Stock markets go up and down. New technologies, competitors, products, and services emerge suddenly. The Internet has opened up previously closed boundaries, impacting the way we do business. We see more and more people facing this turbulent environment in which opportunities as well as problems abound. In such a world, where can we find our foundation?
Instead of losing sight of our intrinsic values, we must find meaning in this seeming chaos. We must go beyond just doing our work routinely. We need a fresh and lively new paradigm to continuously find purpose in what we do. Accordingly, here are two key questions for us to answer:
- How shall we find our destiny in the turbulence?
- How should we conduct our journey?
In essence, this is about mastery in a turbulent business environment. It is about achieving our destiny, freedom, and self-sufficiency regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. This will take a determined effort. It is not something that we can achieve by simply introducing a few techniques here and there. We need to develop a clear understanding of what we do and why.
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First, we need to understand what is going on around us. For example, by studying strategies companies have adopted, we can see how they have tried to find their own destiny. Business strategy is about utilizing our resources wisely and deploying ideas throughout our organization. Many people's lives are affected in this process. As we try to enrich our own lives, we need to keep in mind that this personal search will influence our business strategy. Understanding this dynamic is essential if we are to chart a course for our life's journey.
Recent strategic initiatives companies have taken include mergers and acquisitions, reengineering, downsizing, empowerment, and continuous improvement. Total Quality Management and Just-In-Time concepts have been applied in streamlining business processes. Developing a well-integrated network of suppliers and customers and breaking down business boundaries are among the ways business organizations are striving to create the highest value-added services at the lowest cost and in the shortest time possible. In our free enterprise system, new business models and technologies are constantly being developed and implemented.
Ultimately, the aim of such initiatives is to eliminate waste and create value for customers, all while outperforming the competition. The flip side of waste elimination, however, is enrichment of our work life. In other words, from a business as well as a humanistic point of view, the worst kind of waste is the waste of underutilizing our talents. While actively involved in this process, we should also be able to enjoy the fruits of our efforts as customers. In this way we can all contribute to the progress of civilization. Such is the game we all play.
The premise here is that the more we understand such business principles and the better business environment we create, the more business opportunities will arise. As a result, we can utilize people's talent to a greater extent. The opening of previously closed economies, symbolized by the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, and the wide use of the Internet have helped to fuel this change process. Such progress will drive us to continue to expand our own thinking as we tap into a growing talent pool.
rThe global-scale movement of people, products, services, technology, information, and capital continuously provides unknown potential yet to be harnessed. While this evolving environment presents ever greater opportunities, mistakes in handling these opportunities are exposed much more quickly than ever before. Accordingly, these dynamic changes place a constant challenge on business and on people to prove the reasons for their existence.
A Point of Reflection
At a top management conference sponsored by a major global company, a senior executive summarized his views on current business conditions:
- The playing field is too complex to oversee all relevant details from a central viewpoint.
- The playing field is evolving very rapidly.
- Trends in technology and markets are detected at the operational level in the organization.
His conclusions were as follows:
- Hierarchical information flow is not effective.
- Hierarchical control is impractical or impossible.
- Hierarchical decision making is too slow.
As a result, he argued, management is not about "control" as practiced in the traditional sense, but about "making sense out of chaos." Having worked with hundreds of companies around the world as a management consultant, I would agree. "Chaos" reigns, not only in large global organizations but also in small manufacturing or service companies in virtually all industries. How then can a manager be effective in what he does? How can he or she make sense of a chaotic situation while retaining control? In large or small companies, private or public institutions, these critical questions demand answers.
How do we use our intelligence to make good judgments? How should we manage our own areas of responsibility? These are critical questions. If we can answer them, we have a good chance of finding our destiny -- even in today's turbulent environment. If we cannot answer them, we may be lost or blown away before we know it.
