Monday, December 12, 2011
It’s In Our Nature
A first blog for ‘Speaking Tree’ –
The blank word document on my laptop screen taunts me, daring me to say something significant and profound that you will value reading, warning me of the dangers of hubris. Having decided to call this ‘it’s in our nature’ there’s a warning there, of course.
The strongest roots are hopefully buried deepest in the moments which led to me being asked to make this contribution - the recent leadership program which we at Tomorrow’s Company were honored to help facilitate with business leaders in Mumbai kindly hosted by Tata, together with CIMA (the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) on ‘Achieving Success Through Corporate Sustainability’.
At the end I gave a speech in which I said:
“I want to close by quoting from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – to my mind the most profound insight on human nature, existence and fulfillment:
When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded Consciousness.
In its concluding section we find this – which might perhaps have been written about the nature of value and the value of nature
Any change into a new state of being is the result of the fullness of Nature unfolding inherent potential.
But the apparent causes of a change do not bring it about. They merely remove the obstacles to natural growth, as a farmer clears the ground for his crops”
I went on to say contrast the difference between India and the UK, remarking that it would have been difficult to give the same speech in the UK, in part because, I argued, in the UK, business is apart from society, and in India it is much more a part of society; and also because there is probably a greater ease when in it comes to talking about matters that would be dismissed as subjective and lacking in so-called substance back in Britain (all dangers of generalization fully acknowledged!)
This was reinforced in our leadership program, as we discussed the ways in which businesses create value – in particular, when we discussed how businesses that create long-term and sustainable value increasingly need to do so by operating at the point of overlap between the sub-systems on which depend for life and prosperity: the social and environmental as well as the economic. We then went on to discuss building blocks of value, which connect these underlying and deep sub-systems to the goods and services that businesses make and sell: things like property and land, natural resources, human relationships and connections, all brought together through governance and leadership.
In one of a number of ‘a-ha’ moments of genuine and shared revelation, we recognized that many of these building blocks of value are only at best partly captured by financial accounts, so much of the job of a business leader is to give value to things which end up generating cash, profits and wealth but all too often do not make it onto the balance sheet. It is so often the ‘soft things’ that drive value, but it can be very hard to manage these: the harder we hold onto them, the more likely they are to crumble in our hands.
What has struck me talking with people working in India is the acknowledged importance of dimensions of temperament, behavior and culture. I was lucky enough to chat with people working for Tata Motors at Pune recently, who showed my the performance indicators they used on the shop floor, which ranged from output and financial measures to ethical and other considerations. What truly impressed however was what these measures clearly meant to those working on the line, these were not abstract concepts, and they had real and passionately felt meaning.
Our leadership program explored the interplay between the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’, the duality of what we called ‘ness and way’ – recognizing the power of the expression of ‘Tata-ness’ which has such a powerful and shared meaning for different people in Tata, hard to write up in a code but distinctive and impactful even so. American military strategists talk of ‘soft power’ with good reason.
All too often we focus on the way, on systems and processes, without recognizing that they are increasingly necessary but are no longer sufficient for the creation of value. Value creation is not linear, it is much better seen as a spiral of co-creation, in which ‘ness’ and ‘way’ come together, each overcoming the limits of the other, driving higher levels of innovation, moving up the value curve, crystallizing what was not yet known and discovered, to give new shape and form to new forms of value. (For so many of these shared insights I am indebted to Anant Nadkarni of Tata Council for Community Initiatives who did so much to make the leadership program possible).
Dualities abound, which is no surprise as we have spent a couple of hundred of years since the industrial revolution analyzing and fragmenting, when once we may have seen things as a whole. Knowledge vs. intuition is one such polarity, when what matters is wisdom – how we bring both together, to generate new insight which drives all three qualities.
Our challenge though is that knowledge and fragmentation are two dimensional, whereas wisdom and systemic thinking is multi dimensional. Becoming good in one does not create the capacity to become good in the other. We can’t easily ‘switch tracks’ because, as John Knights, another new contributor to Speaking Tree, remarked at our program, our brains work in different according to what we ask them to do for us: in a world where data is exponentially increasing, we can’t force ourselves to absorb more and more information, our brains literally shut down.
Rather moments of humor and reflection release the chemicals and hormones release the chemicals that build new neural pathways and connections that enable and lock in new insights and new ways of thinking.
Since Einstein we have recognized both the value and the limits of the subject/object duality of Newtonian thinking – but we have been unable to translate this learning as a species to how we govern and lead, to disciplines such as economics and sociology, to the frameworks and paradigms which practically shape how we live and work. This is silly, wrong and crazy! ‘Bonkers’ we say in English!
So where might we turn for those moments of reflection and humor – of transcendence and unity – which enable us to move to multi-dimensional thinking and being which enables us, individually and together, to embrace duality, and enter the still heart of the tornado of sustainable value creation.
I did not have to wait long for the answer, coming back from Mumbai. Within a week I was hosting our conference on ‘Tomorrow’s Natural Business’ – exploring the potential for business to learn from the design principles of nature, in moving from a form of capitalism based on principles of ‘take, make, waste’. As I rushed out of the door, I was reminded of a gift given to me by my father, who deals in second hand books, who gave me a lovely old book, written by Frank Townshend, called ‘Earth’: an extended poem and ode to life on earth. Mind you, I say ‘old’ for it was published in 1929, but this was of course some time after Jamsetji Tata founded Tata!
I read this to the conference in opening it:
“Under the control of Trusts and Supermen, Industry flourished. To standardization and mass production, was added the technique of scientific labor management. Efficiency, economy and the elimination of waste characterized every phase of manufacture and distribution; Prosperity measured by the volume of trade and profit reached peak after peak. Civilization propelled by the dynamism of mechanistic science, Fired by the hope of gain, Gathered speed. ---------------------
Yet among the hills there were many quiet valleys; the sound of running water; sunlight through the leaves; Ferns and pebbles; the patient, smiling earth. --------------------
Individuals and companies – to exploit, acquired natural wealth; the treasures of the earth were poured out without thought for the future. Energy derived from natural sources was made available in ever growing quantities. Bitter were the struggles to obtain it. Unemployment grew. The tension of life increased.
Science diverged into specialism; So that while one man might spend his days investigating the thorax of a beetle, another would spend his life in the study of some theory of electronic emission, while a third surveyed the stars; none realized that they sought the same thing.
And so quite literally, we come full circle. In our relationship with nature, with all that is around and in us, we find a deeper dynamic which weaves yin and yang, ness and way, knowledge and intuition, the hard and the soft – and indeed spans India, the UK and perhaps other parts of the world, and our shared understanding of our inter-connectedness.
It is as Patanjali says, part of our essential nature – our deepest understanding, tells us of nature that it is, after all, indeed, ‘in our nature’.
**Tony Manwaring is CEO of Tomorrow’s Company