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11Jan/19

Book Review – Towards Holistic Management

At present management as a profession and a science is in a state of transition. There is a seeking for something higher than profit, productivity and efficiency and deeper sources of motivation beyond money and career advancement. To pass through the transition and take a decisive step in its higher evolution, management needs a higher and a more holistic vision which includes the psychological and spiritual dimension of the individual and collective life of human beings and human life as a whole. This book under review can provide such a vision.

This book is a compilation from Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s writings and conversations on management or to be more precise, management- related subjects like Self- Management, Developing the Human Potential, Organisational Development, Decision Making, Quality of Work-life, Management of Money and Material, each one forming a chapter of the book.

The book begins with an interesting letter of Sri Aurobindo on Business and Spirituality where he says, referring to the teachings of Sri Krishna in Bagavad Gita: “It is in his view quite possible for a man to do business and make money and earn profits and yet be a spiritual man, practice Yoga, have an inner life.” But how it is possible? “All depends on the spirit in which a thing is done” says Sri Aurobindo “the principle on which it is built and the use to which it is turned”.

Each chapter of the book begins with a brief and crisp intro which sums up the significance of the title for management. For example intro to the chapter on Self–management states “right management of the internal self is the key to the successful management of the outer life” And in a passage in this chapter the Mother elaborates on this idea. “One can’t control the outer matter” says the Mother “if one does not control inner matter, for they are the same thing… first you have the control in yourself and once you have it in yourself you can transmit the vibration to others…”

The chapter on “Developing the Human Potential “ presents an evolutionary perspective on human growth and deals with many functions related to management like motivation, leadership coaching and mentoring . In an interesting passage in this chapter, Sri Aurobindo describes the ideals and qualities of true business man, based on the Indian concept of the Vysya, the type and temperament of the commercial soul, looking at it at a much deeper psychological perspective, which we cannot find either in ancient Indian or in modern management thinking.

Similarly, the Chapter on the “Quality of Work life” brings out the true meaning of work and action in a spiritual perspective and contains practical guidelines on how to achieve progress and perfection in work and build harmony in work-life. In this way each chapter throws deep insights into the inner dimensions of the different facets and functions of management

For those who are seeking for the deeper truth and the higher ideals in management, this book can provide valuable guidance. The pragmatic mind of a modern manager may find the book more visionary than practical. But we can’t expect spiritual personalities like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to get into the nuts and bolts of management practice.

M S Srinivasan

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Nurturing Individual Uniqueness in the Organization

ABSTRACT

An organization is made up of people or humans, who are not like the animal herds. They are individual beings with each one bringing his or her own uniqueness. Carefully nurturing and harnessing this uniqueness can considerably enhance the creativity and productivity of the organization. This article examines this subject in the light of integral management. This essay takes an article on Harvard Business Review as a starting point for discussion and examines the problem of nurturing individual uniqueness in the light of a deeper and more integral vision of the management.

THE DREAM WORKPLACE AND INDIVIDUAL UNIQUENESS

A favorite pastime of management scholars and researchers is to sketch out the contours of a dream workplace by analyzing the values and practices of ‘most admired companies’ which are able to create a work environment that leads to the highest motivation, productivity or satisfaction in work. This has given birth to many formulas which change according to the ever-changing economic, social and cultural environment. But there are certain factors which remains the same, because they correspond to something universal in work and life and in human nature.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones[1] present a recent formula of the great workplace in an article in the Harvard Business Review. After interviewing hundreds of executives all over the world, they identify six factors which can build the ideal workplace. One of them is related to nurturing individual uniqueness, which they define in the following terms:

  • You can be yourself.
  • Individual differences are nurtured.
  • We are all encouraged to express our differences.
  • More than one type of person fits in here.

THE EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE

The old, traditional corporate world cherished uniformity and conformity. The new and emerging corporate world tends towards diversity and empowerment. However, even the new corporate mind looks upon diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality or religion. But ultimately, diversity means nurturing the uniqueness of each individual. Equality may be an ideal, but the inequality and variation are facts of life. People differ in their nature, temperament, motivation, values, behavior, way of thinking and feeling, knowledge, capacities and the skills and the level of their inner development. The extent of uniqueness depends on this inner development of the person.

