There are a vast number of definitions of consciousness. In science, consciousness is a function of the brain. In metaphysics and the “New age” movement, the brain is an element or even a function of consciousness! Explanations abound, and it is easy to get lost in the mire of thought and application. The scientific establishment is disdainful of anyone who claims consciousness exists beyond the brain and there is even a growing view that consciousness itself is a kind of functional illusion created by chemical and electrical brain activity. The self, apparently, is an illusion. (See here. And here. And here).
“Conscious” Business would suggest that a business can be more or less conscious, and can behave in more or less and different ways. So, the definition of what conscious means is rather important.
In the currently established view of “conscious” in conscious business, the definition tends to suggest that a more conscious business takes into account social, ethical, and environmental issues that is was previously less conscious off. So a more “conscious” business is more aware of its social, ethical and environmental responsibilities. This then modifies its approach to the practice of capitalism rendering it into a more “consciously capitalist” organisation.
So, in this definition, a conscious business is a better corporate citizen in a way that a more conscious neighbour is one who is more aware of the impact of the noise they make on neighbours, or in a way that a child is a more “conscious” child when he or she stands up for an elderly person on a crowded bus. In the mainstream of Conscious Business, consciousness is about waking up to one’s social responsibility. Being aware only of the process of money making is a “Lower” or “lesser” form of consciousness. Being aware of issues beyond the process of pure money making is viewed and defined as being of ‘higher’ or ‘greater’ consciousness.
As a result of this, conscious business tends to sit mostly in the fields of “green” behaviours, as well as corporate and social responsibility, and also in the field of more human-centres approaches to management, leadership and organisation.
From a more “pure” conceptual view, this is a kind of benevolently intended misuse, or perhaps partial use of the term “conscious”. Indeed, most of the philosophical, scientific and even esoteric definitions of consciousness do not top slice the definition of the word conscious and then claim it as the sole territory of the “good”. In scientific definitions, consciousness is either value-free or beyond value. Consciousness is a state of awareness, awakeness, alertness. It is a state in which sensory data is optimised through a combination of accurate sense perception and clear cognition. In many new age philosophies, the natural state of the universe is “good” or benevolent, and when consciousness is raised it realises this in its self, and this self-realisation is a realisation of one’s duty to do the good, as this harmonises with natural law. At the other, more socially Darwinistic extreme, doing the good is functionally useful to survival, and nothing more. There’s huge diversity of view, much disagreement, and little or no proof one way or the other.
It doesn’t surprise me that “conscious business” has been defined in terms of social and ethical responsibility because:
1. This is a neat definition
2. This is a nice new badge for the ailing fields of “green” and corporate social responsibility
3. The recent global meltdown is being described as a failure of capitalism, pointing to a lack of consciousness of all factors, especially in the banking sector.
What interests me, is that, whether one takes an esoteric/metaphysical view or a natural scientific/materialistic view of consciousness in business, a number of useful dimensions can be identified which fit well with a benevolent, “goodness”-based definition, and also something much broader where consciousness is simply are form of heightened awakeness and awareness.
There are some of the dimensions I’ve identified so far. Most, if not all, a transpositions of consciousness in a human being. The main difference is that in a business, consciousness can vary in extent and quality in different parts of the business. Often the leaders are seen as the “head”, but this metaphor only works partly, especially in highly networked and fluid business structures. Here, the head can move location, within and even outside of the main body!
The Dimensions of consciousness in a business
One can view consciousness in business along a number of dimensions. These dimensions can view business consciousness in terms of…
1. A state of being awake or asleep
Positive:The business is fully aware of internal and external dynamics and is energised to proact and react
Negative: The business remains in a state of unchange, cut off what either experience or decision-making
2. A state of awareness or ignorance
Positive: The business is aware of all internal and external dynamics and may also be aware of its sleep state
Negative: The business is ignorant of internal and external dynamics and isn’t even aware it is in a state of unchange
3. A state of high or lower sense of altertness (hearing, seeing, touching etc)
Positive: The business has high and clear visibility of its internal and external dynamics through clear and real time pictures and data
Negative: The business lacks visibility with no clear vision, data on performance and in a way is working blind or blurred
4. A state of broad or narrow focus, deep or surface focus
Positive: The business is aware of its broad context but is also able to reach root causes and focus and prioritise when necessary on what needs to be done
Negative: The business either either too generalist and superficial, or has become fixated on one market, one product or one strategy
5. A holistic or partial awareness
Positive: The business has a clear awareness of the whole system, and how it fits into the “big picture”, The business can take a helicopter view and adapt as necessary based on that view
The business has a bias on its leadership team – for example an over-focus on marketing at the expense of product development and innovation. The business is “biased” in a way that distorts its ability to gain objective overview.
6. A clear or blurred view
Positive: The business has a culture of truthfulness based on honesty and accurate information. Data is real time and logical thinking works in partnership with insight and intuition.
Negative: The business has distorted information systems, out of date or not properly collected data and analysis. Subjectivity is often mistaken for fact.
7. A high to low degree of self-awareness
Positive: The business is aware of its core motives and values. It knows that is motivating it and how its historical and present biases impact on it. It knows the difference between forecasting and wishful thinking.
Negative: The business’s motives are often hidden from it, sometimes by interest groups, sometimes because the business is simply superficially reactive or has confused “spin” with core values.
8. A state of primitive or childish versus evolved or adult consciousness
Positive: The business is able to be patient, to give and take criticism, to make informed decisions, to learn from failure and to commit over the long term. The business has awareness of its place and impact around it in the social and environmental space around it.
Negative: The business is naive, often reacts on emotion rather than knowledge and a contextualised need. It’s view of profit and growth is short term and superficial. It sees business as war. The business can even sulk and block when criticised. The business is centred mostly on itself, ignorant of its impact socially and environmentally except it ways that benefit it narrowly
These are tentatively written dimensions and I’ll be developing them further over time.
A conscious business can therefore be described differently based on the underpinning definition of the word ‘conscious’. Personally, I feel the view of conscious as “green and good” is too narrow and limiting. It is possible to be conscious and to be neither green nor good. But if we do want to be green and good, it helps to be conscious along the above dimensions.
Some of my source material can be found here:
This is part of a paper presented at the MIT-SLIM Conference, Slovenia, 2013
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