A New Look at the Potentials of ‘Conscious’ Business
Conscious Capitalism has become a new buzz word and emerging business trend. Is it visionary, or a fresh version of the status quo? What are the possibilities hinted at through the weaving of consciousness and business?
The real opportunity for visionary leadership is to go beyond conscious capitalism into Holographic Enterprise.
Trend-watcher Patricia Aburdeen puts the concept of ‘conscious capitalism’ high enough on her emerging trends list that she included it in the title of her new book. Dana Zohar’s book, Spiritual Capital, discusses similar issues, using slightly different wording for the same general concept — that a critical mass of large-corporation executives are suddenly ‘going spiritual’ or finding some new connection with their moral center that is prompting them to do business differently.
To many others, though, ‘conscious capitalism’ is just a warmed-up version of the same old P.R.-enhancing programs known as ‘corporate citizenship’ or ‘corporate social responsibility’, or CSR, which have been buzzwords for decades.
Many of the examples that Aburdeen and Zohar cite seem both familiar and potentially superficial. Many companies have ‘social responsibility’ programs that seem impressive on the surface — a type of ‘greenwashing’ — until you stack it up against the organization’s net impact. Real-world case studies are abundant, and have been documented in films such as The Corporation, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
For example, sponsoring children’s programs, promising to reduce pollution in 20 years, opening meetings with prayer, or creating a meditation room in the company offices, all while poisoning the water, draining community aquifers, lobbying against clean air, feeding people food that makes them sick, razing the old-growth forests, encouraging addiction, evicting indigenous or less affluent peoples from their land (literally, or by ruining the ecosystem or bulldozing their homes), treating people like expendable ‘resources’ or ‘human capital’, and doing business in the same zero-sum, cut-throat, profit-at-any-cost manner seems beyond ironic.
Some might say, “This is better than nothing,” but I’d suggest that we’re capable of something far more visionary, far more audacious, than simply making small nudges in the status quo.
There is a much older and far more nuanced perspective about what ‘conscious’ might mean, and how that might translate into the world of business and organizations.
There is another definition of ‘consciousness’ — one drawn from age-old wisdom and spiritual traditions, in which consciousness means that one awakens from his or her dream of separation and becomes aware of the sacredness of and the connection between all things.
This lens is the more holographic one reflected in the simple yet profound words of Chief Seattle: What we do to the web, we do to ourselves. It is also reflected in the Native American consideration of ‘seven generations’ when looking at the impact of decisions and actions.
It is a lens that our ancient ancestors knew well, and modern ‘renegade’ scientists are beginning to articulate more boldly — one that assumes and embodies the integration of intellect with heart, Masculine with Feminine, inner with outer, above with below, and conscience with action. It sees many dimensions, not just one or three. It knows that there is much more ‘there’ than what meets the eye.
This is consciousness as wholeness, and a way of seeing and being that informs a more wholistic and multi-dimensional ‘doing’. And through this lens, the underlying assumptions, goals, and approaches to business — while still including some of the more neutral business-as-usual practices — look dramatically different, and are summarized later in this article.
It is the former, mono – or three-dimensional, linear-and-rationality worshipping, ‘business-as-usual’ definition that prevails in the dominant 20th-century industrial business and leadership model, though there are always individuals who stray from such norms. In this traditional model, ‘conscious business’ or ‘conscious capitalism’ seems oxymoronic.
It is in the latter definition — consciousness as a realization, embodiment, and practice of the sacredness of and connection between all things — that offers both hope and promise to us at this pivotal time in history when the old (and still mainstream) ways of gluttonous consumption are literally destroying the planet and the mind-body-spirit integrity and wellness of the beings on it (including human beings).
What would this look like when explored and applied in the world of business and organizational enterprise?
Assuming a holographic definition, what would a truly ‘conscious business’ look like? It would be a ‘holographic’ enterprise, and would need to reflect these elements:
- Alignment with the most unflinching definition of ‘right livelihood’, as defined by the Right Livelihoods Award organization and by the Buddhist ‘noble eightfold path’.
- Centered in a more wholistic definition of wealth, and a solid definition of ‘enough’.
- Holographic awareness demonstrated by the organization’s leaders — a willingness to see with new eyes, hear with new ears, and embrace possibilities and tools that were once seen as ‘fringe’ (but that were adeptly practiced by our wiser ancestors and contemporary healers, shamans, visionaries, etc.).
- Truly bold and visionary leader-entrepreneurs who do the inner work and are courageous enough to step out of the mainstream, out of the ‘norm’, and embrace a much larger, much more holographic vision of what’s possible. And then set about experimenting it into existence.
- An uncovering of unexplored or unacknowledged assumptions and ‘perceptual prisons’, and a courageous releasing of those that contribute harmful effects or that don’t boldly lead to whole-system well-being.
- Asking and living into the challenging questions — radical creativity is stimulated by asking into the questions without the old, limiting assumptions or ‘perceptual prisons’.
- Humane or cruelty free — respecting the sacredness and dignity of all beings.
- Eco-balanced — minimal footprint. What you use or take, you contribute back or replenish in a way that is equal and balanced in comparison, rather than use or take the quality resource and, if anything is returned at all, it is of a quick-and-easy, inferior quality.
- Masculine/feminine balance — this speaks primarily to archetypes, which show themselves in the ‘face’ and actions of the organization.
- Inside-out — in sharp contrast to the more entrenched ‘outside-in’ (based on external feedback, norms, conditions, approval), inside-out action is influenced by true thoughtfulness, interconnectivity, intuition, and connection with something greater (Spirit, God, Universe, Creative Intelligence, etc.); demonstrative of the age-old wisdom (reflected in more recent consciousness research and theoretical physics) ‘as above, so below’ and ‘as within, so without’.
- Value-thought-word-action alignment — aligning within, and then walking the talk.
- Human scale and locally, independently owned, though connected, collaborating, cooperating, cocreating, and in positive relationship to the rest of the web.
- Conscious Word — aware of the power of intentions, words and thoughts; and committed to individual and organizational communication that is mindful and skillful.
- Natural systems / cycles — respectful of Nature as a teacher, and cooperative with Nature rather than ‘conqueror’ of Nature, ‘subduer’ of Nature, or exploiter of Nature. Applies the wisdom of Nature teachings to individual and organizational ‘doing’.
Anyone who has operated a business in the current, prevailing business paradigm, knows that this definition of ‘conscious business’ is radically different from even what is considered bold or visionary within the normal, Patriarchal, Empire-derived and -aligned business culture. It is different, even, from the newer movements in ‘conscious capitalism,’ which, while a step forward, still puts new wine into an old container.
This more holographic vision of ‘conscious business’ requires a significant degree of commitment and authenticity of the enterprise creators and leaders — who need to ‘know themselves’ and do the inner work to experience the outer ‘manifested wisdom’ — as well as a thorough revisiting and revamping of many underlying assumptions, institutionalized limitations, and other ‘perceptual prisons’.
It calls for a willing leap into a purposeful Dark Night of the Soul, which would release the potential for courageous, unflinching, joyful, wisdom-inspired transformation.
For those who are called, it’s an exciting prospect and a noble adventure. It is, as others have said, our Great Work if we are to experience The Great Turning and leave a laudable legacy to future generations.
Shall we dare it, together?