When we are in the lower levels of development, our consciousness remains more or less diffused in the subconscious uniformity of the collective mind. At this stage, we are driven by herd instinct and blindly follow all the customs, traditions and conventions of the group to which we belong. As we grow in our consciousness, especially in our mental development, we emerge from the subconscious mass and become more and more individualized and distinct from others and begin to think and feel for ourselves. In the slow process of natural evolution, this growth towards self-conscious individuality and uniqueness may take many centuries. But it can be accelerated through a process of education and a favorable outer environment which felicitates and encourages people to consciously develop their individual uniqueness.

But what is the need to develop or express this uniqueness of the individual? Looking at it from the traditional management perspective, it may appear that this uniqueness is not a very desirable thing because it may lead to much conflict, friction and divergence, which makes it difficult for the management to bring them together and make them work or contribute to the common goals of the organization. But when you look at it from a deeper perspective, this culture of individual uniqueness has one big advantage because it helps in bringing out the higher potentialities of individuals. Every one of us has something of a unique genius within us. We become more and more aware of it as we grow in our consciousness. As we become more individualized, inwardly drawing back from our surface self, we enter into the deeper layers of our consciousness.

HARNESSING UNIQUENESS

This brings us to two important and practical questions: What is the nature and content of this uniqueness and how to manifest or bring it out in the modern corporate environment? Or, in other words, what is the type of education and environment which can bring it out?

The outermost part of uniqueness is behavior, which means not forcing individuals to conform to some fixed patterns of behavior. In such a culture of uniqueness, deviations from the common or most followed patterns are accepted without any negative reactions. For example, if someone wants to follow the 9–5 timing in an organization where flexi-time is the norm and people come at odd hours it is fine, or if someone wears the traditional business suit in an advertising agency where most people come in fancy dresses is also acceptable.

In the inner domains, first come knowledge, skill and talents. In a modern organization, most people possess, pursue or specialize in that form of knowledge and skill which are part of the core competence of the organization or related to its main products and services. However, some people in the organization may have a natural inclination, interest or talent in a different domain of knowledge which may not be directly related to the core competence or products of the organization but somehow complements or enhances their knowledge base. For example, a programmer in the software firm who is interested in higher Mathematics or Sanskrit Grammar or Philosophy. The culture of uniqueness will help encourage and provide whatever facilities it can give to such people to pursue their inclinations and interests.

Goffee and Jones2 talk about an organization where complementary knowledge and skills are consciously cultivated:

“For example, at LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company (and growing rapidly), you would expect to find brilliant, creative innovators like Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philio. And you do. But alongside them, you also encounter a higher than expected proportion of executives and specialists who monitor and assess ideas with an analytical business focus. One of the ingredients in LVMH’s success is having a culture where opposite types can thrive and works cooperatively. Careful selection is part of the secret: LVMH looks for creative people who want their designs to be marketable and who in turn are more likely to appreciate monitors who are skilled at sporting commercial potential.”

The third factor of uniqueness is nature and temperament. In Indian thought, it is called ‘Swadharma’—one’s own self-nature. This Indian perspective classifies human beings into four types based on Swadhrama. First is the one with a natural inclination for knowledge, values and ideas, who lives predominantly in his mental, moral and aesthetic being. Second is the type with an inclination for power, action, conquest, mastery and leadership, who lives in the consciousness of his will and vital energy. The third type is the one who tends towards mutuality, harmony, building relationships, organization and pragmatic adaptation to life. The fourth type is the one who has the natural inclination for service, helpfulness, and craftsmanship and material execution. There can be many other similar classifications. The culture of uniqueness will provide all the help it can to each individual to discover appropriate activities or occupations which are in harmony with his or her natural Swadharma and also encourage him or her to work in complementing harmony with others with a different Swadharma.

