Organisational democracy is a stepping stone, not the final answer

Since I first became a fan of organisational democracy, I’ve often wondered what’s next. Will we will find an even better model for how humans can work together? The best answer I have found so far lies in a theory called Spiral Dynamics.

Spiral Dynamics explains how our values and worldview as humans have become increasingly complex – like an unravelling spiral – as life conditions for us have also become more complex. The journey has taken us through survivalismtribalism, superstition and magicego-centrism, feudalism and heroismpurposefulness and authoritarianismstrategic, industrial and materialismhumanism and egalitarianism. Phew, that’s a lot of isms.

Here’s a good slideshare which explains the model, and I also recommend this 43-page ebook on the subject. If you’re brave, you can read the Spiral Dynamics book. It’s awesome but awfully written and took me forever to get through.

What particularly interests me about Spiral Dynamics is that it puts the changes we see happening in the world into the broader context of the ongoing evolution of human consciousness. In developed nations today there is a gradual shift away from the currently dominant industrial, materialistic, individualistic worldview towards a more egalitarian, socially-minded perspective. This is being driven by our life conditions stretching the limits of an industrial perspective:

  • natural resources are finite and so the global economy cannot grow infinitely, especially as developing economies try to enter the consumer party
  • a growing gap between the richest and poorest causing social problems that affect everyone
  • climate change caused by industrialism which has to stop in order to prevent major catastrophe
  • material gain only makes us happier up to a point and there’s more to life than working really hard and acquiring more ‘stuff.’

But the move to a more humanistic perspective where organisational democracy fits in is not the final solution. It’s actually just a stepping stone towards further, more complex levels of consciousness.

What comes next is an integral worldview where we understand all of the levels of consciousness that we have already developed and maximise their positive potential whilst repairing and avoiding the problems that they can cause. It’s a mindset that embraces and understands complexity and lives life to the full.

There are movements emerging that embrace this post-democratic mindset like Conscious Capitalism and Integral Capitalism. This stuff is new and nobody has completely cracked the formula yet, but that’s actually the point. There is no final solution. As life becomes more complex on our planet, our consciousness will continue to evolve new levels of complexity with it, bringing ideas which can greatly enrich life and solve the dizzying problems we face.

The biggest truth about leadership that you didn’t know

Big thanks to my friend Charlie Davies who switched me on to the concept of The Source recently. One of the ever growing list of things I wish I’d understood years ago. An incredibly important dimension to leadership with huge implications for all organisations that I’ve never seen discussed so explicitly before in any business book.

These reflections are based on the work of Peter Koenig who has researched the role of “source” in organizations for many years.

Source

1. any thing or place from which something comes, arises, or is obtained.
2. the beginning or place of origin of a stream or river.
3. a book, statement, person, etc., supplying information.

The role of source

Any enterprise, project or event always goes back to a single source; the person who gave the spark of life to an idea and had a compelling vision that wanted to be realized.

In instances where one might feel that “we” had the idea together, closer investigation of the path of creation will always lead back to one particular person. The person who has the role of source has an energetic connection to the endeavour quite unlike any other member of the organization or team. The energetic connection is derived from the source-person being the first person in time to take a risk, i.e. make an investment in manifesting the idea. Often the first risk was taken in communicating the idea to a second person.

As a result, the source has an intuitive knowing about what the next steps are and will have strong reactions, often viscerally, if these insights are not honoured. For the source, the “Gestalt” of the idea can be sensed, even if others can at times have more accurate language to describe it. The effects of the importance of source can be observed, whether or not the source is acknowledged. However, acknowledgment of source will lead to an ease of flow in processes and decrease potential for conflict.

A metaphor for source

If an idea, a project or an organization was an individual we could attempt to trace back how this being first came into existence. At the beginning of the child’s life, there was the act of creation, which required a father and a mother.

Let’s assume there was a field or a dimension in which all ideas and all creations exist; the field of limitless potential. Let’s say this field is the “father” in this metaphor. The field chooses a carrier,the source, a “mother” that will bring the child into existence. This person is inseminated with the idea; the source might indeed feel as if “going pregnant” with the idea for a while prior to it’s birth.

Even after the baby (the idea, project) is born, the connection to its creators (the field and the source) is very strong. The field and the source are the genetic parents of this baby and regardless of who will help to raise the child to be an independent person – the birth parents will always remain the birth parents.

For the success or the child in life, it seems to be vital that this primary connection is recognized and honoured, even if other people do a bulk of the childrearing work or if the child is going to be adopted by another parent in the future.

The role of helpers

The role of others as supporters and helpers for the success of a project envisioned by the source is paramount. As in the metaphor of the child, a single parent would never be able to do as good a job raising the child as a whole community could. As they say: It takes a village…

The bigger the original vision the source brings into existence, the more likely the source relies on others for realization of this vision. The helpers can take on all kinds of different roles; from translating the idea into concepts or tasks, to taking on roles as “sub-sources” with full responsibility for a sub-project that feedsinto the larger source.

