Change, Innovation and Renewal: A Corporate Perspective

A unique strength of business as a social organism is its willingness or ability to change and the culture of innovation. These competencies give a distinct evolutionary advantage to business. This article examines these unique potentialities in an evolutionary perspective.

The Engine of Change

Change, evolution and progress are some of the eternal laws of life. Any organism which refuses to change and evolve either becomes extinct or disintegrates. On the other hand the ability to change and evolve, by not only adapting flexibly to the changing environment, but also whenever possible or needed, changing the environment according to our higher ideals and aspirations, gives a great evolutionary advantage to the organism. Among modern social organism, it is business which has displayed a remarkable alacrity to change. “To keep an industry pure, you’ve got to keep it in perpetual ferment” said Henry Ford and this has become now a well-established principle and practice of the corporate world. “Change is the only constant” has become the modern corporate mantra. Coping with change is the core objective of corporate strategy. Management of Change is a hotly debated topic in management literature.

According to the well-known management guru John Kotter, the key-factor, which will determine the survival and success of companies in the future, will be the ability to create a culture “that will enable us to adapt to the rapidly changing environment.” Other management thinkers like Gary Hamel believe that to be successful in the future it is not enough merely to adopt to change but “learn to reinvent the existing competitive space” and “create fundamentally new space, so that you can satisfy a need that individuals or companies didn’t realize that they have” or in other words create a new market-space or industry. Much of this drive for change in business comes from the pressure of the hyper-competitive and fast-changing modern corporate environment. But these environmental compulsions have created an inner mind-set and an outer environment which is open and favourable to change, growth and progress.

Innovation as Renewal

The other great advantage of business which is somewhat related to change is the impetus for innovation and continuous improvement. Business is the most innovative among modern social organs. For example the employees of a factory of Toyota in US generate more than two million suggestions and new ideas for improvement every year. There are two types of innovations: first is a continuous or incremental innovation in operational efficiency in terms of cost-reduction, productivity etc., second is a break-through innovation in creating a new products like for example walkman. The Japanese management and the TQM philosophy have established the concept of continuous improvement in the mind and culture of business. And most of the big companies pursued break-through innovations through Research and Development. Interestingly some of the corporate thinking conceives innovation as a continuous effort towards the new and better in every activity of the corporate life from production and finance to marketing and human resource development. As Kito de Boer, a McKinsey consultant describes:
“To us at McKinsey innovation is much more than product development or R&D. Innovation goes to the heart of sustaining corporate advantage through the process of continuous change and renewal. It has far more to do with continually challenging the status-quo and pushing for corporate renewal than it has to do with creativity and ingenuity.”

There is a spiritual element in this McKinsey’s approach to innovation. The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram says “In works, aspiration towards perfection is true spirituality” and defines perfection as “a constant will for progress in work”. So if this concept of innovation as the constant search for better and for perpetual renewal can be deepened into an attitude of progressive perfection in work for its own sake without seeking for any immediate pragmatic results, it can be a source of spiritual progress of the individual and the collectivity.

The Future Growth

This brings us to the question what is the type of change and innovation which can help the corporate world in realizing it’s higher or unmanifest potential and its future destiny. Until now, most of the change, innovation and growth pursued by business is in the techno-economic dimension, which is perhaps reaching its saturation point. Endless change and growth in this dimension will only lead to diminishing returns. For further and higher growth, business has to shift its priority attention to the ecological, social, moral and spiritual dimension. These are the domains of future growth not only for business but also for human society as a whole. All the emerging trends in business and society like for example, ethics, values, social responsibility, ecological sustainability, empowerment of the women and worker, search for inner fulfillment, indicate where exactly the future growth and destiny of business lie. For a healthy and effective growth of business in the future, change and innovation have to be pursued in internalizing and implementing these values in the consciousness and life of the individual and the collectivity. There is at present a growing recognition among modern management and environmental thinkers that the future growth, profit and success have to be in this higher direction beyond the techno-economic bottom-lines. As Fritz of Capra and Guntur Pauli in their book “Steering Business towards Sustainability”, points out:
“On the basis of thorough market analysis in Europe, Japan and the US, it has been concluded that during the next few years ethical standards, a moral commitment and high environmental performance will not only become an integral part of corporate strategy, these will become the way to outperform the industry and reestablish the unique marketing position so badly desired. It will be the only way to develop sustainable advantage.”