There is one more facet of uniqueness which our modern mind, heavily influenced by the ideals of democracy, is unwilling to recognize; it is the extent of inner development—mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual which we may call as the development of consciousness. In this domain, all are not in the same level of development. As we have indicated earlier, uniqueness is the result of this progress in consciousness. Those who are in the lower levels of consciousness tend to be more or less the same in the nature and content of their consciousness. As we grow in consciousness, we tend towards greater individualization. Ideally, the leaders of an organization have to be at higher levels of development or, in other words, live in the consciousness of their higher nature made of the intellectual, ethical and aesthetic being with well-developed faculties of will and vital force. But very rarely we find such ideal leaders. Most of the leaders in the corporate world live in the consciousness of their dynamic faculties of determination and vital forces with a highly individualized ego, but without a commensurate development in the consciousness of their ethical, aesthetic and spiritual being. Here comes a major problem with individualization and uniqueness.

A highly individualized vital ego without a corresponding mental, ethical or spiritual development can become a perpetual source of conflict and friction, because without this higher development, ego at the lower level cannot achieve unity and harmony with others.

RECONCILING UNIQUENESS WITH HARMONY

Here comes the remedy to the other practical question, ‘How to reconcile individual uniqueness with the need for unity and harmony?’ There must be an equal motivation and encouragement towards inner development in the mental, moral and spiritual domain which leads to an inner unity and harmony with others. In the mental level, there must be a broadness in the mind which can understand with clarity and conviction that diversity is a fact and there can be a large variation in thinking, feeling, understanding and behavior and therefore an enlightened acceptance of the uniqueness of others and a willingness to learn from, work with and complement others who are different from oneself.

At a higher level, there must be a deeper bond between people in their minds and hearts. There is a growing recognition of the need for a uniting vision, mission and values in the new management thinking. A higher purpose or vision which brings a deeper and higher meaning to work beyond the self-interest of individuals, and provides compelling motivation to work together, can create a mental bond but it cannot unite the hearts. Along with a common purpose, there must be a mutual goodwill in our thoughts and feelings. To arrive at this goodwill, we have to consciously cultivate all thoughts and feelings which can forge this goodwill like kindness, forgiveness, helpfulness, sympathy, generosity, and understanding and reject everything which is contrary to it like anger, jealousy, ill will, resentment. When this inner unity and bonding at the psychological level is forged, then any amount of outer variation in behavior, skill, knowledge, thinking, and feeling can be allowed without much conflict or friction.

When an organization is able to achieve this inner psychological unity, it is ready to take the higher leap towards a still deeper oneness in the consciousness of our spiritual self which is the source of everlasting unity, where we can feel others as part of our own self. This requires a yogic discipline of progressive interiorization. When a group of people are able to achieve this highest inner oneness, then all problems of diversity or uniqueness disappear. A deeper spiritual intuition develops in people and links all individuals in an orchestra of mutually complementing harmony.

CONCLUSION

An organization is not like an animal pack; it is made of human beings who are unique individuals. For harnessing the full potential of human being, this uniqueness of people has to the carefully nurtured and not suppressed in group-think. This uniqueness manifests itself at four levels i.e. behavior, knowledge, skill and talents, nature and temperament, extent of inner development. The individual uniqueness has to be nurtured at all these levels. But a highly individualized vital ego without a corresponding mental, ethical and spiritual development becomes a source of conflict because without this higher development, ego at the lower level cannot achieve unity and harmony with others. So for reconciling individual uniqueness with harmony, there must be an equal encouragement towards inner development in the mental, moral and spiritual domains. An organization as a collectivity has to strive towards a psychological and spiritual unity among people at the inner and deeper levels of consciousness. If we are able to arrive at this inner unity in consciousness any amount of variation or uniqueness in behavior, knowledge, thinking or feeling can be allowed without much conflict and friction.

M. S. Srinivasan

REFERENCES

[1] This article has also been published in NOLEGEIN Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.

