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Reviewing The Robinson’s new book Customer Experiences with Soul, by Giles Hutchins

July 8, 2017


A friend of mine Simon Robinson and his wife Maria Moraes Robinson from Brazil have recently published their second book, a sequel after their first book Holonomics.

I first met Simon at Schumacher College some years ago while he was a Masters student and I was co-facilitating a course on Business Inspired By Nature. We met in the dining room as I recall and had a flowing conversation over lunch about the challenges and opportunities that lie before us regarding the need for a transition in consciousness.  Back then (over six years ago) Simon was actively inquiring in to this necessary shift in consciousness required in business, and this inquiry has dove-tailed with Maria’s work, his wife.  What a pair they are, championing at the front-line of helping business tend towards harmony with life.

Over the subsequent years, we have shared not just our working concepts but also our connections and networks. It has been a real pleasure to see Simon’s work deepen and mature. I reference his and Maria’s work in my last two books as it is very much in the spirit of my own explorations – I feel a kindred soulful synergy through their work.  It’s an honour to have been asked first to review Holonomics and now their latest book: Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design.

Upon receiving this latest book I found myself engrossed from the get-go.  It rather took over as I re-prioritised what I could so as to give this important work the attention it fully deserves. Both their books are not about the ‘parts’, the objective tools or codified systems (even if there are at times an over-tendency to ‘commodify’ or ‘brand’ and then repeat these slogans as mantras).

No. What is co-created by these authors is something deeper, something more phenomenological, philosophical and practical, something transcendent and yet immanent, eternal yet emergent, idealistic yet humble, ultimate yet intimate.

While this second book is still most definitely rooted in the insights of phenomenology and the framing of eco-systemic or holistic thinking and, like their first, was no doubt inspired by the Masters course at Schumacher where these two authors first met each other, there is much in here that is uniquely the Robinson’s communal contribution to this necessary revolution in business consciousness.  I commend this work which pushes the envelope of those that they draw insights from.  The likes of Bortoft, Goodwin and Gadamer would, I am sure, be proud of how their insights have been cultivated for today’s challenges.

First off, a brief head-line executive summary on Customer Experiences with Soul – this book cuts into a terrain which is in desperate need of deep exploration. As the authors note, the new business paradigm we witness bubbling up in these alchemic times places a huge emphasis on culture, purpose and authenticity, all of which are rooted in our way-of-being, our consciousness, our soulfulness.  And yet this is often skipped over in many of today’s forward thinking business books on management, culture and leadership.  Hence this is an important contribution that I recommend to those of us interested in prototyping the future of business today, while drawing on the timeless wisdom all about and within us – soulfulness.

The narrative is solid and congruent, as Simon and Maria take us through their new tool, the holonomic circle, building our progressive understanding of it. The book is concise, readable and well-presented.  I thoroughly enjoyed its pace, style and depth.  These authors are natural writers and I look forward to their next book in good time.

Now, let’s get down to business, and explore this book in its heart – because this book certainly deserves our hearty attention.

This book helps us create more soulful ways of being between all business stakeholders.  It helps businesses seeking to create more authenticity, more engagement, more connectivity and transparency.  The crux of this book is the shift in consciousness from a worldview rooted in separateness, fragmentation, objectification and rationalism towards a way of being-and-doing that honours the innate inter-relationality of life, and specifically in our business stakeholder experiences.

This is articulated here as a shift from ego-knotwork where people are caught up in an ego-logic of inauthentic relations rooted in scarcity, separateness, competition and control, towards a soul-network or eco-network of authentic relations rooted in a more soulful being-in-the-world, where experiences are seen more holistically.

What do we mean by ‘more holistic experiences’? Experiences where we engage a more coherent way of knowing that incorporates thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting, where we seek the beauty, truth and goodness within our experiences with curiosity, improvisation, dialogue and humility.

In this way, we remain open, vulnerable, yet receptive and responsive to the ever-changing vista of viewpoints, subjective information and interpretations of our stakeholders.

The Robinsons cite philosopher Gadamer, who frames this as the ‘art of reaching an understanding’, achieved through dialogue, questioning and unfolding conversations.

Hence, we are not seeking the absolute goal of fully coherent soulful relations, more we are seeking in to the unfolding journey of ‘becoming into being’.  We are allowing ourselves and our relationship dynamics to invite in more soulfulness, as we deepen our presence through each and every inter-action.  First and foremost this is a shift in attention, a shift from a fear-based ego-grasping that seeks linearised verification, certainty, conformity towards a love-based opening-up to what is emerging in our midst.  This is a radical shift in our way of attending.  It is this that fertilises the soil of a more soulful culture.  As it is from this shift in dynamic that we begin to engage in more soulful dialogue, more authentic conversations, more holistic decisions.

