Monthly Archives: June 2011

This is a guest blog by Brain Robertson, a previous speaker on the series, and founder and creator of Holacracy.

Much of the focus in the conscious business movement today is on waking up organizations by developing more conscious leaders.  If only we can get a significant minority of leaders to realize a new level of consciousness, surely that will lead to more conscious organizations transcending our current global challenges… right?

Well, maybe.  Though when I talk with those doing leadership development work, they often express a frustration that, while the work has a positive impact on the individuals, true organizational transformations rarely follow from more conscious leaders.  As a friend of mine said about going through leadership development programs early in his career: no amount of transformational experiences out on the ropes courses or in a retreat setting, however powerful, change the fact that the team goes back into the same context, with the same processes, power structures, and patterns at play – and transformations soon atrophy.

So what is the committed conscious business catalyst to do?  I think achieving true whole-system transformation requires broadening from just developing conscious leaders to developing the concrete organizational structures and systems themselves to allow a conscious organization, not just conscious people within a conventional organization.  In other words, they’ll need to upgrade the way power and authority formally get defined, the way decisions get made, the way meetings happen, the way the organization is structured, and the processes used to define and execute day-to-day work.  They’ll need to help the organization wake up, not just the people.

Without that, the power of human consciousness is severely limited.  Consider that we humans have an incredible capacity to sense things – challenges to address, opportunities to grab, potentials to harness – all of which I simply call “tensions”.  And the more conscious we are, the more tensions we will sense.  Yet, in most organizations today, we rarely have forums where we can reliably process the tensions we sense into something useful.  So the organization loses one of its most powerful forces for conscious evolution, and we humans are forced to hold these tensions – in our minds and our bodies – where they fester into frustrations and eventually apathy or burnout.

So, what new capacities could an organization harness if anyone who sensed any tension, anywhere in the organization, could rapidly process it into some kind of positive change?  If everyone in an organization could fully use every bit of their consciousness and capacity to its fullest effect?  That’s evolution in action, one tension at a time.  And conscious individuals aren’t enough to get there – it will take concrete organizational structures, systems, and processes, which enable a conscious organizational response to whatever arises in the organization’s reality.

That’s easier said than done; getting there will take an entirely new “operating system” for structuring and running an organization, and new habits and discipline to use it effectively.  I work with the Holacracy™ organizational operating system, which is one approach for “waking up the organization” and allowing tensions to be dynamically processed into organizational evolution.  You can learn more about it at

Whatever system you use to get to a conscious organization, here’s the ultimate irony of this approach: With a conscious organization at play, developing conscious leaders becomes both less necessary and more impactful. Less necessary because the organizational system itself can manifest a conscious capacity; and more impactful because well-developed leaders now have an organizational container which both embraces and reinforces their deepest capacities.

Brian Robertson is an experienced entrepreneur, CEO, and organizational pioneer. He is most well-known for his work developing Holacracyâ„¢, an organizational operating system that concretely embodies the new capacities called for by many organizational thought-leaders today. Brian appeared on the Waking Up the Workplace interview series on March 31st, 2011. You’ll find the recording of our interview with him in the downloads section (register for free to receive the link in your inbox). For more information about Brian and Holacracy, be sure to check out!


Our conversation last week with Fred Kofman of Axialent concluded the Waking Up the Workplace interview series. Or almost did, because on June 30th, we’ll be interviewed by Barrett Brown (whom we interviewed earlier in the series) on how the three of us have been transformed through these fourteen dialogues. We like to think of it as the end of the beginning. There’s more to come, but what exactly we haven’t figured out just yet.

The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures
Back to our call with Fred. We couldn’t have wished for a more powerful end to the interview series. What has stuck with me the most, is the image of the 10th ox-herding picture from the Zen tradition. The ten ox-herding pictures present a map of enlightenment, i.e. of the process of waking up. After everything has disappeared and you’re fully enlightened, there’s this 10th, final picture, called “Entering the Marketplace with Open Hands.”

Now this may sound like a Buddhist thing that’s far removed from business as we know it. Yet Fred thinks otherwise: “Coming back to the marketplace with open hands is the most pure essence of business and capitalism.” There’s a sense of overflowing, of self-less service. When people ‘trade freely for mutual gain’, you can only survive as a business when you do things that enhance the lives of your customers (as well as your employees, and other stakeholders). That’s the true essence of a free market where businesses compete to better serve the customer.

The goal and the purpose of business
The goal of tennis is to win the game. Similarly, the goal of business is to make a profit, although it doesn’t always have to be limited to monetary profit. Talking about for-profit and not-for-profit organizations is like asking someone whether she plays ‘for-winning tennis or not-for-winning tennis’. It doesn’t make sense. When you play tennis, it comes with this goal and with a set of rules. Business is no different. What is different, however, is why you play the game. This is where the meaning and purpose of business come in.

Peter Drucker famously challenged a manufacturer of drills that what he sold wasn’t drills, but holes. Manufacturing and selling drills may be the immediate activities he performed that allowed him to make a profit, but the meaning and purpose of his business was to serve people who need holes. It’s a crude example, but it serves to make an important point: how is the service you provide enhancing people’s lives? Because that’s what it means to enter the marketplace with open hands: to serve those around us.

Success beyond success
The second half of the conversation centered on what Fred calls ‘success beyond success’:

It’s very honorable to address the pain that people bring and help them succeed. However, the ultimate pain is that we know that if everything goes really, really well, we’re going to get old, sick, and die. That’s as good as it gets. Every success is transitory, and at the last battle, everybody loses. So in order to live with peace in a universe that is transient, you need to realize that there is a bigger game. And in this bigger game, you’re perfectly safe. It’s like Krishna saying to Arjuna: “Don’t worry, your ass is mine anyways.” Just act in a way that every action is a sacrifice, offering your best to a noble purpose. That’s karma yoga. That’s conscious business. You play the game like your life depends on it, and at the same time you can relax, because you know when you lose, you play again.

It’s hard to really do justice to the richness of the dialogue, which ranged from the practical to the luminous. Writing this blog at the end of the beginning of the series, I find myself wanting to offer a comprehensive overview of all that I’ve learned in the past three months. At the same time, following the advice Fred offered during the debriefing call, it’s time to take a little ‘siesta’ to digest these fourteen rich and nutritious dialogues.

We’ll get a first chance at offering our thoughts on the series as a whole during the interview on June 30th (at the usual time, i.e. 8 pm CET / 2 pm Eastern). In the meantime, if there are any questions that you’d like us to think about, or things to comment on, please offer your thoughts below! And while you’re at it, why don’t you tell us what you got out of the conversation with Fred Kofman? Looking forward to read your thoughts!


Many people think it is. And I must admit that I myself can have quite an allergic reaction to some people who call themselves spiritual. Particularly if they make spirituality into some kind of mystery far removed from reality, try to use “the secret” to get a house with a swimming pool or the worst, they clearly behave in unethical ways. Instead of, for example, a zen master who talks about “chopping wood and carrying water”.

Spirituality measured in 21 skills
The problem with spirituality is that we often don’t have a good language to discuss what is spirituality and what is just vague fantasizing. That is why I am very happy with the bold endeavor of Cindy Wigglesworth to deconstruct spirituality in 21 “measurable” skills, combined in her Spiritual Intelligence Assessment (SQi), in the same way that Daniel Goleman has deconstructed Emotional Intelligence to test our EQ.

Being able to explore skills such as “our awareness of our own worldview”, “living our purpose and values” or “being able to align with the ebb and flow of life”, offers a very interesting map for personal development. As Cindy also found a correlation between “action logics” (i.e. world views – see earlier blogs and interviews) and SQi, these 21 skills might even provide a great complementary path in developing our action logic, or personal operating system.

And in our rational and IQ-oriented world, it might be exactly these 21 skills that inquire into the deeper parts of human beings, that offer an alternative (and less travelled) road to our personal happiness or organisational effectiveness. Imagine scoring businesses on a financial and spiritual bottom line, both measurable.

Cindy Wigglesworth’s Nine-Step Process
After taking the assessment, Cindy also coaches people to act more from their higher self, than from their ego, especially while being challenged. As she summarised her 9-step process (for dealing with upsetting people, situations, etc.) in the interview, I’d like to repeat it here to share a concrete example of her way of working:

  1. Stop! (don’t react to whatever is happening)
  2. Take some slow, deep breaths from your belly
  3. Ask for help (from another person, from your higher self, from God, etc.)
  4. Deeply observe yourself (what’s going on in your body, emotions, head, …etc.)
  5. Identify and deeply embrace the concerns of your ego (this one is hard!)
  6. Look deeply for the root causes for the upset (ask why again and again to find the core fear)
  7. Reframe to see the situation with compassion (tell a different story about what’s happening)
  8. Refocus on something to be grateful for (don’t get stuck on everything that’s wrong – this is a practice!)
  9. Choose a more spiritually-based (or higher self-based) response

Is the workplace ready for spirituality?
I really don’t know. However, I do believe that Cindy Wigglesorth’s SQi test, 21 skills and her 9-step process, offer a great and concrete foundation for exploring how we personally can apply the insights from this serie in our own worklife.

