Harmony is an interesting thing, I recently noticed how it’s an essential part of very different things. The previous months I have been learning about “The Learning Organization”, how to create a sustainable business that doesn’t revolve around producing, but rather around learning where the production is a natural consequence. This has been an attitude natural throughout my life with all the necessary characteristics I had to develop. Most of all however, fall face down to the ground plenty of times. Interestingly, this is the state of the art in business. This surprised me and made me wonder why this attitude isn’t more prominent around me. What’s curious though, is that the whole idea of creating an organization around learning made me think about Buddhism. And my belly.
Business and the Learning Organization
Let’s start with business. As I used to be naturally resistant to anything that had a monetary ring to it. Be it capitalistic attitudes, investing, and choosing money over health and quality of life, I had also nullified everything with a business-air to it.
However, The Learning Organization is different. It is a concept coined by, and after the work and research of Peter Senge. He wrote all about it in his book the 5th discipline. A learning organization is all about creating an working environment that improves the ability to learn. This should both benefit the individuals that make up the organization as the collective whole. Consequently, the organization is not about producing, but about learning where the production is a consequence.
The 5 pillars of the learning organization are shared vision, personal mastery, systems thinking, mental models and team learning. Sounds familiar? Probably not. Shared vision is the idea that every single person in an organization has their own vision, generated by themselves, that adds to, and supports, the shared vision.
Personal mastery is self-improvement, reflecting on a regular basis, making mistakes, a lot, and learning from them. Team learning is about: yes you’re right, learning as a team. Think about a sports team becoming more and more fluent over the course of the season in their playing together, and winning the title. Now apply this to your office job.
Mental models are the assumptions we hold about the world, it is our personal lens through which we see things. These are deeply held beliefs, that can save energy in everyday life, but can also limit us from seeing reality clearly. Think of the idea that government officials don’t work hard. Surely, everything you see them do is at least slow. Your little sister is annoying because she always wants attention. After that, everything she does is asking for attention. But is she? Now apply this to your work environment, what are you thinking about others? Is this really true? Or did you just install a thought a couple of years ago that you have been reinforcing until now.
And finally, systems thinking. Seeing that problems occur systemically is something I was trained to do as a physical therapist. My shoulder hurts here! Treating “here” would mean I neglect the entire system (the body) that is made up of so many subsystems (joints, connective tissue, muscular system, neurological system etc.) that all are part of the problem. Instead of responding to losses in sales by lowering product prices, a systemic approach would mean that you question why your sales went down and aim to resolve that. Even though, this might be painfully confronting.
Now on to what Buddha said. Yes, Buddha, and it’s not that long of a shot as it turns out. Stick with me.
Buddha spoke of the noble eight-fold path to “enlightenment”:
- Step one is right view, seeing things as they are
- Step two right intentions
- Step three right speech or speaking truth
- Step four right action, the art of living
- Step five right livelihood, where love through work is made visible
- Step six is right effort
- Step seven right mindfulness
- Step eight right concentration
Living up to these steps will help you realize anything from 0 to a 100 on the scale on enlightenment. What I find thought-provoking is that step one to three, right view, right intentions and right speech are basically what is part of the mental models described before. Personal mastery is right action, and right livelihood. Right effort is personal mastery again and right mindfulness and right concentration could be part of a shared vision. Between your body and mind in this case.
The idea of Buddhism is to see reality as it is, to leave destructive thoughts, fairy tales, and everything else that clouds you from seeing it, at the door. This is equally important in the learning organization, where you want to act on reality, not what every person in the organization perceives as reality.
Where the idea of the learning organization is aligning you as an individual with the organization and vice versa. In the case of Buddhism it is about finding this alignment between mind, body and spirit.
Now the belly. Still with me?
So your belly is full of organs, mainly with your food processor starting with your mouth until, euh, the other side. The intestine with it’s brain-qualities is highly important in determining how you feel and behave. The easiest way to communicate with it, is through what comes in through your mouth. Alignment!
Are you thinking about what you will feel like after that stuff made your tongue jump from excitement?
Your belly will be happy if you accept that happens at point A will have consequences for point X, regardless if you are able to see it’s journey. This is why Buddhists aim to live a non-invasive lifestyle, and this is why it’s essential in the learning organization that you become aware how the individual affects the whole and the other way around
The thing all these ideas have in common is harmony. Harmony between colleagues, harmony between mind and body, harmony between thoughts and emotions, and harmony between what your tongue likes and what your stomach has to digest. However, it is impossible to achieve this harmony without learning. Nobody ever managed to do anything substantial overnight. To create a functioning learning organization is a long process, just like progressing along the 8-fold path set out by Buddha, and the way your body responds to different types of food, diet, and environmental stress. There is only one way to figure all this stuff out: try, and fail (more!).
If you find these things hard to connect I would ask you, why? Why are these long shots, why are these different things? Why do you believe that? Where does that idea come from?
I believe we divide the world to understand it better. Think of hierarchies so high you need binoculars to see the one on top, political parties, countries, ideologies, religion, body parts and time frames. All of these are mental models created to make the world easier to digest. I know it’s important to be aware of the fact that these things are nothing more than useful for navigating the physical world.
When it comes to more profound issues a holistic view is required. I recently read in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (in my next life I want to be a physicist), by the Italian Physicist Carlo Rovelli, that space, time, and matter are all the same. It’s a big moving whole of which it’s individual parts cannot be perceived. What we see is the connections between all of it. Supposedly, humans are too limited in their perceptions that we cannot see this whole. As a consequence we think that we are progressing in time and that things and stuff are divided.
I find it not surprising that the things that work across the board all have this similar harmonious origin. If you want your organization you need to respect it’s individuals’ parts needs, if you want to reach you maximum spiritual potential you have to align every part of the self, and if you want to feel good in your belly, you have to figure out how to align everything from top to bottom. I hope that left you with an interesting image in your mind.