Times Like These Beckon Us Beyond The Surface Into The Deep
There are a multitude of factors contributing to these winds of change blowing through our times. Describing these turbulent, transformative times is the now trendy managerial acronym VUCA (Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous) – in short, business-as-usual (‘BAU’) is no longer an option for organisations wishing to flourish in 2020 and beyond.
Conferences, think-tanks, research papers, workshops, forums and expert roundtables across the globe are exploring the implications these shifts have on how we operate and organise. Yet, through our well-intended desire to find solutions to our pressing problems, we all-too-often find ourselves caught up in the very mind-set that contributed to them in the first place. We address our sea of challenges at face-value and in silo’ed superficial ways, skimming over the deeper inter-relational corruptions these problems are symptomatic of.
By example, let’s take a look at the following 4 ‘symptoms’:
- Sustainability/CSR: on the surface, this is about being more efficient, effective, responsible and future-fit in a volatile world of finite resources precariously pressed up against natural limits. And so we embrace ‘new ways of doing’ such as industrial ecology, circular economics, biomimicry, green chemistry and so forth, all within the frame and focus of CSR or responsible business programmes. At a deeper level, this is challenging our prevalent mechanistic and anthropocentric logic. It is revealing the need for a shift from ‘take-make-waste’ linearity to ‘regenerative’ holistic approaches. This shift prompts us to ask the deeper questions of: In what context are we creating and delivering value? Can we move beyond merely reducing negative impact into becoming regenerative? To whom or what are we in service of? Why are we here? With this, begins a deeper philosophical (yet no less practical) inquiry into our sense of place and purpose within the fabric of Life.
- Mindfulness/Wellbeing-at-work: on the surface, this is about stress reduction and morale improvement, and about being healthier mentally and emotionally, being more creative, resourceful and resilient, so that we become future-fit at the individual, team and organisational dimensions. And so we embrace ‘new ways of being’ such as meditation, deep listening, non-violent communication, somatic awareness, contemplative practices, presencing and so forth all within the frame and focus of mindfulness-in-the-workplace programmes. At a deeper level, this is challenging our acculturated perspective of self-agency rooted in yesterday’s logic of separateness, control and competition. It is revealing the need for a shift from an overly extractive and domineering yang ‘ego-awareness’ to a more balanced and inclusive yin-yang ‘eco-awareness’ (eco = ‘ecological’ also ‘ecosystem’: whereas ‘ego-awareness’ brings a heightened sense of ‘self’ as separate from and in competition with neighbourhood, ‘eco-awareness’ opens our perception up to the deeper ‘inter-being’ of our neighbourhood and with it a more empathic and ecosystemic relation.) This shift prompts us to ask the deeper questions of: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my soul-calling? With this comes a deeper philosophical shift away from an essentially competition-orientated, individualistic worldview towards a quest for understanding and harmonising with the deeper somatic, social and spiritual rhythms of Life.
- The Millennial Age: (see this hot-of-the-press report here on Redesigning The Nature of Business for the Millennial Age ) on the surface, this is about applying social media, creative commons and open source approaches in order to be more social, creative, passionate and collaborative in our workplaces. At a deeper level, this points to personal and collective emancipation from economic enslavement towards meaningful work, authenticity and freedom. It is revealing a shift from a control-based hierarchical logic to a more partnership-based one. This shift prompts us to ask the deeper questions of: What are my gifts and what do I most deeply love? How can I bring the best of myself – playful passions, quirks and all – into the workplace? Can my worktime actually be a joyful artful enquiry, a playtime that enhances my own growth and development while serving life? With this comes a deeper philosophical shift away from the economics of ‘work-life balance’ to immersing oneself in a community of shared passion and purpose. ( see this report here for more on this)
- Purposeful Business: at a superficial level this is about fostering and communicating, internally across the organisation and externally through public relations, a shared sense of value and ethics in the workplace beyond short-term profit maximisation. At a deeper level, this trend points to an underlying need in each and every-one of us to take part in something that touches our heart-and-soul with meaning beyond the mere materiality of life. It is revealing the need for a shift from an overly materialistic logic to a more soulful sense of contributing to something greater. This shift prompts us to ask the deeper questions of: How do I wish to live my life? What values and behaviours do I wish to embody? How does the organisation I am working for enhance my humanity and deeper sense of purpose? With this comes a deeper philosophical shift away from ‘work for works sake’ to heartfelt, artful and purposeful work that enhances our humanity.
In other words, these winds of change are ushering in a shift in consciousness with profound consequences for our humanity.
A Metamorphosis In Our Midst
In the early stages of a pupa’s metamorphosis, cells quite different from the caterpillar organise into groups. These ‘imaginal cells’ run up against the opposition of the old caterpillar’s immune system, which perceives them as a threat to the caterpillar’s existence. Over time, as the system of the old caterpillar begins to break down, these new formations spawn forth the structures, processes and logic of the butterfly; ditto for the metamorphosis in our midst.
‘In times of great winds, some build bunkers, others build windmills’ Chinese proverb
As we begin to embark on this deeper quest of our humanity, we may begin to realise that what prevents us from fully realising our potential – and from fully loving ourselves, each other and our more-than-human world – is our own habituated, acculturated, constricting, narrowing-down perspectives that hold us, imprison us, in an illusion of separation. To break out of this illusion of our own creation, a shift in consciousness is all we need, a subtle and simple shift in how we perceive ourselves in this deeply wise and sacred world.
It is with this simple – yet not necessarily easy – shift in awareness that we begin to realise our true nature and embark on the quest of becoming human.
‘Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness the catastrophe towards which the world is headed will be unavoidable’ Vaclav Havel, Czech prime minister addressing US Congress
Becoming human in a firm of the future is about a twofold shift: 1) personal gnosis 2) organisational gnosis. For the ancient Greeks, gnosis meant an embodied knowing, a transformation in which we know who we truly are, awakening to our true nature beyond artifice and illusion.
‘Understanding the illusion only comes after the understanding of reality, not before…Until we have the experience of reality, in all its stillness, we are still lost.’
Peter Kingsley, contemporary philosopher and mystic
This is what these transformational times ask of us; whether we are accountants or activists, engineers or entrepreneurs, musicians or midwives, these winds of change are signalling a metamorphosis within ourselves, our organisations and our societies. It’s time to begin our quest and dive below superficial materiality and swim the wild yet wise, synchronistic soulful currents of grace.
‘In the wild waters of the world, the fish does not go under. It is in its element. Amidst the unpredictable it swims in grace.’ Catherine Keller, professor of constructive theology