The more connected the helpers feel energetically to the idea/vision of the source – and this comes not just from liking the project content but from their relationship to the source and acknowledging the source’s source role – the more they are able torealize and exercise their own source within the project. This increases the momentum of the endeavour.

Each helper can form his or her special connection to the projectand become a central figure in the growth process – but the source as the point of origin must be recognized. If anyone unrightfully claims ownership of the idea, the balance in the system is disturbed and will suffer a multitude of consequences.

The source of organizations

Every organization has a point of origin, the moment when the idea was conceived and someone gave shape to what was previously shapeless. This idea of source in organizations is especially observable in family owned businesses. However, it is important to note that identifying the source may not always be as obvious as it might appear at first sight. Often, the founding of the company is attributed to one person (for example the patriarch), but the driving force behind the endeavour was in fact another (for example the matriarch of the family). It is therefore essential to examine closely who was the original life force behind the organization before drawing premature conclusions about the source.

The source can be inherited or passed on from one person to another. The passing on of the source is not a legal but an energetic act. Even if due diligence has been done to ensure that all the right contracts are in place, the source can remain with the original founder and the transmission has not occurred. If this is the case, the new leader/CEO, and subsequently the organization, will be weakened. Succession can only occur if the person passing it over and the person receiving it are conscious and open to the process. Without full transmission of the source, a struggle for dominance and recognition ensues.

A few of the tell-tale signs for the source not having been transferred (or not transferred fully) can be that the newly appointed leader:

  • feels disconnected from the business,
  • is unsure about next steps, has no vision,
  • does not feel what his or her place or purpose in the endeavour is,
  • has no execution even though has all the legal power,
  • experiences power struggles with other people in the organization,
  • is not accepted by others in the organization as the new leader.

It is important to know that only one person can fulfil the role of source. The ownership structure of an organization or the distribution of profits are not tied to being source, but the final say about strategic decisions is.

In family run businesses, it is not unusual that the passing of the source skips one generation. If the source remained with a grandparent that has already passed, the transfer might be accomplished through a personal ritual of initiation that honours the vision and importance of the source, before the new CEO steps fully into his or her new responsibility as the new source of the organization. If the person fulfilling the role of source is still alive, this is a ritual that can and should be conducted in person.

The role of source in leadership

In any organization, there are numerous sources for numerous projects. The vital importance of accepting that the source will “sense” what has to be done should not be underestimated. If the leader is the source, this might be easier than if another employee is the source for a particular thought or project. Regardless of the position of the source in the hierarchy, the source needs to be recognized in order to function as the channel through which information flows into the organization. Furthermore, a lack of recognition of source is noted by members of the system and feels unfair or unjust; members of the organization/team will revert to “just doing their jobs”. Trust in the leaders and or the organizationas a whole is diminished. Acceptance of source creates harmony and trust and is also the key to all people being able to realize their own source potential. The recognition of source is thus key to innovation.

If the role of source is not acknowledged in leadership, this either results in a dictatorial approach to running the company (“I am the new boss now and you will do as I say!”) or in a spineless egalitarianism (“we are all the same and we all have equal say”). The first often leads to organizations with a high number of sick days and a work morale weakened by fear whereas latter leads to inefficiency and a culture that values comradeship over performance. Both will bleed the organization of talent since intelligent and self-responsible individuals will neither choose to work for an organization in which submission to an authoritarian leader is required, nor an organization in which every process is stalled because no one ever feels empowered to take a decision.

This short article on source was written by Nadjeschda Taranczewski and Peter Koenig in July 2012. Please feel free to copy onto your own letterhead by mentioning the authors.

A simple, powerful way to create a collaborative workplace

Last week I visited the awesome Studiomates collaborative workspace in Brooklyn, New York. When you visit the space, you immediately notice the collaborative, friendly atmosphere so I asked how they go about cultivating that. Naturally they are selective about who they accept as studiomates, but once people are in, how do they get people collaborating?

A big part of the answer over there is simply eating lunch together every day. You don’t have to have a Google-style free gourmet canteen to do this. Just have a set time every day and encourage everyone to eat their lunch together. It’s as simple as that, but don’t under-estimate the power. Humans have been talking while they eat together for thousands of years. It’s a very natural way to find out what’s going on and who needs help as well as creating and strengthening relationships and having fun.

We’re starting this practice at The FuseBox today. How about doing this at your workplace?

Becoming Conscious: The Science of Mindfulness (video)

One of the most valuable things I’ve done in the past year is mindfulness training. Essentially this is training to become more conscious and in control of your attention. This might sound banal, but it can help you step out of the auto-pilot in which we spend much of our time thinking and reacting. It’s clinically proven to make people less stressed and anxious, and feel happier more of the time. I’m still at an early stage in my journey but already I can see how mindfulness practice is life-changing.

If you have a healthy skeptical mind and are curious about the science behind mindfulness, here’s a fantastic video which includes some fascinating studies such as the effect of mindfulness training on troops serving in Afganistan.

OK, I appreciate that this video is over an hour long, and here on the Internet we only have very short attention spans. But perhaps that’s the point.