New evidence is now emerging that the driver of a healthy organisation – an organisation that performs well and where people like to work – might be the degree to which that organisation is conscious. An unprecedented convergence of disparate disciplines and ideas in the world today is giving us an interesting understanding of the role that consciousness can play in boosting individual and organisational performance.
For example, Buddhist monks are sitting down with Harvard scientists to talk about the neuroscience of mindfulness. Indigenous healers are working side by side with physicians to treat patients in major hospitals. Quantum physicists and living-systems biologists are confirming traditionally held spiritual views of consciousness. As we look at the universe in greater and greater detail, down to its most fundamental level, we find that its basic constituent is a fabric of interwoven space and time, of which all forms and elements are comprised. This state essentially describes what is thought by many to constitute a unified field, and it is presumed that it is this unified field that constitutes consciousness in its pure and native form.
This engagement of different ways of understanding what’s real and true is leading to the discovery of new tools for living in the midst of complexity. As ancient spiritual wisdom converges with the latest scientific understandings of the world and our place in it, we are finding new answers to the ageold questions of ‘who am I?’ and ‘what am I capable of becoming?’
These discoveries, variously described as holism, constructivism and emergence, are fundamental to a new understanding of individuals as well as organisations – and are extremely relevant and applicable to managerial theory and practice.
A workplace beyond Newton
While the science behind much of this boundary-pushing work has broken free of limiting Newtonian principles of fixed time and space, in the economic and managerial sciences, this revolution seems to have been sidelined. Our economic thinking is still Marshallian, the economic thinking of the nineteenth century.
Is it not possible that transcending these boundaries of traditional thought in business could offer us similar leaps forward in the way we think about and manage organisations? What can quantum mechanics, philosophy and interpretation offer us to clarify the organising principles of management, markets and companies?
These questions are particularly relevant when considering the people who make up these systems. One of the principal preoccupations of business is how people deal with each other, both inside organisations and between organisations. People’s dealings are based on all kinds of activities: talking; thinking; feeling; and communicating; which do not take place on a molecular level and are not stable the way objects are. This means that we cannot easily touch and measure them. This locates them, as parapsychology researcher Dean Radin suggests, on a quantum level, which would make them subject to quantum law, where consciousness is the primary organising principle.
And if we suspect that consciousness is key for individual and organisational health and ultimately more sustainable business, the question naturally arises – how can we cultivate a working understanding of consciousness in an organisation, along with a way to measure and manage this important resource?
Consciousness is a slippery concept, much debated in the sciences, and measuring it poses some challenges. Because we are unable to conceptualise consciousness from our classical Newtonian ontology, it is not surprising that we are unable to quantify it using conventional tools, metrics or thirdperson research methodologies.
Measuring the unmeasurable
Previous research attempts to measure consciousness in numerous fields of study including psychology and neuroscience have been highly criticised, difficult to interpret, and of dubious significance. First-person research in this area has involved the use of introspection and then the verbal reporting of subjective experience. These techniques have obvious limitations and as a result have not been integrated into contemporary science.
In approaching the quantification of consciousness, we need to take another route it seems: to use a proxy that is measurable using existing research tools. The obvious proxy in this instance is “coherence”. Coherence, which is the quality of being logically integrated, consistent and intelligible, is a phenomenon that is readily observable in nature and has the advantage of being described in the academic literature. In addition, coherence has been successfully used as a proxy for consciousness on an individual physiological level, in previous studies.
Most of the existing scientific research on consciousness and conscious states of mind, link consciousness with coherence (on a brain and/or body level). For example, research on long-term meditators has found that while the practitioners generated a state of “unconditional lovingkindness and compassion”, increases in gamma band oscillation and long-distance phase synchrony were observed.
Coherence on a body level is therefore understood to mean an optimal psychophysiological state: a dynamic systems view of the interrelations between psychological, cognitive and emotional systems and neural communication networks in the human organism. This is the definition of coherence that HeartMath has used to build its theoretical framework and research tool: the Heart Coherence Monitor, which visualises coherence inside the human brain/body system by examining natural fluctuations in heart rate, known as heart rate variability (HRV).