‘Soul is an elusive concept to capture, quantify and describe, but when it exists, we can sense, feel and intuit its presence.’ The authors go on to note, ‘Authenticity is the most powerful disruptive force in business today, but it is only fully grasped intuitively with an expanded level of consciousness.  Today’s crisis in business is a crisis of authenticity.’

It is this authenticity, this coming-to-presence, through our experiences and relationships that we spawn more soulfulness in ourselves, in those around us and in our wider ecosystem of stakeholders.  This contributes to a resonance shift of coherence in the organisation.  While the authors state that there is to be no separation between all customer experiences and all inter-relations within the company, I would suggest that it does not need to be such a wholesale, or black-or-white revolution. There is evidence that tipping points in consciousness occur in fields or webs of relations, specifically in organisations or social systems.  Hence, a threshold can be crossed within the consciousness of the organisation whereupon the centre of gravity shifts from an essentially ego-orientated culture to a more soulful one.  In practice, this does not mean all relationships have to be fully coherence and authentic all of the time, but it does mean that the overall intent or psyche of the organisation has shifted towards encouraging, nurturing and celebrating a way-of-being and becoming that seeks authenticity and wholeness rather than fragmentation and dog-eat-dog competition.

This shift in mind-set has been articulated elsewhere (for instance, many of us will recall Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People pointing to the importance of a shift in mind-set from scarcity to abundance, and organisational approaches such as Laloux’s Teal/Evolutionary, Barrett’s full-spectrum consciousness, Scharmer’s ego to eco-consciousness and Torbert’s action logics all explain this essential shift in consciousness).  For instance, I explore Embodying Teal for Real and the importance of our beingness in this article posted on Enlivening Edge. What is interesting about Customer Experiences with Soul is how this is related to brand, stakeholder relations, a way of perceiving and relation.

‘It is not enough to talk the talk, nor walk the walk, you absolutely have to live your purpose in each and every waking moment.’ The authors say that anytime there is a perceptible different between what a person says, what they actually mean, and what they actually do, is counterfeit, false, inauthentic.

While this is true in the ‘absolute’ sense, the authors are clear in their message that while this “may seem quite straightforward on the surface, there are some extremely interesting and complex dynamics and questions that arise from it” asking questions such as “is it ever truly possible to coalesce saying, doing and meaning and end up having no contradictions between them?”

From my own perspective I would be inclined to allow our sense to tune-in to the wider context or deeper nature of what is emerging. Life, after all, is about learning through failing, through experiencing and changing as we go. If I know one thing, it is that life is an interwoven richness of meaning and sensation with all sorts of undercurrents, judgements, biases and subconscious shadows influencing our being-in-the-world at any given time.

As the process philosopher Catherine Keller explores, ‘What if truth itself is a way not an endpoint? What if the way and its truth deliver no totalizing absolute – nor deliver us to the indifferent dissolute? What if we have here to find a third way?’

As we transcend our dualistic way of viewing the world we reveal a truer version of reality beyond the dualism of either/or. The ‘third way’ Keller points to is of truth as an ungraspable co-creative relational unfolding process, a progressive journey rather than a static thing. As the campaigner and writer Satish Kumar notes, ‘Truth is not a ‘correct’ belief system. It is not a point of arrival: it is a continuous process, a continuous search and a continuous way of being.‘ Truth: not as a noun nor a verb but a participle; a dynamic, ever-unfolding way of being, a becoming.

I believe this is also what the Robinson’s are exploring, an emergent unfolding that knows its authenticity through sensing into what feels right, what feels congruent, what feels aligned to the purpose and to our essential soul-nature. In practice this may well involve the messy reality of dissonance and consonance as we learn to find the harmony within ourselves and through our relationships, a point which is also reflected in the Robinson’s comments on what makes for effective leadership:

“A creative organisation infused with holonomic thinking has leaders who are able to make effective decisions and find powerful solutions, which emerge not from one person’s mental models and paradigms dominating others, but through capturing the rich diversity of people’s different ways of thinking and seeing.”

In our search for authenticity and soul, we ought not shine too bright a neon light on things. This is an unfolding learning beyond judgement.  What is important is that we cultivate the self-awareness and sense of purpose so we can detect, learn and adequately move on from any inauthenticity we come across in ourselves or others.  We are here to help ourselves and others to become more authentic through love, not through blame, judgement or finger-pointing.