[2]Coffee R, Jones G. ‘Creating the Best Workplace on Earth’, Harvard Business Review, May 2013; pp. 80–90.

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13Dec/18

Book review: Ideas and Ideals – A compilation from Sri Aurobindo’s writings

The title of the book is a little misleading because this book is not about philosophical abstractions on ideas and ideals. The topics presented in this compilation from Sri Aurobindo’s writing are on the issues and problems of contemporary life, for example, “Credits of Materialism”, “Business and Spirituality”, “Leadership in Politics”, “Small sized States”, “Statecraft”. Sri Aurobindo’s insights on the subject presents a balanced perspective on each topic.

Take for example the phenomenon of materialism. It is customary for spiritually inclined people to condemn materialism. But Sri Aurobindo brings out the positive contributions of scientific materialism to human progress, even while pointing out its limitations. Sri Aurobindo describes how materialism has “immensely widened the knowledge of the race and accustomed it to a great patience of research, scrupulosity, accuracy”. Similarly, with “Business and Spirituality”. Can these two domains of life which appears contradictory, come together? Sri Aurobindo answers in the affirmative and says that it is part of the gospel of the divine teacher in Bhagavad Gita.

On this aspect of Gita’s teachings, Sri Aurobindo states “that a man by doing in the right way and in the right spirit, the work dictated to him by his fundamental nature, temperament and capacity and according to his and its dharma, can march towards the Divine. It is in his view quite possible for a man to do business and make money and earn profit and be a spiritual man, practice yoga, have an inner life”

And again, can there be “Love in politics”, which looks much more contradictory than business and spirituality. “Love has a place in politics” says Sri Aurobindo. “But it is the love of one’s country, for one’s country men, for the glory, greatness and happiness of the race, the divine Ananda of self-immolation for one’s fellows, the ecstasy of relieving their suffering, the joy of seeing one’s blood flow for country and freedom, the bliss of union in death with fathers of the race”. On political leadership, Sri Aurobindo says “The authority of a political leader depends on his capacity to feel and express the sentiments of the people who follow him; it does not reside in himself. He holds his position because he is a representative man, not because he is such and such an individual. The moment he tries to misuse his position in order to impose his own will upon the people, instead of making their will his own, he forfeits all claim to respect”

As a whole, this slender compilation of Sri Aurobindo’s writing is insightful and inspiring which can help us to look at things in a deeper and wider perspective. There are two articles in the book – “Black money and Divine Cause” and the “Changing Values in Business” which are not from Sri Aurobindo’s writings but written by the compiler Dr. G.P. Gupta. But in a book which is a compilation from Sri Aurobindo’s writings, this kind of articles by others have to be put in the Appendix and should not be included in the main part of the book.

 

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13Dec/18

The Small Community and the Large Empire

A perennial problem in the science and practice of organization is how to balance the needs, aims and development of a small group or community with the larger empire of which it is a part. The empire is the larger whole or organism with many smaller organism, under its control or administration; it can be the political empires of history, like the Mughal or Roman empire or it can be the more modern empire like the large or small nation-state with many provinces or the still more recent corporate empires like the multinational firm or a large company with many geographical divisions. This article examines this issue as a problem of organization and tries to arrive at a creative synthesis between the freedom and creativity of a small community and the power and efficiency of the large empires.

The Free Small Community

In human history small communities come first. The communal life begins with individuals coming together to form small communities, like the family, caste, group, religious commune, village, small town. These small groups, when they are relatively free from external control, are much more creative than the bigger centralized empires, which came later.