The Sources of Renewal

However for perpetual renewal ethics and ecology are not enough. Here comes the importance of Indian thought, which can help us in better understanding of the sources of renewal. According to Indian thought, world-nature and our human nature, which is derived from and part of world-nature, is made of three fundamental energies. The first one is the energy of Inertia, Tamas; second is the energy of dynamic action, Rajas; third is the energy of illumined harmony, Sattwa. The physical energies of our body and world-nature are predominantly tamasic; energies of our sensations, emotions, vitality and dynamic faculties of will and action are predominantly rajasic; energies of our higher intelligence made of our intellectual, ethical and aesthetic being are predominantly sattwic.

The first major factor of disintegration is Tamas. The antidote to Tamas is Rajas. The most effective rajasic antidote to inertia is the urge for progress. A culture of progress and a constant push towards “continuous improvement” in every activity of the collective life can very effectively neutralize Tamas. But uncontrolled rajas will lead only to greed, violence and collapse. So the remedy to this crumbling element in Rajas, is sattwa, which means guidance and control of the rajasic energy, by the intellectual, ethical and aesthetic values of our higher intelligence. Tamas subjugated by Rajas and Rajas illumined and controlled by Sattwa is the right condition for a balanced, sustainable and lasting growth.

Modern business has abundant rajasic energy. But still complacency created by short-term success and the clutter of bureaucracy can bring tamas. The new ideas and values emerging in business like knowledge-management, learning organization, ethics, social responsibility and ecological sustainability are predominantly sattwic values. If these sattwic ideas become the dominant guiding values of business, then the corporate world as a whole gets well-poised for a balanced growth and acquires a distinctive evolutionary advantage over other organs of the society. But prolonged and intense activity can exhaust both Rajasic and Sattwic energy, if they don’t open themselves to some higher sources of inexhaustible energy.

What are these higher sources of energy? There are two such sources of energy. First is the universal vital energy and second is the spiritual energy. The rajasic energy of which the vital forces of the individual and collectivity are made, has to open itself to the universal vital energy. Behind and above the physical world and interpenetrating it there is a world of vital force which is the source of all vital forces in us and the physical world. By opening our rajasic vital energy to this universal vital energy, which is almost inexhaustible and infinite, we can get all the energy needed to progress continually without getting exhausted and tired by prolonged activity. The second is the spiritual energy which is the primal creative source of all the energies in our own being and the universe – physical, vital, mental. The sattwic energy in us has to open itself to this spiritual energy and has to be guided by the light and power of this spiritual consciousness and energy. Only this spiritual consciousness and force can give the unfailing creative insight and force needed to progress towards perpetual renewal and transformation.

This brings us to the more practical question: how to open our consciousness individually and collectively to universal forces? The first principle is to break-through the limitation of the ego. Narrowness of the ego turned upon itself and its own petty self-interest is a closed system cut off from universal energies. According to modern systems theory, such a closed system is subject to the law of entropy, which means moving towards progressive disorder and disintegration. Every inner and outer movements or attitudes which can break-through the ego-shell like for example, generosity, self-giving or service or contribution to the well-being and progress of the larger whole, opens our consciousness to the universal force. Here is a brief list of such movements, activities or attitudes which can open our consciousness or enhance its receptivity to universal emergences :

  • self-transcending or self-giving enthusiasm, concentration, creativity, love, heroism or leadership.
  • wideness of the mind, heart and life embracing larger vistas of existence.
  • activities which stretch our capacities and potentialities to the utmost limits.
  • harmonious and enlightened attunement to the rhythms and laws of universal Nature.
  • creative adaptation to events, situations and the changing world-environment.
  • smooth and seamless orchestration of large and diverse activities and resources towards common goals.
  • intuitive resolution of conflicts, contradiction and dualities in a higher synthesis.
  • spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, chanting of mantra or mantric literature, sacramental offering of all our inner and outer activities to the divine, which if done with the right inner attitude, can open our consciousness to spiritual energies.

The other principle of self-renewal is balance between reception, assimilation, and expenditure of energy. Energy cannot be stored indefinitely; it has to be spent; more we spend it in creative and construction activities, more we receive. But if the rate of expenditure of energy is more than the rate of reception and assimilation then it leads to exhaustion of the system and eventual disintegration. On the other hand, if the flow of energy received is much more than the capacity of the system to hold and assimilate, then also it leads to disturbance and turbulence or breaking of the system. So the right rhythm between reception, assimilation and expenditure of energy has to be found by intuition, experimentation and experience.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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