The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life
King preached about “the three dimensions of a complete life.” He referred to these dimensions as the Length, Breadth, and Height of a life. They represented an inward concern for one’s own personal welfare, ends and ambitions, an outward concern for others, and an upward reach toward God.
While not trying to claim his mantle, we look to King and others for inspiration in our work. King’s framework for the three dimensions of a complete life is similar to the framework for a triple bottom line business, with Length, Breadth, and Height replaced by Profit, People, and Planet.
The inward concern of a business is for its own personal welfare, namely its profits — in King’s words, it’s Length. Indeed, without profits the length of the life of a business will be short. If you want your business to have a long life, be profitable.
The outward concern of a business is its concern for the welfare of others — in King’s words, its breadth. The breadth of a business ought to be measured by how it extends its concerns beyond those of its owners to those of its workers, its suppliers, and its customers, to all the people who are touched by the business.
Lastly, the upward concern of a business – or in King’s words, its height – might be reflected in its concern for the rest of God’s creation, the environment. This concern might exist not simply to steward the resources of our planet for our own profitable use over time, but to do so for its own sake, its own beauty, and to safeguard that beauty so that it can be enjoyed for our children’s children.
King concluded his first sermon by saying that “unless these three [dimensions] are [connected], working harmoniously together in a single life, that life is incomplete.” The same can be said for a business. Unless concerns for people, planet, and profit are connected, working harmoniously together in a single business, that business is incomplete.
So today, on the day after our country celebrated the birth of one of our greatest leaders, Dr. King, and in the week of the sixtieth anniversary of his first sermon, we celebrate some of the leaders who embody his highest aspirations.
Today we celebrate all business leaders who are working to connect harmoniously the interdependent concerns of people, planet, and profit. We celebrate business leaders who are drum majors for a more just and sustainable economy and who are using the power of free and fair markets to manifest Dr. King’s beloved community. We celebrate business leaders who inspire us to judge a business not just by how well it serves shareholders, but by how well it serves society. Today we celebrate business leaders who compete not just to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world.
Nearly 700 Certified B Corporations are currently embodying Dr King’s vision in a variety of industries. B Corps like Method, which produces beautifully designed, highly functional green cleaning products, and Home Care Associates, which provides essential home health care services in predominantly low income communities while creating quality jobs for its worker-owners, are good examples of Dr. King’s vision coming to life in businesses dedicated to serving society, not just shareholders.
We hope these companies inspire you to examine your business along Dr. King’s three dimensions.
Let’s all honor Dr. King, today and every day, by making every business just a little more complete.