This is consistent with a wider systems thinking approach. Complex living systems, such as human beings, are composed of numerous interconnected, dynamic networks of biological structures and processes. The recent application of systems thinking in the life sciences has given rise to the understanding that the function of the human organism as an integrated whole is determined by the multi-level interactions of all the elements of the psychophysiological system. The elements influence one another as a network, rather than through hierarchical or cause-and-effect relationships. Abundant evidence indicates that proper coordination and synchronisation (coherence) among the different networks of any biological activity is critical for the emergence of higher-order functions.
Applying these findings to organisations is a logical step. Organisations are similarly made of many elements that are networked and interdependent. And if the level of coherence can be shown to affect the functionality and performance of an organisation in the same way it does an individual or other living system, there are major implications for how we should be managing organisations.
Measuring coherence in organisations
Consciousness, and its proxy coherence, are a systemic concept and need a systemic approach when seeking to measure them. Our conceptual model is therefore based on an operationalised version of Wilber’s holistic research tool. In his theory of holon philosophy, Ken Wilber visualises something that could be called different dimensions of the image of the holistic world.
The well-known model is developed around two dichotomies: externalinternal and individual-networked (collective). A holistic image is obtained, according to Wilber, if all the quadrants receive equal attention and that to collapse them together or dismiss one or the other is a serious mistake. He labels these quadrants the ‘I’ quadrant, the ‘We’ quadrant, the ‘It’ quadrant, and the ‘Its’ quadrant.
To start to develop a truer understanding of the whole person, what they think and feel and why they do things, requires that attention is paid to all four quadrants. This is as true for organisations as it is for individuals. It is through a holistic interpretation that we can quantify the level of coherence, which we will take as a proxy for consciousness. It is then possible to test the hypothesis that this influences organisational functionality and performance.
To measure coherence in organisations, we use the Cassandra tool – a simple questionnaire that pertains to each of the quadrants of Wilber’s holistic model. Cassandra comprises multiple items that constitute each quadrant and aims to probe the organisation on the basis of these. The values quadrant (We) is subdivided into a diversity section, in which the questions are based on the work of De Anca and Vazquez (2004) and Kofman (2006), and a complexity section, in which the questions are based on the work of Baets (2006). The personal development quadrant (I) is subdivided into a personal well-being section, based on the work of Chopra (1994), and a leadership and teamwork section, based on the work of Nierenberg (1999). Likewise, the innovation quadrant (It) is based on the work of Stone (2003), which constitutes the financial performance subdivision, and the work of Advanced Practical Thinking Inc. (2001), which constitutes the innovative potential subdivision.
Finally, the sustainability (Its) quadrant is subdivided into a sustainable development and social responsibility section, based on the work of Stacy (2000), and a knowledge and learning subsection, which is based on the work of Baets and van der Linden (2000).
The hypothesis is that the results of the Cassandra questionnaire, which measures coherence at an organisational level (i.e. how well the workforce is aligned on certain key questions), combined with the outcome of the HeartMath test, which measures coherence on an individual level, would provide a compelling snapshot of the overall coherence (consciousness) of the workforce and the organisation. This would give leaders and managers penetrating insight into where things are running smoothly and, on the flip side, into pockets of the organisation that may not be functioning as well as they should be. As a result, the tool may help us to manage more effectively and to make more accurate predictions about future performance. The methodology is summarised in the figure above.
Bringing it all together: testing the conceptual model
A preliminary study to test part of this conceptual model took place at a major public hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. The study set out to clarify the links between coherence and organisational functionality by comparing the functioning and performance of the organisation using conventional indicators with data obtained from the Cassandra tool.
From available, conventional management data, it was apparent that although the hospital appears to deliver good results in terms of operational efficiency, it operates in a demanding environment with stretched resources, shows significant staff turnover and leave utilisation, and that there are some critical areas of dissatisfaction among the staff, namely internal communication, staff cohesion, and feeling under-valued by the organisation. The question was – would this same level of dissatisfaction show up in the analysis of the Cassandra data?
