Here is in interesting thought….What if the new paradigm for our places of work and business were not capitalism but consciousness? How would the world look if commerce, consciousness and creativity existed together in parallel? Everything is possible if people would only have the courage to act on their convictions….This is an edited and bolder version of an article I wrote previously for a creative magazine.
The financial, cultural, religious and environmental crisis we have found ourselves in, is at its root a crisis of consciousness. Whatever the cause, it is clear that the on-going economic problems cannot be solved with more capitalism, consumption and debt. ‘More’ will not put right the seeming feeling of malaise that pervades the developed world. So the wheel of fortune turns: with the economy in decline it is up to creative minds to envisage an understanding that can only arise from a higher level of awareness, one where conscious thinking and capitalism exist in parallel. This new paradigm could come to define the values of the 21st century if we as mankind wish it.
Consciousness is the source from which organisational greatness arises. It is a shame that in the business world, the word ‘corporate’ which means ‘made real’ has created an ‘object’ out of organisations and their employees. Businesses are places where people are bought and sold, while being compensated (paid) for leaving their spiritual or personal values at the door on the way in. Often these values are honesty, compassion, empathy, trust, individualism and creativity. These values are intangible assets, what creates the unity and purpose of an organisation and the ingredients of its commercial success. This approach with employees and partners also builds collaboration and trust; with this in mind perhaps shareholders in the corporate world need to ask themselves who is leading their organisation. Taking this further, perhaps management training courses should invite business leaders to ask themselves: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my real purpose here?’or as I privately call it when talking to like minded friends, ‘Our real work’ on this earth, as opposed to the work we are simply ‘paid’ to do. Old-school CEOs and entrepreneurs may dismiss such notions as mere flapdoodle and continue to argue that the main objective of a business, and our own existence is to make money….this has failed. However, human folly will not stand in the way of progress. If we look at Universal Darwinism we can see how human attitudes and knowledge evolve by the same process as living organisms: when the system is not working nature looks for, selects, varies and copies the successful process to return the system to profit. The current system is ‘ unprofitable’ so therefore nature will select differently. Our purpose here on earth is to serve others in the system, like nature we should nourish each other. It should be the same in business, this is sound economics, whether it be the structure of our organisation or the means by which business makes, markets and sells its products. Being inspired by nature is ideal, succesful ideas and strategies self-replicating via human consciousness until they becomes ‘the successful system’.
With this hypothesis in mind, conscious values could transcend and include the earlier memes of capitalism and consumption, just as Darwin’s theory suggests. ‘I’ culture gives way to an inclusive ‘I-We’ world view. It is the transactions between business and consumer that pumps the life blood through the veins of our economy, but to succeed in the era of consciousness, companies will need to understand that commercial success will need to be based upon a higher purpose beyond maximising shareholder value, rather than go against the natural way of things and persist with a failed system.
The materialist views of modern science also provide inspiration. According to Peter Russell, a respected British scientist and philosopher from Great Britain, the whole world system is driven by consciousness. Few seem to understand the reality of consciousness and its importance to our world view. According to Russell, if we want to understand ourselves and the new trends which are rapidly emerging in the economy, we need to understand and explore consciousness from a creative, economic, business and consumer perspective. The traditional economic model of materialism is based on the philosophy of ‘Classical Capitalism’. A more conscious paradigm recognises that we live within two realms of reality: materialism and consciousness. When we stop and think about it, money units are now ‘created’ via one’s ‘consciousness’. Central Bank policymakers are now creating digital money units, derived initially from their ‘consciousness’. Design and the created world arises from consciousness, as do ideas in marketing and media, innovations in science and technology; cyberspace is really an ‘extension’ of our collective ‘consciousness’. Virtual reality is also an ‘extension’ of our ‘consciousness’, along with the social media driven marketing campaigns where the brand collaborates with the consumer, sharing ideas on everything from product development to the transparency of the supply chain.
In fact, it has always been about consciousness, but of an individual rather than on a unified level. Consumption will continue as the system changes and these changes will need to go far beyond creating attractive products that encourage engagement in environmentally sound practices, such as designing attractive re-usable grocery bags.
The last few decades has left the developed world wondering ‘why?’, when so much of life feels so empty and spiritually impoverished. As the explosion in the self-help industry shows, people are suffering from schizophrenic whims arising from the feeling of ‘needing to do something about it’, this dissatisfaction and fear has produced thinly-veiled values, seemingly self orientated meditation practices and endless therapy sessions. Indeed, the boomer generation and my own generation, ‘Generation X’, are often well meaning but lack the knowhow and vision to change things on a larger scale. Yet these generations, starting with themselves are leading the change: the boomers recognised the need for unity, peace and have led anti-capitalist protests since the 1960s. This sense of ‘anx’I’ety’ has continued to fuel the continued growth of the $11bn USA wellbeing industry. As a key example, Deepak Chopra the physician, speaker, writer and founder of the Chopra Centre for Wellbeing (a centre for spirituality and consciousness) has a personal income of $22 million, higher than the CEOs of most Fortune 100 companies. Generation X are not just committed to solving their own problems either, they want to create change where they can: according to a 2012 Neilson Global Corporate Citizen Survey, nearly half of global consumers (46%) are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that show a commitment to social responsibility through their campaigns and programs. Those respondents also prefer to work for these companies (62%) and invest in these companies (59%).