Here, we may find that our outer world is a reflection of our inner world and that our minds are influenced by business practices while business reflects how our minds function. So, if we do not know who we are, or what we do and why, the outer world may dictate our choices and we may end up losing our balanced perspective -- to the point of becoming slaves to the environment. Today's business environment can in fact be frightening. I have seen some managers, obsessed by ego, relentlessly pushing people. I have spoken with others who say that they cannot wait to retire and never think of their Job again. If the goal of business is to make customers happy, why do some of us feel like victims and why are we unhappy at work? Is our mission lost and forgotten? Let us try to make sense out this chaos and discover something important that can be the foundation of our lives.
"Modern industrial society often strikes me as being like a huge self-propelled machine. Instead of humans being in charge, each individual is a tiny, insignificant component with, no choice but to move when the machine moves."
(Dalai Lama in Ethics for the New Millennium)
Our modern world makes enormous demands on us and in some cases forces us to behave in a mechanical fashion. Without realizing it, we may be losing our connection with our core values. There are too many things to do, beginning in early childhood, and too much information to process just in the course of our daily lives. There is too little time to reflect. Without realizing that we have a choice -- we can play an active role -- we become passive and robotic. We should ask ourselves if we are spinning our wheels.
The following symptoms may indicate that we are too passive and robotic:
- We follow a prescribed program and lack initiative.
- We don't pay much attention to our surroundings.
- We follow others' expectations rather than our own beliefs.
- If we think we have a solid self, and believe we are always right without any doubt.
Instead of trying to understanding ourselves and relate to our surroundings better, we may blame the external world for our problems. The following story from more than two thousand years ago in Greece resonates even today.
In the temple at Delphi, the phrase "Gnoti sauton" (know yourself) is chiseled into the stone. Referring to this, Socrates asked one of his disciples, "Have you paid any attention to that phrase? Have you thought about who you are?"
"No, I have not," said the disciple. "Because I know about myself quite well. If I do not know, how can I know anything else?"
"If that is so," Socrates asked, "do you think a person who knows only his name is one who knows himself? A buyer of a horse does not know the horse until he sees if the horse is gentle or violent, strong or weak, or fast or slow. In such case, do you think a person who knows what kind of character he has and what he is good at is a person who knows himself?"
"I have not thought about myself that seriously."
"Then, you have to start making efforts to know yourself today. Nothing is as important as knowing yourself, because people who know themselves will find out what is beneficial for them, and can distinguish what they can or they cannot do."
Asking "So What?"
No matter what environment we find ourselves in, knowing ourselves is the foundation for living our life in harmony with our intrinsic nature. Finding the meaning in what we do is embodied in what I call the "So what?" principle. The point is to question ourselves repeatedly until we cannot go any further. Ultimately, we should find deep meaning in what we are doing to the point where we can fully identify ourselves with our actions. The series of answers we provide before getting to the core should help clarify the logic of what we do and why. To make this process work, however, we must keep asking questions and make a strong effort to answer them sincerely.
In other words, repeatedly asking "So what?" is to be honest with ourselves, and to clarify the reasons for our actions. Even if we do not arrive at a clear understanding immediately, this continuous questioning will eventually help us to understand the task better and orient us to do what is meaningful and right. Further, it should help us lay the foundation for becoming a fully qualified president of our own mini-company -- that is, master of our own destiny.
Take an example. If we are contemplating some task at work, we may ask "So what?" or "What is the meaning of the task?" The response might be, "I do this because my boss asked me to do so." Instead of stopping there, let's ask "So what?" or, "If the boss gets a good report, then what?" Then, we may say, "It is important because he needs to present this report to the customers." We may again ask, "So what?" or "Why is it important?" The answer may be, "Because this customer is important for our business." We may further ask why that is so. Or we may ask what will happen if they are satisfied.
If we are to spend our valuable time on something, should we just do that task without attaching much thought or initiative to it? This is a critical question. If people wait for orders to be given, their company will not accomplish much or be lively or fun. These people will have little in common except collecting their paychecks.
Here is another example. If we have failed to meet a certain goal and our business unit is losing money, we, ask, "So what?" We may respond, "I feel bad about it." Again, we ask, "So what?" This time, we are asking to be practical and not to dwell on our failure. In other words, we should ask what happened, what we have learned, and what we can do with the lessons learned. Obviously, we need to cut out unnecessary, unproductive thinking and focus our attention on what is meaningful, and do-able. Otherwise, it is like continuing to polish clay, in the belief that it will eventually turn Into a mirror.
Ultimately, this series of questions should be connected to our mission so that clarity in logic and conviction are tied to our actions. What this means is that, if we repeatedly question, we should eventually touch the core of our being. That is when we feel in our hearts the source of the energy and the meaning of our work. On the other hand, if we cannot clearly explain what we do and why, there is a missing link between the task and how it contributes to accomplishing the mission. If our hearts are not in the right place in such a case, we cannot engage our full potential to the task. Naturally, we will find a vivid difference in productivity and the quality of our work between these two cases.
As more people practice "So what?" questioning and come up with a better understanding of the meaning of their work, they will begin to take the initiative to address issues on their own. Then, such an organization will begin to behave like all cells of a body self-activated to work with a sound underlying principle. Collectively, people will work for the success of the organization as well as for themselves. They will clarify the meaning and purpose in their existence as well as in their relationships with colleagues. This will help in collecting business intelligence, reducing redundancy, and enabling people to respond to their needs of the company.
Still, some may argue that not everybody is willing or capable of participating in this process. If that is so, should people be treated like a collection of robots? Should top management step in even though they are far away from the scene of the action? On the contrary, if people closer to the action ask these questions and make decisions, they will have more "control" and greater responsiveness to meet competitive threats. Not only that, they will create a dynamic, energized organization that may even produce miracles!
- Asking "So what?" is to be honest-from the heart.
- Asking "So what?" brings out pragmatic and positive attitudes instead of wishful thinking.
- Asking "So what?" enables us to use our initiative to do our job rather than waiting to be told what to do.
- Asking "So what?" leads to discovery of the meaning of work and the ability to connect it to social needs.
- Asking "So what?" clarifies the logic that connects us to our mission and helps us bring out the full potential within us.
In chapters 2 and 3, questions like "So what?" are provided to assist readers in running their mintcompanies. People need to develop a habit of coming up with the right questions, as those will set the boundaries of our thinking. Then, the ability to come up with thoughtful answers is prerequisite to running a mini-company successfully.
Listening to Our Heart
Let us next look at the picture from another angle. While asking "So what?" helps to clarify our thoughts, ultimately our hearts must be engaged as well. Here, "heart" represents our initiative, creativity, and the core of our being. Instead of "pushing our logic" from our brains, "listening to our heart" corresponds to being open to receiving inspiring messages coming from within.
Beyond finding insights on problems we face at work, being attentive to that voice in the heart will help us understand our true nature as well. When we feel vulnerable or lost -- and even when we feel successful -- we need a moment to be humble and to listen carefully to our hearts without reacting emotionally or impulsively. In fact, to explore our full potential, we should learn to distinguish the various noises surrounding us. We are reaching beyond conventional logic here, and this point is difficult to put into words. Yet, that is the very reason that each of us needs to listen to our heart.
Figuratively speaking, the process of coming up with the insight may be compared to "a game of catch" between our brains and our hearts. The "So what?" questions involve our brain, but the answers come from our heart. When we find an answer, we have conviction that life flows smoothly. As much as our business reflects what is in our mind, the process of clarifying the issues in business should be ultimately tied to this very point.
Let us take an example of such clarification and insightgeneration process. Assume that you are the boss, and you must reach a mutual understanding with a subordinate about certain tasks to be performed. Asking a series of "So what" questions has established that the tasks are important and must be done. Yet, wait, do you sense a "vibration" that this subordinate is willing to do the tasks -- with initiative and conviction?
Here is another example, this time about listening to our own hearts. Let's say we believe we know what we need to do. It may be about writing a report. Yet, after asking "So what?" repeatedly, something may still be bothering us. In such a state can we say we have done a good job?
Listening to the voice coming from the heart requires a quiet moment undisturbed by selfcentered logic or emotion. We need to let go of ourselves, observe what is going on, and listen to the inner voice with an open mind. If we can do this, we are like a mother who intuitively understands the message of her baby. It is like having a good antenna that allows us to distinguish a voice, and to make sense of what it is saying. Logic by itself does not pick up such subtlety. On the contrary, the logic we thought valid may in fact represent our own narrow-minded and selfish viewpoint.