We can find many illustrative examples of this phenomenon in world-history. When we examine Indian history the most original and spiritually creative period in Indian history was when the Indian civilization was divided into small kingdom as in Vedic and Epical India, which gave birth to the spiritual vision and the core moral and social values that shaped the Indian civilization. According to Indian historians, the classical age of Gupta emperors was the golden age of India. But in a deeper perspective, the true golden age of India are the much earlier Vedic period when Upanishadic sages lived. It was the age when, in small kingdoms, every section of the society, from Kshatriya Kings and Brahmin hermits to cart-pullers and merchants sought the highest truth. In these small communities in ancient India, Brahmin hermits sat at the feet of enlightened King-sages and kings sat at the feet of the low-caste rickshaw-puller to know the truth. Even in later periods, when strong Kshatriya warriors like Chandra Gupta started building large empires, there were small communities which were experimenting with developing a variety of political system like republics, aristocracies, oligarchies, monarchies. Similarly, in the history of the west, the most creative periods are when in small cities and towns in
Greece like Athens, great minds like Periclus, Socrates and Plato were shaping the values and ideals of the Western civilization.

This brings us to the question what makes the free, small community more creative than the large empire? There are some vitalising factors, which are dominant in a small community.

First, they grow freely guided by their latent communal insticts which knows much better than the mental idea what is best for its own progress and well being. Each community develops its own economic, social and political system and organization, which is best suited to its inner temperament and talents and the outer ecology and environment.

The second factor is a rich, close and direct interaction between individuals. When there is such an intense and direct interaction between free individuals within a small space, it generates a lot of vital energy, which is creative and conducive to the healthy growth of the community.

The third factor is a sense of solidarity and participation. In a small community, there is a greater sense of unity and harmony among people, and a more active participation of the individual in the community life.

The fourth factor is culture and values. Since there is a greater intimacy and inner and outer bond among people, small communities have a stronger sense of ethics and values. When the community is sufficiently prosperous and educated, the thinking and contemplative sections of the community turn towards deeper and higher pursuits, and as a result come into contact with the deeper and higher mind in them and in the community, which is the source of culture.

The Large Organized Empire

But most of such small communities can’t remain free and independent for a long time. After some time they come under the political subjugation and the administrative control of large empires. The centralized organization of the larger empire begins to impose its authority over the life of people in the community in the form of interference by government official, edicts of kings, rules and regulations foisted by the representatives of the empire, military action against all rebellion. As a consequence, negative feelings like fear and suspicion, resentment and revolt among people stifles initiative and creativity. Another defect of organized empires is that most of the creative energy and talent of people are drowns towards building and maintaining an efficient and powerful economic, political, administration machine, concentrated mostly in large cities. This leads to a depletion of vital energy in the social and cultural life of people and in small communities. When we examine Indian history, we will find that in the large empires like Maurya, Gupta or Mughals, there was not much of original creativity in the spiritual and cultural domains except in architecture. Classical period of the Gupta empires was rich in literary and philosophical works, but most of them were not original but derivative bused on the ideas and mo   created in the earlier Vedic and epical ages, which created most of original motifs, ideals and values of Indian culture.

Similarly, in the west, the large Roman Empire was mighty in militaries strength, and great in organization and engineering works. But there is not much of original creative works in thought, art or culture. A western historian said about the Roman Empire that it has “great drains but not much of brains”.

Towards a Creative Synthesis

This brings us to the question whether it is possible to arrive at a new paradigm of organisaiton, which can integrate the efficiency and power of the large empire with the freedom and creativity of the small community. To answer this question we have to examine the advantages and draw backs of the small communities and the large empire a little more deeply.

We have already discussed briefly the advantages of a small community. But a small communities have their own short comings. They tend to remain closed within themselves and without any interaction with outside world. And when this happens, they come under the influence of all the negative laws of entropy, which means progressive disintegration. Age-old customs, tradition and institutions becomes rigid and petrified. The rich, powerful and wealthy in the community with nothing to oppose them, begins to oppress and exploit the weak and the poor. This is what happened in many village communities in India. They tend to remain indrawn and closed within their small world and as a result, most of the village institutions like the Panchayat degenerated. In many of the villages in India, the “Kacha Panchayat” has become an oppressive institution, which doles out cruel punishments on people based on primitive laws. Here comes the role and advantage of a larger empire. When it is governed by enlightened and benevolent leadership, the empire can provide the following factors which a small community lacks.

