Davison

This work, in progress, considers the role of the Society of Friends in shaping the Industrial Revolution and the system of free trade and innovation commonly called “capitalism”. I only just learned about Davison’s research after starting this blog, and I very much look forward to going over his findings.

The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries dedicates the Epilogue to Taylor’s Principles, saying:

The movement for scientific management changed the course of the twentieth century by making possible the tremendous prosperity that we take for granted today. Taylor effectively invented what we now consider simply management… above all—the idea that work can be studied and improved through conscious effort. [Despite some of Taylor’s misguided techniques and harmful ideas,] subsequent revolutions [have] embraced Taylor’s core idea that work can be studied scientifically and can be improved through a rigorous experimental approach.

Stuff I haven’t gotten my hands on

My interest in exploring the role of Quakers in business was seeded in part by a Forbes article I read in 2009 called “Doing Business the Quaker Way”, which quotes management author David K. Hurst. Hurst has written at least a couple books that discuss Quaker business culture, but I have not gotten ahold of them yet. Since then, I’ve become aware of several other relevant works:

Ethical Business Relationships by Lee Thomas, Jr.

Robin Mohr writes: “Lee is one of the founders of Louisville (KY) Friends Meeting, a civil rights activist, and a successful businessman.”

The Iron Bridge by David Morse

Chuck Fager recommended this to me “...a fine novel, includes time travel and stuff, but Morse did research for it in the Quaker iron country in England”. It appears to be out of print, but not hard to get a copy.

Works of Herbert Hoover

Someone told me that a certain Quaker president was a businessman who “wrote a great deal about his business perspective”. I don’t know where to start, though: “American Individualism” appears to offer a concise statement of Hoover’s economic and cultural ideals, but nothing practical about business.

Some other writers recommended to me include:

  • British Quakers in Commerce and Industry 1775–1920 by Edward H. Milligan
  • Meeting House and Counting House by by Frederick B. Tolles
  • History of Quakers in North Carolina by Stephen Weeks
  • The Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge: “…not an RSoF work, but it is heavily influenced by the thoughts and processes” of Friends
  • The Quakers: Money and Morals by James Walvin
  • Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury

Conscious business readings

These books develop the idea of conscious business: Servant-led commercial enterprises that strive to create an upward spiral of value for customers, employees, trading partners, investors, society, and the environment. Conscious business rejects the “shareholder value first” measure of success. To my knowledge, none of the authors or profiled businesses are Quaker.

Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

Published in 2013, this is both an intellectual defense of the culture of free enterprise and innovation that has unleashed four hundred years of unprecedented human flourishing, and a strident moral appeal for holistic ethical consciousness in business.

Working for Good by Jeff Klein

Plugged as a “practical guide for building and operating a successful conscious business”, one can be forgiven for expecting a manual about the nuts and bolts of ethical enterprise. Instead I found this to be an inspiring motivational book offering a secular “spiritual formation” program for the the entrepreneur.

Be the Solution by Michael Strong

This book collects essays focused on entrepreneurial solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the human family. It’s one title in the conscious business canon that I don’t have.

Intrepreneurs’ toolbox

These writings give insight into hacking your brain and habits to do your best work as an entrepreneur or creative professional. I plan to add short descriptions later.

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
  • Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank