Zen and the Art of Organisational Enlightenment

Zen and the Art of Organisational Enlightenment

The Enlightened Organisation

I think it’s fairly safe to say that most organisations lack enlightenment. That is, few indeed are those that perceive their true nature, are self-aware (in the sense of consciousness of their own thought processes, motivations and behaviours) and can act on that perception for positive change. I think it fair to say that most organisations exist in a perpetual state of dukkha.

Does this matter? Does it, for example, impact the bottom line? I’d say yes on both counts (yes it matters, and yes, it impacts the bottom line).

The Buddha described it thus:

Insight into the Four Noble Truths we call “awakening”. This awakening allows us to attain the unattained supreme security from bondage.

Ok, enough of Eastern mysticism already. (BTW There’s a similar Western tradition, Transcendentalism, exemplified by Emerson, Thoreau, et al.).

How does this all relate to “the enlightened organisation”?

Self Awareness

If a person lacks awareness of themselves, of their own thinking, of their way of being in the world, then:

“The more asleep we are, the more out of touch we are with what we are doing, the more unaware we are likely to be of consequences, and the more unaware we will be regarding how what we are doing is affecting us and others – so the fewer opportunities we will have to recognize how often we create our own problems…”

~ Milton Dawes

Or from the Mahout and the Elephant perspective: the reflective, self-aware part of our brain governs our ability to overcome the strong psychological hurdles to our understanding ourselves – and why we do things.

In the context of the collective organisational psyche, I suggest that self-awareness (the organisation’s collective awareness of and sense of self) poses the same kinds of challenges and offers the same kinds of benefits if achieved – but at the organisational level.

By What Method

If the goal is a healthy, self-aware organisation, then how can we set about making this happen?

“A goal without a method is nonsense.”

~ W.E. Deming

Personally, I’d suggest taking a look at how individuals go about transforming their outlook and self-awareness. Effective techniques I myself have used include:

  • Meditation
  • Zen and zazen
  • Coaching
  • Therapy (i.e. help from experienced helpers)
  • Dialogue on the subject (i.e. with others)
  • Reading and study (including much study of Koans and the ineffable Tao)

For me, the organisations I see are much like those individuals trapped in a cycle of self-ignorance – unwitting prisoners of their own psyche.

In Conclusion

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings on earth open their eyes
Everything under heaven bows together
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances.

~ Wumen

– Bob

Further Reading

Satori – Japanese term for “Enlightenment”
Samadhi – Buddhist term for “mindfulness” or “no mind” (Japanese; mushin), Flow
The Wedge of Consciousness ~ Online article by Milton Dawes
Knowing Why Beats Knowing How ~ Whitney Hess (blog post)
Innovation and the Art of Riding an Elephant – Online article by Bengt Järrehult
Self-awareness is Vital to Self-improvement ~ Blog Post at PsychologyToday
The Polar Opposite of Self-Awareness: Image Management ~ Steve Beckow (blog post)

  1. beelore said:

    Interesting article, Bob. You say “I think it’s fairly safe to say that most organisations lack enlightenment.” I would be interested to know if you know of ANY organisations that are actually enlightened. What are the characteristics of an enlightened organisation. Does it have to be full of enlightened people, or can it be just a few?


  2. Brilliant article. Enjoyed and loved it.

  3. Sumit said:

    This is really a good article. I dont know if there is any organization exists which believes in enlightenment. Apple is the only company i know which was led by a spiritual person i.e. Steve Jobs.

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