This story starts with the work of philosopher Ken Wilber, who was already being hailed as the greatest American philosopher when he was just 23 years old. He earned this acclaim for his first book, Spectrum of Consciousness. It was the first successfully seamless integration of earthy native spirituality, rational western science and transcendent eastern wisdom. It was also the first of a long line of Wilber writings offering various spins on this same seamless theme. I read his Brief History of Everything first and it got me thinking. Two years later I heard him speak and was moved to read his Marriage of Sense and Soul. Halfway through that second book this picture of evolution in organization exploded into my consciousness. I put down the book and started writing.
I started with Wilber's basic two-by-two matrix, a four quadrant map, that has at its core two basic tensions or spectrums of consciousness, shown as intersecting, perpendicular axes. The first axis stretches from inside to outside, subjective to objective. In organizational terms, every organization has a subjective, depends-on-who-you ask, open-to-interpretation and re-interpretation, unmeasurable-but-undeniable, story-based, deeper meaning INSIDE and an objective, observable, measurable, put-it-in-a-powerpoint-pie-chart, pass-it-around-the-room, obviously real OUTSIDE. We use soft, interpersonal skills to deal with the inside stuff of people and culture. We use hard data skills to deal with the outside stuff of decision-making and action.
The second axis is equally clear. It runs from the one to the many, the individual to the collective, the personal to the organizational. Every organization exists simultaneously as a single, whole entity AND has many, many individual parts or people. Leadership skills are about the personal, about passion and responsibility, about what do I want and what am I willing to do about it. Strategy is a bigger, organizational form of the same stuff, about culture and decision-making, about where do we want to go and how are we going to get there.
When Wilber lets the inside and outside play with the one and the many, he generates four quadrants, what he calls the four dimensions of evolution. Translated into organizational terms, we see that our work really is pulling us in four directions at once! Wilber's four dimensions are consciousness, culture, social structure and behavior. Consciousness is the internal, individual dimension, what we all know on the inside, for ourselves. Culture is the collective form of that, the stories that we make to hold us
together and tell us what is good and bad, right and wrong, sought and avoided. Social structure is the outside, collective, the outside of structure, it's what we literally construct based on our cultural beliefs. Finally, behavior is the individual, outside dimension, the individual actions taken within the social structures, what each of us actually does about the things that we are conscious of and care about.
Translating this into more organizational terms, consciousness becomes personal passion or intention. Culture and structure need no translating, as long as we remember that culture is all about story and structure is about how we make decisions and move forward. Finally, behavior becomes action, the bottom lines at any standard cocktail party and any organization... what do you DO? and how do you get people to DO what is required at work? So we really are being pulled in four directions at work, continually reconciling and aligning what I love and care about as an individual with the plans and policies of who WE say we are as a culture, with the decisions, choices and options WE have now in the current organizational structure, with what I am willing to take personal responsibility for DOing about all of it. No wonder we come home tired all the time!
If we turn now the wisdom of first-people nations through the ages, as told by Angeles Arrien in her book The Four-Fold Way, the advice we get about this is simple and clear: show up, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, speak your truth, and let it go. In her book, The Fourfold Way, Arriens links these four simple practices with four hero archetypes, four meditations, and four human resources. All of these map easily into the Wilber dimensions.
Showing up is the work of the warrior archetype, who practices standing meditation, developing the human resource of power. Map this to individual responsibility and action, where we exercise our individual power to take a stand and be accountable. Paying attention to what has heart and meaning is the work of the healer archetype, whose meditation is lying down and resource is love. Map this to individual purpose and intention, the things we love and in which we rest. Telling the truth is the work of the visionary, who does a sitting meditation and whose resource is vision. Map this to culture, story and planning and vision in organization. And finally, the letting go of the outcome is the work of the teacher, whose meditation is moving, walking and whose resource is wisdom. Map this to our capacity to make decisions and move within and beyond the structure of the organization.
Returning to the recent Fast Company story that prompted this journey, we can now appreciate just how basic their "four basics of business" really are. Attracting talent is about creating organizations that people can put their hearts into, where they can find a reason to work, something they love and can rest into. Segmenting and going after customers is about creating a vision, a story that customers can literally buy into. Using speed as a competitive advantage is about structuring for movement, letting go of control, and allowing more distributed, front-line decision-making. And finally, financing the operation is about generating power or value through responsibility and action.