Keith H. Hammonds / Doug Smith

A few decades ago, our lives were centered in places. We had the most in common with our village or city neighbors, with the people geographically closest to us. Place formed our connections to the social groups that mattered most: our tribes, churches, jobs, and schools. The defining politics — and so, defining values — were those rooted in physical communities.

Today, place has lost relevance for most of us in a connected, global world. We reside in places, of course, but that’s basically a lifestyle choice. Rather, Doug Smith writes, “it is in markets, organizations, and networks, and among family and friends that you spend your time, pursue your most pressing purposes, and find meaning in your life.” So “Where do you live?” is an interesting question, but “What do you do?” is more telling.

Smith sees the shift in community from place to “purpose,” as he says, as profound. For while place-based communities historically understood how to make the values-based decisions that shaped society, organizations — especially corporations — are flailing. They have the power to change the future for better or worse, but not the ethical will or know-how.

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