Can you step back from your mind
This puzzling question suggests the deepest intuitive experience whether it occurs in a manager's private life or the affairs of today's global enterprise. Given the challenges facing organizations in the 21st century, the rational mind alone does not provide the comprehension needed for decision-making. More than ever, managers must respond decisively with knowing that reaches beyond experience as their organizations cope with radical shifts in the ways of doing business.
With the explosive growth of e-commerce, the past half decade has ushered in the most rapid and concentrated change in the history of human enterprise. Other economic developments pale in comparison to the upheaval caused by the birth of the internet. And changes brought on by the world wide web in the last five years seem modest compared to what the pundits foresee in the first decade of the new millennium. Without intuitive knowing, rationality and knowledge fail to bridge the gap between what is known and what is needed to make decisions in the face of these landmark transformations.
Charlie Rose's PBS interviews with CEOs from all sectors of the high tech industry capture the spirit of these changes. The subtext of each interview has been that we are experiencing perhaps the most extraordinary change since humans discovered fire or first conceived the wheel. In this maelstrom around the globe, the internet has emerged as an unwitting handmaiden to a world community as people and organizations interconnect without regard to national boundaries or ethnic differences. For many surfing the web, borders separating state from state and tribal memories pitting people against people suddenly appear to be anachronisms inherited from our dark past. The irony of electronic globalization in the face of ever more heightened ethnic clashes in every corner of the planet has not been lost on the thoughtful executive.
All of ones training and experience does not prepare them for such far reaching changes in the way clients and competitors are globally interconnected. To cope with this reality, executives, managers, and employees alike must access intuitive knowing that reaches into the wisdom of being beyond habitual patterns of doing.
Access to our wisdom depends on how easily we complement, but not disregard, our rational mind with intuitive knowing. Resolving the paradox of the opening quote from Steven Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching holds a key to unlocking the "doing not-doing" quality of personal wisdom. Nothing less will meet the management challenges of the revolutionary transformation in world enterprise propelling business into the 21st century.
Doing versus Being
The Tao expresses this ability as wei wu wei. Although alien to Western thinking, managers express doing not-doing or "being" unconsciously. One executive described his way of being as "organizational aikido" while another talked about her "spontaneous movement." Their unconscious way of being opens the door for wisdom in their decisions. Stepping back from doing, managers make choices that are less distorted by distractions such as stress, personal fears and desires, and general mental clutter. Athletes speak of this attitude as "being in the zone." When they are in the zone, they anticipate the actions of other players and respond appropriately as each moment of action unfolds.
This doing not-doing experience has been described as a "state of flow" and in another context, expressed as "live in the present . . . the future will unfold." When the zone, flow or living in the present characterize management action, the correspondence between decision making and the implicit needs of a situation is ideal. Sailors recognize this feeling when their hand on the helm harmonizes with the wind and currents to achieve optimal boat performance.
Trying to describe the experience, athletes and sailors as well as managers speak fleetingly about acting in harmony with or being connected to everything. Harmonizing with the fabric of wholeness, managers align their decisions with the spontaneous movement implicit in their organization's organic unfolding. In contemporary physics, this web of connection which has been recognized in the perennial traditions for millennia is described as a "fifth field" which subtly interconnects our mind with the universe. Technically it is referred to as the "vacuum-based zero-point holofield" or "psi field" for short. Later we explore quantum physics as a rationale for the psi field. [Follow the link Display Episode 16 on Doing Not-Doing for an excerpt from the Tao of Managing about this quality in the workplace. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.]
Our appreciation for the interconnected way of acting came from a career exploring the sources of knowing on which decisions are based. Beginning in systems analysis, information from manual and computer based data systems seemed to be the essential basis for decision. Working with middle managers in operations research, designing and implementing decision models, the role of knowledge gained through experience became important.
Finally as a manager, the factors that expert systems could not represent suggested a wisdom knowing that reached beyond information and knowledge to close the gap between what was known and what was needed for decision making. As sources of intuition, both doing knowledge and being wisdom complement rational information. We use "intuition in the small" to characterize knowledge and "intuition in the large" to recognize the wisdom source of knowing that a manager can call on when information and knowledge are incomplete. Wisdom surfaces when managers align with the natural integrity of their organization's inherent dynamic.
Since management wisdom is clouded by the doing not-doing paradox, managers respond with disbelief when they consider the idea of wisdom guiding decisions. Fortunately, there is a deep sense within all individuals that already recognizes the spirit of wisdom knowing. But connecting with that sense requires holding rationality at bay to make room for wisdom. Without reassurance, the rational self becomes defensive and dismisses ideas that challenge it's authority. Since this conservative stance represents one of the more valuable roles that rationality plays for managers, we honor the rational self. This protective reaction guards an individual from being taken in by unwarranted claims.
When rationality responds with a knee jerk rejection of challenging ideas, significant management opportunities are missed. This fatal flaw can be avoided by suspending but not abandoning judgment until new ideas have been tried on for size. We must reassure the rational mind that there is nothing to lose and something to gain from management wisdom.
Paradoxically, suspending the rational mind makes it possible to understand what it means to step back from the mind. By spending a couple of hours a week exploring wisdom with an intuition journal, disbelief gradually turns into appreciation. After trying it out for several months, if not acceptance, most managers admit the possibility of a wisdom way of knowing. Some go further to embrace intuition in the large, "I wish I had discovered and learned to trust this part of me long ago."
The Noetic Perspective
Given its paradoxical quality, wisdom knowing cannot be understood through conventional research. Contemporary "separateness" science is not robust enough to study intuition given a world view that only admits physical sense data while dismissing the authority of inner knowing. Our explorations required a view that extends science beyond external facts to include internal experience. In place of repeatable rational experiments, our research shifted to one of a kind intuitions verified through subjective consensus rather than objective analysis.
Noetic "wholeness" science which accepts subjective reports of experience as valid data honors the interconnectedness of all things and recognizes the interdependence of the observer and observed. Our research drew as much on intuitive insight as it did on rational analysis to study intuition. We used intuitive knowing to study intuitive knowing. This method is championed by the Institute of Noetic Sciences founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell. The organization supports research initiatives that embrace the full spectrum of human experience in a holistic approach to scientific study.
Using the noetic view, we encourage managers to become inner explorers of their experience by keeping an intuition journal. This approach follows in the footsteps of the indigenous science of intrapersonal discovery which focuses on the ordinary experiences of daily life. Down through the millennia, indigenous science as practiced in the various forms of yoga and the varieties of shamanism have set the pace for the exploration of intuitive knowing.
Taking a lead from these practices by attending to their "still, small voice," managers find that intuitive experiences are frequent and deal with routine situations as well as strategic issues. The variety of intuitions that occur at all levels of responsibility is suggested by the experiences described in the following table. They are summarized from journal entries prepared by clerical, staff, and line personnel about decision issues. [Follow the links in the second column of the table to display the complete entry for anyone of these examples. Use your browser's back button to return to this table.]
To characterize an experience, each journal entry includes an assessment of the relative degree of the rational/intuitive and internal/external dimensions of the issue measured on a seven point scale. The larger the value, the more significant were intuition and intuition in the large respectively. For all levels of responsibility, the second column shows these decisions included a mix of rational and intuitive sources as well as intuition in the small (internal) and intuition in the large (external).
Routine decisions typically depend more on rational factors and intuition in the small while strategic choices more often involve intuition in the large. Sometimes routine decisions include intuition that reaches beyond personal knowledge to draw on wisdom. The clerical decision to hold off releasing the reports beyond the deadline measured 6 on intuition and the degree of intuition in the large as the source of that intuition was 5.