My own personal wellness journey has been steeped for decades in Eastern practices as a practitioner as well as a teacher; traditional Chinese martial arts, trauma-sensitive yoga and vipassana meditation to name a few. Imbued in these embodied practices is an underlying set of perennial philosophical truths from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism that have stood the test of time. They are true, sustainable and aligned with natural forces larger than any one individual or belief and they rely on direct experience and the wisdom that comes from it. Ultimately, it is learning to align to what is.
How can organizations move from a place of reactivity, short-sightedness and unsustainability into a place or responsivity, intention, long-view and sustainable creation of real value?
Here are 5 fundamental principles:
1-Create a foundational structure: An ideal organization creates strong structure. Like building a quality home, we invest in the foundation and structure to make sure it is stable and can withstand stress without significant damage. No point having a lovely penthouse with a luxury hot-tub if the structure cannot withstand a storm or earthquake. Stability in finances, governance, leadership, human resources, vision and ethics are some of the key realms that require this stable and strong structure. If we short shrift this essential principle and move more urgently to marketing, advertising, promoting or sales, we are at risk for crisis or implosion. The house of cards will fall. In the martial arts realm we call this having a strong horse-stance that allows us to maintain static or dynamic balance – we don’t fall down.
2- Know yourself and the environment: As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Self-awareness and knowledge combined are invincible! With this depth and awareness of what an organization’s capabilities are in relation to knowledge about the external environment (market, competitors, trends and conditions) an organization will always position itself from a place of strength and minimal risk. This is about creating the ideal environment before one actions the intent or goal. Having great ideas is never enough, it is in the preparation and execution that manifests them into reality. As Sun Tzu says from his seminal work The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” This acquisition of awareness and knowledge takes time, patience and diligence. As my martial arts teacher has said so many times, “Don’t be in a hurry to be bad”.
3-Sensitivity and adaptability to change: We have all heard the truism, the only constant is change. Yet what do we need to do with this understanding. Taoism repeatedly highlights that in all natural systems there is a state of constant change that is occurring, even if it looks like it isn’t. A deep noticing and sensitivity to the signs of change will allow an organization to be more responsive and attuned to what is required to succeed and flourish. Of course we need to set a course, have a strategic plan and set concrete goals, but we must not be enslaved to them. When we recognize change is coming we want to align with it, not resist it, run away from it or freeze in its presence. We need to understand that in reality we are very limited in the things we can control, yet we are not powerless. We need to cultivate the ability and have resources put aside anticipating change so will be empowered in its presence; the ability to be responsive vs. being reactive in a crisis situation. The metaphor I like to use is around surfing. We are not in control of the ocean. The waves will keep coming toward us if we put ourselves out there. We cannot tame the nature of the waves, however we can cultivate the ability to surf and align with the force of the wave with skill, balance, creativity and direction. If not, the waves of life will pass us by or overwhelm us.
4-Harmony and Balance: In all natural and living sustainable systems, there is an indomitable principle at play; homeostasis. An organization’s leadership needs to recognize and accept this in order to thrive sustainably. The tendency to create balance is inherent in this principle. What this means is that when we take an action there will be a countervailing response to create homeostasis – balance. If we strive to attain extreme outcomes, it will be short lived, as homeostasis will try to correct this with an opposing force or consequence. In Taoist philosophy, this relates to the principles of yin and yang. This reminds me of what the very first counsellor I ever saw said to me. “Jim you will never get rid of your problems, but you can continue to get better and better problems as life goes on.” When we accept these truths we can align ourselves to what is possible vs. engaging in a constant battle of trying to “push the river”; to force things to happen and then deal with the homeostatic response.
5-Social concern: Confucian philosophy was greatly concerned with how society should act for the betterment of society of a whole. The focus was about collective wellness vs. individual concern. If an organization’s vision and values are predominantly oriented to its own success and survival to the exclusion or consequence to others, it is not sustainable. Paradoxically, when an organization orients to creating real value and benefit for the broader society, it in turn will be cared for and valued by society. Unfortunately in a socio-economic environment that promotes individualism and competition instead of collectivism and collaboration, it is challenging, yet possible to achieve this.These principles work in a cyclical and harmonized way. An attuned response that appropriately harmonizes the right amount and balance of these principles is what is required in the moment. It is not a static formula used in a cookie cutter approach.An organization with visionary leadership recognizes that looking back to these perennial truths is the only sustainable way to function and to enhance society. This comes from the wisdom of experience vs. ideology, dogma or spin.If you are interested in how I can support you and your organization to implement, integrate and harmonize these principles, please contact me at email@example.com