The Robinson’s do a great job of listing 5 archetypal behaviours we may notice in ourselves and our organisations: predatory behaviour, where we seek to capitalise unduly on another’s sharing, with full awareness that it is at the expense of the other.  Often our sales channels today encourage this behaviour, and yet it needs to be outed.  It will only undermine the organisation embarking on such practices.

Then there is the blinkered archetype – too narrowly focused or ego-centric that the other’s contributions are not valued in a human way. Perhaps due to cultural bias, hearsay, being influenced by what another has said to us, or by past actions, we seek to judge the other or undermine their contribution due to our fixed goal on the future – this past and future thinking undermines our coming-into-presence. People change, situations change.  As the Buddha insightfully notes, we are reborn each day, afresh, anew.  If we can treat each interaction with fresh eyes, then we emancipate ourselves from these blinkers.  Here is the quality of humility – of opening-up to what is.

Then comes the ego-trapped archetype where we are acting in a way that is at odds with what we are truly feeling.  We are saying one thing, perhaps to appease the other or to get out of a situation, or to present a rosy picture, and yet we are not fully sharing our truth. Each of us can sense – consciously or unconsciously – this deceit and yet it is very much part of daily business discourse.   This dissonance, no matter how mild, can undermine the soulfulness of the organisation as people learn to shy away from the more vulnerable, truthful and authentic conversations.

The next archetype is discernment, which is about non-judgement, to see the potential in the other, to be open to what is emerging beyond preconceived notions or bias.  This requires us to look beyond the superficial appearance into the deeper coming-into-be that is emerging through our conversation.

The final archetype is holonomic, where we no longer battle with our egos, we open up fully to the conversation in a heartfelt, humble and authentic way.  This allows a dynamic new way of seeing to emerge from the ground up in our organisations.

This, the authors argue, enables us to shift from counterfeit knot-works to soulful networks. In so doing, we have learnt to emancipate ourselves and our team dynamic. And yet tensions will still arise, but will be worked through authentically and coherently.

The authors note that the more we cultivate this soulful way of being, the more artful we become at detecting in ourselves and in our relations any inauthenticity or ego-knots forming.

The authors write, ‘Networks must have more than shared values, as cliques do; they need to share the universal human values of peace, truth, love, righteousness and non-violence.  When these values are present, and absolutely lived by each and every member, then communities develop a culture which reaches their highest potential, and enables the experience of soul to emerge.’

This is no mean feat.  In reality, human beings are messy, emergent, socialising, ego-and-soul beings.  If the intent to learn and develop towards this ‘becoming-in-the-world’ is authentic and the dedication is there, then that is good enough for me. As the authors note, this is a journey that requires us to develop organs of higher perception, to deepen this way of being.  It takes time, courage, conviction, and shared learning-through-failing.

Through experiential training, this deeper way of seeing can be cultivated. Goethe refers to a poetic way of engaging, an artistic consciousness.  I like the work of Chris Seeley, Chris Nichols and others regarding ‘artful organisations’ or ‘artful knowing’ , where our work becomes a conduit for a more soul-infused, purposeful on-going inquiry; an adventure of becoming who we were born to be. The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, referred to this dynamic as a ‘bringing forth’ or ‘poiesis’ – the fundamental creative dynamic of life.  Hence, in allowing these artful, more full-bodied undertakings, we allow our organisations to become more human and also tend towards the logic of life.

For Heidegger, as we learn to open up to our creative potential, we engage in a more authentic ‘being in the world’, a less egotistic and more soulful expression of our selves. It is this ‘bringing forth’, or unfolding self-expression of our authenticity through our interactions with the world that is a fundamental dynamic of becoming more human in our more-than-human world.  Richard Barrett, from the Barrett Values Centre explores the ego-soul dynamic within us, and as we learn to attune this ego-soul dynamic we become more artful, more self-expressive, more authentic and more in service of life.

What I like about the Robinson’s book is its blend of business insights with philosophical insights.  And one particular philosophical exploration with practical consequences is Gadamer’s exploration of Plato’s transcendent realms or Ideas. Often people have misunderstood this, and it is heartening to see the authors hone in on the importance of the transcendent coming through into the immanence, neither is separate, all is one and yet many. Many writers either prioritise the transcendent (overly spiritualise this experience of life) or prioritise the immanent (overly materialise this experience of life).   There is no need for such dichotomy, the immanent and the transcendent are here, what is within us is within everything. This is the innate interconnectedness of life.  Yet, to be clear, we ought not overly-assume this perspective originates with Plato, who borrowed these insights from great minds before him such as Pythagoras of Samos and Parmenides of Elea, as well as from those further afield in Babylonia, Egypt, the Indus and beyond (fortunately for Plato it was before the invention of copyright and commodified IP, a freer more expansive time in many respects).