Books published on the subject of spirituality, consciousness and so called ‘Pseudo-Sciences’ have increased by 30% over the past decade. The wider business world may dismiss this as nothing more than a New Age ‘knit-your-own-muesli-nonsense-attempt’ to provide answers in the face of our enormous spiritual and scientific uncertainty. However even in a declining book industry, shop shelves groan with books purporting to explain age-old philosophical controversies, Shamanic Journeys, spiritual enlightenment, out of body experiences and the functioning of consciousness. ‘How do we think?’ is another topic: the popular brain industry explores neuroscience through snazzy brain-imaging studies. More recently there is also a growing popularity of books that promise spiritual Illumination within the worlds of politics, business and economics. With Americans spending more than $11 billion each year on self- improvement and spiritual guidance products, the consumer interest in consciousness cannot be ignored. In a macro economy where many industries are contracting, this industry is forecast to grow 6.2% annually over the next 3 years.
A more conscious approach that unifies the values surrounding human lives, relationships, places of work and consumed products could go some way to releasing the spiritually impoverished from their frantic search through self-help books for a solution. This is not just a Boomer and Generation X problem, Generation Y (born 1977-1994) are suffering from what the press have described as an ‘insane narcissism epidemic’. This, at its root, may just be a crisis of confidence, one that they have tried to solve through aping celebrities, self-aggrandising through social media and a ‘shop-till-you-drop’ mentality. This dissatisfied generation own a higher value of consumer product than any other generation (especially electronics and apparel) and are also known to replace these items more quickly with the next big thing. They also have a higher level of debt than any other generation before them. They are idealistic and have been called spoiled, idealistic and impatient, yet in spite of their material lives Generation Y has been described as the most medicated generation ever; in the USA especially, they are apparently routinely prescribed psychotropic drugs–antidepressants, antipsychotics, stimulants, mood stabilizers. It’s not uncommon for 20-and-30-somethings today to have spent the better part of their lives on such medications.
The answer lies deep within our consciousness: what is needed is an Einstein ‘Theory of Everything’ approach that joins up the world’s problems and comes up with a unified solution. The theories put forward by Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics, provide some inspiration. A Yale graduate in Mathematics and Philosophy, Eisenstein is way ahead of modern economics and its triple bottom line (TBL) theory. Also referred to as ‘people, planet, profit’, the theory is that the supply of money (and the corresponding volume of debt) has for several decades outstripped the production of goods and services that it promises. There may be much to re-learn from what Eisenstein refers to as the ancient ‘gift’ economies which operated on the idea of co-operation and exchange, where economics and spirituality were inseparable.
Another inspiration is the work of Rachel Botsman, an author and social innovator who writes, consults and speaks extensively on the economy of trust and the power of sharing through networks and technologies. She has inspired a new consumer economy with her influential book ‘What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live.’ Best-selling author Patricia Aburdene combines solid financial knowledge with proven spiritual principles in her book ‘Conscious Money’. Aburdene outlines strategies for conscious capitalism that attain wealth based on a new economic system fuelled by human ideals, greater awareness and higher consciousness.
Even the much vaunted ‘Design Thinking’ needs to die a dignified death; creativity in many organisations does little more than appeal to the business culture of process. Designers are tasked with creating products of poor quality with built in obsolescence so that we that find premium consumer electronics in the landfill within 2 years. Like other industries, the design industry has made materialism its god; serving a consumer goods industry with powerful muscles, but no personality. Nevertheless, art and architecture still lead the way with a number of recent projects that explore the parallels of consciousness and objectivity through ‘thinking spaces’ and our built environment. The MIT Senseable City Laboratory creates and monitors the stream of human consciousness though architecture. ‘The Cloud’, described as a symbol of our dawning age, was built for the London 2012 Olympics as a monument to the connected networks that unite humanity. From an observation deck, high above the Olympics, one could not only see the whole of London, but the whole of the world via a live information system of transmitted data which was represented by constantly fluctuating particles, each of which contributed briefly towards a vast, beautiful, constantly-vibrating whole. The British company Architects of Air combine art with an immersive exploration of consciousness through light and space. Visitors were reported to be transported to a sense of wonder which invited them to back to a place of tranquility and joy.
This consciousness paradigm also began several years ago online. Generation Z follow on from Generation Y who learned to use social media to say ‘look at me’. Generation Z, the so-called digital natives, have skilfully learned to use technology to build trust between strangers arising from collaborative networks within the digital realm. For Generation Z, being connected is not just about social networking it is about building a reputation. Indeed, according to Wired magazine, by the end of the decade a good online reputation could be the most valuable asset for businesses, brands and consumers. 2012 marked the point where more than 1 billion people on the planet are active in using social media; with every tweet, like, share and comment we make, we leave a reputation trail. As for brand intelligence, how a company is perceived online will become a profoundly important question in an age where company reputation will be the most valuable commercial asset. According to Neilson in their Global Corporate Citizen Survey, for generations Y and Z, trust is the main basis on which purchasing decisions are made. The most important form being recommendations from people they know (95%), closely followed by looking for opinions and information posted by other consumers online (76%) and the use of social media to help make purchase decisions (59%).
In the longer term, a lot of responsibility will rest with the next Generation Alpha (2011- 2025). Largely parented by Generation Y, they may share some of the same characteristics. Generation Y can be idealistic, but with the influence of Generation Z’s higher level awareness of values and reputation in the workplace over the next few years, Generation Alpha may well be a generation with the vision we need…