Götz Werner is one of Germany's most successful and progressive entrepreneurs, as founder of the drugstore chain dm. Here he argues for a new attitude to work, life and society.

The time is ripe to transform our work society into a culture society. What that means is that we need to value any kind of work we are doing for others. Socio-politically, this can be achieved by introducing the unconditional basic income as a constitutional right of every citizen – regardless of what he or she does with it.

Everybody who lives in our society needs it to be able to live – just like everybody who works for a company needs an income, or else he or she cannot work for this company. If you turn this thought around, the world suddenly looks like a different place: Where you work, income is the precondition for you to be able to work, the enabler of work and not the result of it. Then you will no longer hear statements such as: “Don’t be difficult, don’t make a fuss; after all, you are getting paid to do that.”

Work vs. Job

I often tell managers and executives: “It is important for you to find out who of the employees you are responsible for has work and who has a job.“ Then they can look at themselves and the others around them and ask themselves: Do I, do the others have work or a job? Work means: I see the work that needs to be done. I have a task to fulfill. I am able to identify with it. I feel authentic. A job is nothing else than something I need to do for the money.

This is perfectly respectable, but just imagine doing this week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, nothing but that! It will make you sick! It will invariably lead to the spiritual and physical ill health, which we can observe as the social disease of our times. Then people are over 60 and will say: “I spent all my life doing something I never wanted to do. With my time, I even made possible things I don’t actually approve of.” And that’s really all they did: they only invested their time.

How would our society change if people only did the things they found to be meaningful? This would be a dramatic change, wouldn’t it? We would have to be young again to have our sights on something like this: People only do what they want to do, and they can say about everybody they meet – no matter his or her current situation, whether they like him or not, whether he is lazy or a good worker, whether he comes across as neat or slovenly: “He has a basic income. He could change things if he does not feel good about his situation.“ This would be something new. This would be a new social experience. Then we would have reformed society, and a lot of other things would change with it. This is true of every Archimedean point.

We are the entrepreneurs in our society

If you found an Archimedean point and was able to turn the world – our social world – upside down, this would entail a host of follow-up questions. Many other things too would present themselves in a different light. This would be our opportunity. We could experience in a company that many more entrepreneurs start seeing beyond their own nose. It is us, the citizens as life’s entrepreneurs, that are the entrepreneurs in our society. In our state, it is not the politicians, not the experts, not the clergy, not the academics that are the sovereign, but the individual citizens. It is up to them, not to the politicians. For that, the politicians are completely unimportant, they are irrelevant. Politicians are not innovative. They are not allowed to be innovative. Imagine you are an innovative politician and you tell the voters something they do not understand! Something is innovative when it forces people to change, including and above all themselves. Politicians are not suited for that, politicians have to sense which way the wind is blowing. But the wind has to originate in society, and this is what we mean by rethinking society. If we succeed in doing that, if the politicians feel that, pick up on that, then we have a chance. After all, they, the politicians are particularly sensitive to where the wind is blowing from.

What society do we want to live in? The more people ask themselves this question, personally, the sooner an idea such as the basic income will become epidemic. And this is what matters.

Abridged excerpt from Götz W. Werner: “Wie schaffen wir Initiative weckende Rahmenbedingungen?,” in: Perspektiven gesellschaftlicher Innovation: Nachhaltige Strategien für die Zukunftsfelder Ernährung, Umwelt, Politik, Wirtschaft, Kommunikation, edited by Karl Peter Sprinkart, Peter Dürr, Markus Hipp and Klaus Sailer (Regensburg: Walhalla Fachverlag, 2015), pp. 112-127, esp. 124ff.

This extract originally appeared here and reproduced with the kind permission of The BMW Foundation.

Die 3-bändige Buchreihe beruht auf der Ringvorlesung Gesellschaftliche Innovation. Broschiert und als E-Book erhältlich beim Walhalla Verlag.

Originally printed April 24, 2015

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