To find out, questionnaires were distributed opportunistically to hospital staff, directed mainly at clinical departments and the data captured was analysed using artificial neural networks – computational methodologies that can perform multifactorial analysis and interpretation of data.
From the results of the analysis, it was possible to broadly correlate the level of coherence in the organisation measured by Cassandra with functionality and performance measured by conventional indicators. The responses to most of the questions in the questionnaire suggested overall de-coherence within the organisation, with coherence in certain specific, discrete areas. For example, Cassandra showed a high level of coherence in the ‘diversity’, ‘complexity’, and ‘knowledge and sharing’ axes, which makes sense because the organisation functions as an academic and research institution where highly diverse skill-sets are required, and multidisciplinary, collaborative, activities must be undertaken by the workforce as part of their normal functioning.
But on most other axes, such as the ‘personal well-being’ and ‘leadership and teamwork’ axes, the results showed strong de-coherence, suggesting poor functioning and performance in those areas. The personnel statistics and the results of the staff satisfaction survey back this up showing that internal communication, staff cohesion and personal satisfaction may all be areas of weakness within this organisation.
Although in this study it was not possible to use the HeartMath tool to correlate these organisational results with individual coherence, the results do suggest a correlation between the coherence/consciousness of the workforce and the functionality and performance of the organisation.
The model seems able to pick up the same trends in organisational performance that conventional data hint at. But where the conventional data might flag a problem, this model is able to diagnose it with unprecedented accuracy by showing where in the organisation the misalignment is occurring thus making it possible to address the problems with greater precision – and speed.
01. Use the Cassandra tool to question management and analyse with neural networks. This will point to problem areas and areas of strength within the organisation.
02. Use HeartMath on individuals in the team. This would initiate a personal development plan for each person.
03. Organise a focus group, validating the outcomes of steps 2 and 3, and develop a change strategy for the organisation.
04. Manage the change process on an organisational level (based on the outcome of steps 1 and 3) and on an individual level, working with the outcomes of step 2.
REPEAT this process every six months by using the same four steps.
Towards an understanding of consciousness in organisations
On the widest scale, the link between consciousness and functionality, evident in this research, suggests that a high level of organisational consciousness may indeed be pivotal in building healthy organisations that produce sustainable, long-term value. It would then follow that understanding and influencing the consciousness of organisations should constitute a major part of managerial efforts.
Conventional management practices are largely focused on increasing shareholder wealth, and as such are mainly geared towards financial performance, through reliance on conventional business and financial indicators. However, many organisations managed in this way are seen to be unsustainable, and many do not succeed in creating overall value for society. It is therefore becoming more important to question and explore the driving force behind managerial decisions that so profoundly influence the functioning of organisations and the development of society.
Sustainability, through the long-term creation of value, should be the goal of businesses in our society, because it is through this that humanity as a whole can prosper.
This research suggests that, by taking a holistic view of management, which accepts and understands the role of consciousness in organisations, we can work towards building healthy organisations, which would contribute towards creating a more sustainable society for generations to come. Values are at the core of this vision. In many successful organisations today where values are an explicit part of what they do, values are not the driver of success but an essential part of the whole, an integration of all elements. Values are everywhere – or nowhere.
Thus, conscious organisations are valuesbased organisations. But whether we call it consciousness or values (or fourth sector or mission driven), could this be the mystery ingredient that makes some organisations thrive while others fail? This research holds out the promise that we have found a way to glimpse this mysterious currency, to measure it even with reliable third-party tools, so that we can start to understand it, manage it, and use it to improve more organisations.
If you want to build healthy organisations in today’s complex and uncertain climate, we believe you have to pay attention to consciousness. Too much time is lost focusing on improving the bottom line instead of getting the organisation ready for generating value. By focusing on consciousness – and values – you are getting your organisation fit for the future.