The Lessons Earned: Altruism and Commercial Outcomes

One of my passions in life has been and is “to make a difference”; it has dictated my career choices and negatively impacted my earnings. It has very positively impacted my satisfaction in life. The different drivers of ‘making a buck’ and ‘making a difference’ have also impacted my business. Innately, making a difference seems altruistic. Making a buck is a commercial outcome. Both are necessary for prospering in my life. So, in creating the Lessons Earned webinars series, the topic of ‘Altruism and Commercial Outcomes’ came up as a priority.

So, how conflicted are altruism and commercial outcomes, and is ‘making a difference’ truly altruistic’?

And as always, in researching this topic, I have learned even more lessons. There are both biological and human ‘definitions’ of altruism. And in most cases, in making a difference, I have not been altruistic as I have gained such satisfaction. Although it could be said that I have been altruistic because I have had lower financial income.

The real discussion for me then is framed by moral dilemmas:

  • What is the value or worth I am bequeathing to the people or the world around me?
  • How much money do I really need and should I charge?
  • In the busy world around us, when some people appear to prosper to the detriment of others, what should my choices be?

One of the great reads I came across when researching for this topic was some published work on “Moral Judgment and Decision Making” (The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making, 2015). The work discusses moral flexibility “a term that we use that people are strongly motivated to adhere to and affirm their moral beliefs in their judgments and choices – they really want to get it right, they really want to do the right thing – but context strongly influences which moral beliefs are brought to bear in a given situation”. 

So here is my challenge: determine my moral beliefs, determine my underlying assumptions and the context in which I am operating, and what the best resolutions are.


The Lessons Earned webinar series has been created to share stories of career and personal successes and failures, after 66 years on the planet and 42 years of career highs and lows. For more information join us at  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13759373/.