In the example of the subordinate, we want to know if his initiative is connected to his heart. In our own example, the question is whether we are convinced that the task is important. Logic alone cannot "move" or "engage" us to act. As discussed later, the subjects of leadership, entrepreneurship, and creativity are all related to this point. They are all about creating a condition to discover a channel to bring the insight or genuine initiative from our heart.
- Listening is being open to unknown possibilities.
- Listening is connecting to the very source of our initiative in doing our job.
- Listening is finding meaning in work that we can believe in.
- Listening is letting our heart speak directly to us without any filter.
- Remember that we must create a quiet moment if we are to listen well. We cannot listen when we are talking, confused, or "pushing our logic."
Connecting Brain and Heart
Kant, an eighteenth-century German philosopher, had a similar concern as to how we use our brains and hearts. He said, "Concept without intuition is meaningless. Intuition without concept is blindness." Here, "concept" corresponds to the brain and "Intuition" to the heart. Similiarly, Einstein said "science without religion is meaningless. Religion without science is lame." Whether the subject is science, philosophy, or management, mastery is tied to finding the channel to connect brain and heart, thus eliciting an integral or balanced solution.
If we arrive at solutions this way, whatever work we do will be the expression of both brain and heart. And this should be the basis of running both our business and our personal lives in a harmonious manner. This is the most basic human process. Yet, don't we often ignore this point, hence causing undue conflict or waste? Are we too busy to set aside a quiet moment to ask ourselves the critical questions and listen for the answers that come from the heart?
Einstein also said "Imagination is power." In addition to being logical in business, we must ignite this power that each of us has within. Doing so will require dedication and careful coordination of our actions. Earlier, we questioned whether the key concern for managers is "control." Ultimately, each of us must find our own destiny while connecting it to the mission of our organization.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, "If you want to build a ship, don't gather your people and ask them to provide wood, prepare tools, assign tasks...just call them together and raise in their minds the longing for the endless sea." In a nutshell, this expresses the point of listening to our heart and finding the source of initiative and creative energy within us. Then, we have our brain and other resources available to us that can be put into effective use. In the following chapters, we will explore ways to channel our creative energy in a manner that utilizes the resources productively. It is as if we search for a harmonious solution of our brains and hearts with heart being the ultimate driver.
Copyright © 2002 by Kiyoshi Suzaki
How to Instill Commitment from Your Employees By Helping Them to Fully Develop Their Talents
Results from the Heart
How to Instill Commitment from Your Employees By Helping Them to Fully Develop Their Talents
--Carl Stern, CEO,
The Boston Consulting Group
Since the publication of Frederick Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management, managers have relied on logic to compel action. Now Kiyoshi Suzaki, one of the world's leading experts on enlarging the talents, self-esteem, and growth of the individual employee, argues that logic alone cannot move people to act. Productivity problems are inextricably linked to self-esteem, he argues, and worst of all to a prodigious waste of individual talent. But each solution is personal, Suzaki concludes, and found only within ourselves.
"To find meaning and purpose at work we must use our brain," Suzaki says, "but listen to our heart." In Zenlike fashion he proposes that each of us ask ourselves a series of questions to determine the degree to which our brain is engaged with our heart. The framework around which this selfquestioning takes place is a groundbreaking concept that Suzaki calls "the mini-company." The author demonstrates how, within the larger workplace, each job is endowed with an almost spiritual meaning when each person -- at every level -- becomes president of his or her own area of responsibility. With simple diagrams, Suzaki shows how your boss becomes your banker or venture capitalist and your peers become your immediate suppliers or customers. The results are nothing short of astonishing. In Results from the Heart, Suzaki describes thousands of mini-companies he has "founded" during his worldwide consulting assignments. In most cases in which unhappy employees had previously "followed instructions like robots," there have been spectacular increases in both morale and productivity. If it is true that work is a journey, this manifesto for a more humane definition of the way we work is the roadmap.