My Own Definition of Conscious Business


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“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” 
Carl Jung

This is very much a work in  progress – an emerging set of notes.

I’m going to define Conscious Business in a way that is different to  most in this field.

Consciousness arises from suffering. Now, bear with me for a moment on that rather strange statement.

The philosopher Rudolf Steiner (author of The Philosophy of Freedom) made the same statement over a hundred years ago. Suffering brings forth consciousness. Without suffering there would be no consciousness. Even more strangely: consciousness is a gift of suffering.

Now, that might suggest that suffering is an inevitable process, a law of nature. And I can very much understand why people who react against such a view.

However, let’s take a look at the definition of suffering presented in the dictionary. Most dictionaries offer several definitions of suffering. The first definition is the one we are al most used to:

“To undergo or sustain (something painful, injurious, or unpleasant)” (Reference here.)

Suffering is about pain, is always something negative, according to this definition. People and organisation’s, not surprisingly, try to avoid suffering, sometimes at all costs. Many business attempt to pass on any unwanted suffering to other individuals and groups in their environment, rather than suffer themselves.

But hold on a moment. The dictionary goes further, offering three other definitions of suffering:
To experience; undergo”
To endure or bear; stand”
To permit; allow”


Here the definition is enriched, and also framed in a much more positive way. Suffering is something we “go through”. Suffering is born of endurance and even tolerance. Suffering isn’t something we recoil from, avoid, or try to go around – suffering is something we go through.

Now, working with the idea that suffering gives rise to consciousness, using these definitions we can see that suffering need not always be painful, nor negatively (though it can be felt that way). Suffering is something we “go through”. And when we “suffer” something in this way, we experience it fully, we meet it, and, in meeting it, we engaging with it – and this gives us experience of it. If we reflect on that experience, we have the opportunity to increase our awareness, knowledge and wisdom. We become more conscious.

Avoiding suffering dims consciousness. Embracing suffering gives rise to consciousness.

A business that behaves consciously does not try to avoid suffering – it welcomes it, seeks it out, and harvests the experience into consciousness, enabling it to act in a more aware, effective and skillful way. It does this through reflection, through inquiring into its past, present (ongoing) and future state. It “suffers” uncertainty by asking questions, by being curious and open. Open can mean being “raw” and vulnerable, but it also can mean being responsive and “ready”. A business that behaves consciousness is in an ongoing, open state of internal and external inquiry into its reality. This enables it to respond in real time and in real ways for it is always reality checking through inquiry. It doesn’t seek “comfort”, comfort arises out of its courage to “suffer” uncertainty. Uncertainty becomes a core organisational virtue.

How about THAT for a definition of conscious business?

A few years ago I went to a conference on the theme of suffering. The conference drew quite a bit on the Parsifal story.  This is a story of the search for the Holy Grail, but one of the themes that was at the heart of it was how a journey can involve what could be called “suffering” on all of the levels of the above definition. But by encountering, enduring and “going through” our experiences, we can become better, wise, find resolution and be more conscious.

At the conference there was a speaker who had been a hostage in Beirut for several years, as well as a survivor of the massacres of Rwanda. We also heard about prisoners of conscience who spent years in prison with little or no freedom. In all cases, these people were glad of the consciousness they now possessed through having “gone through” these experience.

Brian Keenan pointed out that, when we properly resource our “going through” with support from our community, with time to reflect, with as feeling of being “held up”” through the processes of whatever we are going through, then suffering can be experienced as something other than just pointless pain.

Pain can be part of the effort of going through something, it is the pain of the strengthen muscles, the pain of confusion that, through diving deeply with the frowning furrowed brow of our thinking, can give birth to a higher view, a longer view, a clearer view, a greater perspective, a wisdom and experience that we can apply to new situations.

I think conscious businesses seek to go through things. They try to heighten their awareness, their ability to sense, experience, and to learn from that experience, incorporating the (sometimes but not always painfully gained) wisdom into new, skillful behaviours and practices.

In fact, without this “going through”, this suffering, a business can’t ever behave consciously.

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Businesses that behave consciously demonstrate:

– a willingness and an ability to suffer uncertainty and to have the courage to allow further uncertainty to arise. Concurrent with the inquiry that forms the exploration of that certainty, comes real-time action and decision

– patience that actions emerge out of ongoing inquiry

– an ability to be curious, open, responsive and questioning

– an ability to regularly go into the “zone of discomfort” in order to be insightful

When this becomes ongoing, the organisation even inquires into how and why it inquires! It’s a process of continuous innovation. Aware, aware, and responsive.

Shall we begin?

Visit the Conscious Business Realm

One Comment Add yours

  1. Paul Levy says:

    Reblogged this on Responsive Enquiry and commented:

    A developing definition of conscious business. Comments and questions most welcome.

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