I know that I continuously feel like being in an “adaptive challenge”, as Bob Anderson would call it, so the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Opportunities abound!

PS: learn more about Cindy Wigglesworth and the SQi test here:


As this series nears the end of its first cycle of life, I am starting to reflect on just what a rare and precious experience it’s been to participate in it. And I also find myself asking how I can more fully be of service to this unfolding of this conscious way of doing business.

I still have a ‘day job’, one that I struggle immensely to fully engage as a playing ground of expression and creativity. I know that there are many of you who have been following these dialogues and blogs who find yourself in similar positions, inspired to bring consciousness to your Work, and feeling limited by the different agendas that many of today’s organisations embody.

So, this blog is written for you, and for the honouring of aspiration to our personal expression and service.

Extraordinary Leaders Consider Everything a Spiritual Practice

Barrett Brown, someone I consider a good friend, in our interview with him last week, shared the findings from his recently completed PhD study. His mission: to explore the inner workings of a group of leaders possessing “as complex a worldview as science can measure”. What he found, when shining a flashlight into the black-box of these extraordinary leaders’ behavior, something that spoke in a deep way to my own situation.

In Barrett’s own words:

“They have a powerful internal commitment to their work. They see their work as a spiritual practice. It’s not that the people in your life get in the way of your spiritual practice; they are your spiritual practice. It’s not that your work gets in the way of your spiritual practice, it is your spiritual practice.”

This is, I believe, a beautiful articulation of what if feels like to be dedicated to Work, not work, something Diederick wrote about last week.

I find myself, in my own excitedly reluctant way, being pulled toward this same commitment to Being Work. I see myself having increasing difficulty to pull myself out of bed in the morning to work in a context which, in some intrinsic way excludes something of my humanity.

I rely upon regular trips to the bathroom, to release the tangible energy of pain that asks to be acknowledged.  I take solace in the wisdom and love of my friends who make space for my outpoured feelings of intense resistance and frustration.

I observe my habits of distraction, seeking to find some momentary peace from the insistence of change. I find strength in the knowing that despite the suffering, there is a deeper commitment to navigate the path toward that which I am being asked to allow.

I notice myself asking ‘what is the right decision in the midst of this uncertainty’. I question my commitments, and my integrity. I question the depth of maturity from which the desire for freedom arises.

Conversations to Catalyse

The conversations in this remarkable series have catalysed something in me. My tolerance for the limitations in my work is thinning. How much longer can I compromise my commitment to my ideals? It is a question with no seemingly certain answer, and yet Barrett’s discoveries did ignite something. This is what the leaders he studied embodied:

“They have this powerful trust and willingness to embrace uncertainty, meaning that they are willing to stand on the edge of the abyss of complexity, of the challenges they face in the very next moment, not knowing what’s going to happen. They use ambiguity as a tool to catalyse creativity. By not imposing on the future – ‘this is how we’re going to do it’ they were then able to listen very closely to what was organically arising.”

And so as I sit here writing, I notice that the certainty I find myself invested in, is that I have no certainty. That the more authentically I am able to embody my situation, with all its frustration and pain, the less sure I can be of what will happen. Something in me is content with that.

This series has been a gift of transmission, affording me the opportunity to learn from some truly pioneering men and women. And if I’m learning anything, it’s to honour the uncertainty that arises in me when confronted with such inspiring possibility.

It is as if the landscape is opening up before my very eyes, the paths of potential becoming as clear as my desire to follow them. And yet at the same time, the realisation that the things that have got me this far are insufficient to take me much further. How do I change, and develop the resilience and intention to continue this new journey?

I find increasing strength and comfort in the fact that I really don’t know. If it’s good enough for leaders with ‘as complex a worldview as science can measure’, it’s definitely good enough for me. And I trust that I am already embarking upon the path to turn more of my work into Work.

A Tribe of Deep Service

Please forgive me, for my somewhat self-indulgent hi-jacking of this space, to give voice to my own particular expression of embracing ambiguity. It is one of the luxuries afforded to me as one of the founders of this series. I hope it gives you something to chew on, in the midst of your own ambiguity.

I will end, if I may, on a rather more generous note, with an invitation from Barrett.

“We’re never going to know how to do it, there’s never going to be a formula, but moment by moment, leadership interaction by leadership interaction, trusting in the process, we can literally awaken each moment such that it is of deep service to those that we are touching.

It’s time to really develop a tribe of collective intelligence around this work and bring it forward in a way that is of deep, deep service to the global changes that we face.”