Conscious, Aware Humans and Human Systems

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This is not a book review. It is more like a question that I put out to all who read this. I think it is an important question, because it addresses the Saybrook OS PhD enterprise, as well as our roles and relationships with the world in which we live. The question is prompted by an essay/book review that I am writing for Integral Leadership Review (June 2013). The book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.), was moving and inspirational in several ways that are probably of little relevance here. I found the arguments put forward with their accompanying model to be intriguing, if somewhat Polyannish. While the authors’ focus is on the U.S., the principles and approaches they offer appeal to a set of values to be found among some people in many different countries.

And there is a dilemma, or a reality test, or an opportunity to go beyond their work. And this does lead to a question.

Here is a characterization of their argument. We do not have free market capitalism. We have crony capitalism that is fostered through special interest influence on government regulation. The purpose of business is to make the world better for all of us. Profits are but one of several elements in the purpose of business. Also, businesses must benefit stakeholders in the business.

This can be accomplished through

  • • Higher purpose and core values,
  • • Stakeholder integration,
  • • Conscious leadership, and
  • • Conscious culture and management.

The book is much richer than this and if you want to know more, please read it. I think the experience will be worth it. Don’t be swayed by the argumentum ad hominem about Libertarian Mackey and his FTC challenges of 2008 or his insensitive tossing around words like socialism and fascism in regard to government intervention in business. Yes, Mackey’s politics are at least distracting, but that is not what my question is about.

Mackey has created, with Sisodia’s participation, the following Academy for Conscious Leadership Mission Statement:

“The Academy for Conscious Leadership prepares leaders to lead from a place of service by guiding them through experiences that identify their higher purpose and create cultures of meaning. To do this, a faculty comprised of Whole Foods Market Team Members, thought leaders and fellow travelers exposes participants to ideas that challenge their perspectives, allowing them to consider a new reality.

In addition to adhering to the tenets of Conscious Capitalism, the Academy embraces the following behaviors:

  • • We model compassion, empathy and understanding.
  • • We recognize the value in different kinds of minds.
  • • We challenge our perceptions.
  • • We encourage leaders to understand their own reactions, desires, motivations as well as those of others.
  • • We believe in the wholeness of all things and face our shadows along with our light.
  • • We model humility and recognize that we always have more to learn.
  • • We are creative in our methods and explore new ideas.
  • • We practice gratitude.

The world is ready for a new crop of intentional leaders, and through the Academy we will help them to flourish while enriching a vibrant and entrepreneurial culture.”

These are but examples of efforts in recent years to promote conscious capitalism, conscious business and conscious leadership. Mackey has played an active role in this, but other authors, mainly consultants or academics, have contributed, e.g. Bill George (who wrote the Foreword for the book), Alan W. Brown, John Seely Brown, Rod Collins, Ranjay Gulati, John Hagel, Gary Hamel, Umair Haque, Vlatka Hlupic, Roger Martin, Lisa Earle McLeod, Vineet Nayar, Franz Roeoesli, Fred Reichheld, Jeff Sutherland, and numerous authors in Integral Leadership Review (one fascinating example is Ed Kelly’s current series on Warren Buffet’s development as a leader).

Yes, there is a question coming up here.

As academics we are seekers of truths (note the plural). One of those truths, from my point of view, is that almost all of the other truths about human systems are temporary. As contexts change so do human systems — and, I might add, there is increased potential that individual perspectives and worldviews will and do change accordingly. At least for some people, certainly not all.

Some claim, as do Mackey and Sisodia, in line with the writing of Steven Pinker and others, that the people of the world are shifting in consciousness as there is less violence, reduced poverty, heightened awareness, etc. I think this is relevant for our research and teaching. Either we deny it, attempt to disprove it, pretend that nothing changes, or address it. This is highly relevant to how we conceptualize, understand relationships and reconsider our thinking about cause and effect and many other dimensions of our work.

And here is the question:

Given these complexities, and given the constraints we may have on our work, what is our responsibility to engage the practices and perspectives on consciousness and awareness – our own and that of those we study – in our research and teaching?

There are certainly many possible corollaries to this question, such as: Is the question of increasing consciousness and awareness relevant and useful to explore in our work? How are you accounting for your own development of consciousness and awareness in your work?

I think these are the kernels of some very interesting conversations.

Read other posts by Russ Volckmann

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