  1. Protection against external attacks.
  2. Institutions and resources for promoting entrepreneurship and prosperity.
  3. Coordinating institutions which can help the small communities to interact and cooperate and learn from each other’s experience.
  4. Institutions of greater power and more enlightened justice to which oppressed or exploited people can appear. Like for example high courts or supreme court.
  5. Large institutions of knowledge and learning and research and the force of modernity and progress and the knowledge of emerging trends and future possibilities.
  6. Shared vision and values or a common purpose.

 

The instinctive need of a small community is for freedom and autonomy and to grow in harmony with its own unique inner temperament and outer environment. On the other hand, the instinctive urge of the larger empire is for order, unity and control. The need of a small community for freedom, autonomy and self-directed growth is a very legitimate need. If the empire tries to stifle this need by imposing order through authority, military might or a rigid administrative control then the small communities will lose their creative vigor and vitality, which in turn will impoverish the empire. However, the urge of the empire for a certain amount of unity and order among the small groups is also not illegitimate. This brings us to the question what is the most effective way to achieve this unity or order without stifling the creative freedom and autonomy of the smaller groups? There is at present an increasing recognition among modern organizational thinkers that the best way to do this is the fifth factor. We have mentioned earlier: shared vision, and values and a common purpose.

Building the Shared Vision and Values

We are now brought to the next question what is the nature of the values, vision or purpose which can lead to the most creative integration of the larger empire with the small communities under its umbrella? And how to incorporate them in the communal life?

The Fundament values for sustainable community building were given for all times in the triple values of the French revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Liberty means individual and communal freedom, and in social and political organization, it means fostering the self-governing community. The empire should encourage the small communities within them to build self-governing political and social system where all the sections of the society are fully represented and participate in the decision-making and community-building. A representative of the empire may be part of the governing body of the group. But he or she will be a felicitator who acts as a bridge between the empire and the community; conveying the needs, aspirations and problems of people to the empire and providing the organizational skill for bring the knowledge, resources and expertise needed for making and implementing the decisions of people; communicating the vision and values of the empire to the people and helping them to incorporate them in their decisions.

The value of equality has two aspects: awakening to the equality of the human essence beyond or irrespective of status, gender and other identities. Second is distributive justice, which means, equal opportunity for advancement and access to resources and equitable sharing or distribution of knowledge, power wealth, culture, and fruits of development among people and the communities. The task of building fraternity involves awakening the individual and community to the unity, mutuality and interdependence of life, making them feel they are linked with others and they are part of a larger whole and their wellbeing and progress is dependent on the wellbeing and progress of others and that of the larger whole.

This awareness can be created only by education, by incorporating these values which emerge from the highest laws of life, in the curriculum of all education and training programme at all levels, from the elementary schooling to higher education and training.

This task of inner awakening has to be accompanied by building appropriate systems, structures and institutions, which help people to convert this a wakening into interactive learning and collaborative action that lead to the wellbeing and progress of the whole.

The other set of values, which have a great motivational power, are the values that rise from the cultural and civilization roots of the empire. Like for example, the moral religious and spiritual values of India. These values belong to the deeper and inner mind and soul of the empire and therefore they have a greater creative force than purely economic or political motives.

Finally, a sustained and united action, which leads to great collective achievements, requires an inspired and shared vision of the future, not something abstract, but an actionable mission, which can be accomplished within a time frames, and brings greatness, wellbeing and progress to the empire and the people. Ideally or preferably, this mission has to be in harmony with the unique cultural genius of the empire. For example, for India it could be something like building excellence in value-education or creating and implementing on a nation-wide scale a world-class system of moral and spiritual education. However, the vision could also be progressive, changing or modifying itself according to the evolutionary condition or stage of the empire. For example, when the major problem facing the empire is massive poverty or inequality, then achieving economic and social justice has to be the next immediate goal. But when the empire attains a certain level of economic prosperity and social justice then the vision or the mission can be shifted towards cultural aims.

M.S. Srinivasan

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