The Paradox of Awakening and Profitability

The Paradox of Awakening and Profitability

Building a business is extremely hard.

Building a business on the foundations of Selflessness, Authenticity, Love, and Service is even harder. And one can do that only if one is deeply authentic, generous, selfless and in touch with her/his deep self.

Conscious Capitalism, Servant leadership, love leadership etc. do not happen in isolation. These are, but an outer manifestation of a leader’s inner life. One who doesn’t live by these principles can never bring this to fruition in real world.

Living a spiritual life, living a life based on true north principles, balancing the paradox of individual awakening and business pressures is tough in a corporate environment, so, my respect for those who have been able to translate these principles and bring them to life in businesses is immense.

I stumbled upon “Meaningful Work: A Quest to do great business, find your calling and feed your soul” by Shawn Askinosie last month when 800-CEO-READ featured it in their upcoming books to read. Today’s blog post by Seth Godin calls out this book. A peep into the book traces Shawn’ career trajectory from being a successful lawyer to praying hard daily for years to find a meaningful calling, ultimately resulting in entrepreneurship. I found it fascinating for the references to the Trappist Monastery.

While I know very little about the Monks and the Trappist Monastery, I had read about it earlier in a fascinating book titled “Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks” by August Turak. Turak writes about how the principles of service and selflessness can be the foundation on which a wildly successful business can be built.

Closer home, I am aware of Aravind Eye Care, Cipla (do read this post) and Hare Krishna exports from Surat whose founders have built their businesses on these principles.

While there is so much talk today in the papers about VC’s, funding, how to make profits etc. There is hardly any talk about how to build sustainable, relevant and meaningful businesses. Businesses built on true north principles. Professors who are called to talk about business, regurgitate the same old tales we have read in the business papers, hardly anyone talks about this personal journey. I have actively sought out stories like these in my readings and they fascinate me no end. Walking the path of deep spiritual values is hard and guess that’ the reason we hear very little stories like these! So when I do find them, I feel like celebrating and sharing their success!

In my view, Shri Krishna in The Gita, lays out a very clear, unambiguous path, that can be used as guiding principles and I will share it in the next few posts.

But for now, given that we are talking about Monks and Businesses, I would like to end up with this beautiful story narrated by another monk who heads an Asset Management Company. We can all start with this parable and come back to hear how Shri Krishna answer’s the question about What kind of business/product/service to build in the next post.

Update: This series may have to wait for some more time!

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WCF – a lesson in living the Gita

I was reading the 18th chapter of The Gita today and realized that the events that led up to the build up of World Cultural Festival, the festival itself were, in fact, a lesson in living the Gita! So, here it goes:

After all the mud-slinging,
lies and deceit,
when the man couldn’t stop,
it seemed as if Nature too
conspired – for a while –
to the immense joy of
the tamasic one’s.

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Under the Bodhi Tree – Conscious Organizations and Awakened Leaders – 1

Thousands of years ago, a man sitting under the Bodhi tree, awakened to truth and brought peace and solace to millions of people with a message so easy to comprehend and so compelling, that it continues to inspire humanity centuries beyond his lifetime.

​If ​a single awakened human being has the potential to not only change the world but also inspire people for years to come, can awakened leadership build, sustain and transform organizations? ​

​I have been interested in finding what happens when a leader who is conscious or awake leads a for-profit organization. Do they impact the organization? Are there awakened leaders and organizations out there? If so, how do they look like? This has been a personal quest for me to read up about organizations and leaders who are aware or conscious and work with a sense of impacting not only the current but future as well. In this series, I wanted to share a few leaders and organizations that I think can be called Awake!

​So, let’s get two things out of the way first – definitions of conscious or awake leader and conscious business.

How do we define a conscious leader or an awakened leader?  While there are several definitions, the foundation rests on the premise that the individual is highly self aware and uses this self awareness for the larger good of all. While some of the definitions give a laundry list of what conscious leaders behaviour, I believe that having a high degree of self awareness and using it to serve everything around you, is a good enough definition.

​And what is a Conscious Business? I lean on Fred Kofman’s definition. He says “A Conscious Business seeks to promote the intelligent pursuit of happiness in all its stakeholders. It produces sustainable, exceptional performance through the solidarity of its community and the dignity of each member. A Conscious Business fosters peace and happiness in individuals, respect and solidarity in the community and mission accomplishment in the organization.

​The first organization that I wanted to write about is Patagonia. I stumbled upon Patagonia in one of the most ​implausible​ places – in a spiritual book authored by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh (do spend a minute of your time praying for his recovery) ​– and that piqued my interest to go and purchase the book – Let My People Go Surfing” by the CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Choinard.​

If you are in business of any kind, this one ought to be on your mandatory reading list. On both counts of conscious business and conscious leadership, Patagonia and Yvon score highly. The book, in a very informal and charming way, traces the journey from the roots beginning with a mail order catalog company selling climbing equipment, birth of Patagonia as an outdoor clothing company and the crux of the book, which talks about philosophy and values to building an organization that deeply cares about quality, product design, human resources and the planet.