As the authors note, we live our lives in a deep web of meaning, much of which is beyond our perceptual horizon and yet can be intuited within our souls if we are still enough to listen intently to what is being whispered in the wind. To invite this silence into our selves, this serenity into our conversations, is an important part of soulful dialogue – our authentic conversation with the world.  This is what ‘human being’ means, to be Homo sapiens, wise beings with humility and soul.

As Wachterhauster (cited by the Robinsons) explains, we are engaging in an unweaving and reweaving of this fabric of reality that is pregnant with the transcendent and the immanent.  This comes with a humbling responsibility to be more authentic and soulful.

As we engage more soulfully, we learn to become more transparent with the transcendent and more intimate with the immanent.  Then we bring this wisdom into how we design and deliver our products and services.

And the good news is, as the authors point out, ‘there is a growing trend away from an obsession with new products, gadgets and the accumulation of ‘stuff’,  towards seeking out novel and meaningful experiences…the shift into an ‘experience economy’

The radical undertaking this book brings home to us is this, the experience of being-in-the-world; it is an approach to life that has been understood by humanity from time immemorial and what the Robinson’s do so well is bring this to light in their own unique way, supported by interesting case studies from Brazil, for example Dr Paulo Chapchap, the CEO of Hospital Sírio Libanês, one of the most important hospitals in Latin America, and Cris Dios, visionary entrepreneur, cosmetologist, and founder of Laces and Hair, whose philosophy of inner beauty is reflected in the unique design of their salons which combine art, vegetation and innovative sustainable technologies.

All in all, the authors have been courageous in their undertaking and have brought something unique into this cutting-edge of the emerging future of business.  It continues to be an honour to check-in with Simon over the months and years and see how his and his wife Maria’s work becomes more influential, as it deserves to be.  These are two people of great integrity, discernment, insight, philosophic and practical acumen. The world needs the Robinson’s.  I wish this book every success, may it find the hearts-and-minds of our brands strategists, organisational development leads and business leaders the world over.

I shall summarise with a quote the authors use by Idries Shah:

“{it} is not ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ or even ‘Do as I do’, but ‘Experience it and you will know’.”

Experiencing life, a breath of fresh air, unadulterated pure-and-simple, this is all we need to ‘be’ in this world – as otherwise we might feel overly burdened with ethical over-load, when all we really need to be/do is open up to this awe-inspiring experience with humility, and ‘holy curiosity’ as Einstein aptly put it. Easier said than done in the thick-of-it. And yet it is heartening to know that we naturally experience life in an authentic way if we allow ourselves to presence the moment, and in-so-doing we enchant ourselves while falling back in love with this mystery of life, humble, vulnerable, courageous.

Lived experience simply is holistic.  As and when we open to life – fully presencing the unfurling moment – then we are engaged in eco-intelligence or Tier 2 consciousness (as Graves and others would refer to it), the challenge is making this our preferred way of attending, our default setting.

As the authors note, ‘being’ is a dynamic undertaking, a movement in our sensing, our knowing, our apprehension and attention.   What is required now in leadership and organisational development is a shift to a more soulful dynamic, what I refer to elsewhere as an ‘ontological and epistemological threshold’ – a threshold being crossed in our ‘being and knowing’.   This is not an academic or analytic undertaking but a subtle shift right here, right now, as we sense our breath in our nostrils, the sensations in our body, the relational context of our world, and the subtle perturbations of our soul resonating with the World Soul.

Our coming-into-being occurs within the menstruating moment, an opportunity to cleanse ourselves, to baptise our bodyminds, to die-and-be-reborn, each day, each moment. This is the essence of soul leadership, to let go of old ways of being-and-doing and open up to our emerging futures with humility, wisdom and love.

Each day offers us the chance to consciously embrace, to inhabit, to love our being-in-the-world within this meaning-sphere, this learning-sphere, this classroom we call Life.

Customer Experiences with Soul catalyses our natural ability to experience our coming-into-being within business and beyond. For that, I for one am truly grateful.

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

For Giles Hutchins’ personal website see




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