I do not want to get into the review of the book, there are several available online, that can whet your appetite.

Of the several take-aways from the book, one thing that resonated with me was the philosophy of “leading an examined life”. Yvon has been a student of Zen and it’s no surprise to me that looking deeply forms one of the cornerstone of his philosophy.

Yvon writes: “Uncurious people do not lead examined lives; they cannot see causes that lie deeper than the surface. They believe in blind faith, and the most frightening thing about blind faith is that it in turn leads to an inability, even an unwillingness to accept facts.

​We can look at the results of the organizations, its longevity in business and the impact it has had on the community and the environment to say that this has really been a business built on true north principles and Yvon has shown the way how it can be done.

So far, so good. But then the test of the organization is what happens when the founders retire and a new CEO comes in. Read this interview of Rose Marcario, the current CEO of Patagonia to find out if the organization has stayed true to it’s philosophy or not.

Caveat: I haven’t worked at Patagonia or know anyone remotely associated with the organization. This article is based on the book and the news articles that I have followed on the web. And I don’t own a single piece of Patagonia clothing as well, the last time I was in NewYork and stepped into the store, I left without purchasing anything for they were out of reach for me. I am sure there are positive biases that creep in when people write their biography or when starry eyed journalists cover organizations, despite that, the philosophy of doing good and building businesses by asking the questions keeping the seventh generation in mind, is really about awakening ourselves. Thanks Yvon!

PS: If topics relating to Spirituality, Consciousness, ethics interest you, then come join the conversation at http://www.ccsconference.in/

Timeless Principles of Leadership

I wrote this article for the Indore Management Associations journal’s Commemorative issue published in Jan 2011. Haven’t been able to find a online issue of the same and I thought I will reproduce my article out here. It is pretty long, so you have been warned.

There is a consensus amongst thought leaders, that today’s management and leadership principles were not developed to cope with the rapid pace of changes we are seeing in our workplaces. The unremitting pace of work, the need to respond to emails urgently, the blurring of lines between work time and leisure time, the invasion of  Millennials in the workplace, the advent of social media etc.– the workplace does not look the same as it was say even 10 or 15 years ago. And we all know that the years ahead will bring even more transformations that we may have not yet thought of. So how do we prepare ourselves adequately for the times ahead? Are there any leadership principles that we can borrow that have stood the test of time? It seems like there definitely is a list of leadership attributes that have stood the test of time that we can definitely borrow to fool proof our leadership skills.

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Meditation, Leadership & 2014 New Year Resolutions

It is that time of the year when we reflect back on the year gone by and look forward to new beginning’s. Guruji’s (Sri Sri RaviShankar) in his article on “Looking back, looking ahead” writes:

Just like we live in the outer world of events and circumstances, we also live in the inner world of emotions and feelings, which we are not always aware of. Meditation is the best tool to wipe your mind clean off all past impressions that weigh you down. The distance between the outer and the inner worlds is just the blink of an eye.

Yoga is the skill of keeping attention on the inner world while acting in the outer. When you are lost in the outside world, there is disharmony in the inner and life is like a war. When you are established in the inner world, there is clarity in the outer and life becomes a game.

And gives four mantra’s  for making 2014 a happier year:

  1. To make Meditation a part of daily life
  2. To Serve
  3. To Feel Grateful and
  4. To Spend time with Nature.

Changing tracks for a bit. I find the intersection of Leadership and contemplative practices of meditation and mindfulness very interesting. Now, there is tons of literature and books on Leadership and honestly most of them are banal and pedestrian. It took me time to realize that one has to look beyond what the Mainstream media and influential bloggers try to peddle to find authentic stuff. Bill George is one author whom I rate very highly amongst those who write authentically about Leadership and I guess the clarity and authenticity of his writings are due to the intersection of his rich corporate experience as a CEO Medtronix and his years of meditation practices.

In his article on Your #1 2014 New Year’s Resolution? He states it out in the title itself – “Resolve to live more mindfully” – and then proceeds to list eight exceptional books on mindful living that will help you become a better leader and a more fulfilled human being. One of the books “Finding the space to lead” by Janice Marturano is definitely on my to-read list.  Bill in another article titled “Five Resolutions for Aspiring Leaders“, asks them to think seriously about their development as a leader and lists out 5 to do’s for the year ahead.

But what has meditation, got to do with Leadership?

All contemplative practices start by focusing the light of awareness on within ourselves. Without looking at our own selves deeply, without getting in touch with our Self, we cannot approach authentic leadership and that is where the practices of meditation come into play and helps us in developing as authentic and effective leaders 

And for me it is a delight to see the convergence of thought from the areas of spirituality and business.

The two converging thoughts from Sri Sri and Bill (Meditation and Service) are my two top goals for the year. Or in other words Sadhana, Seva and Satsang! What are yours?

Dear Readers, Have a great 2014 !!