Deep introspection works for business, too
November, 2013 | Jared B. Tremper
I am not a true scholar, but once in a while it is wise to quote the classics:
“…and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. This is as I say, gentlemen, but it is not easy to convince you” (Plato, Apology 38a).
My life’s journey has often brought me towards points of introspection and examination. I often contemplate the path I am on: am I truly the person I want to be? What drives my actions? What is the meaning of it all? What situations or weaknesses elicit less than ideal responses?
I heartily agree with Plato that the unexamined life is not worth living. Put another way: a reckless existence is meaningless. It is profound that in fact little has changed since Plato. Many still prefer to take the road of mediocrity and myopia. Meaninglessness and lack of purpose is pervasive—except the pursuits of selfish gain. Such a life reveals the blazon blindness of many people.
Organizations, like people, also have personalities. They can suffer from the same kind of blindness. Some businesses sputter along without a clear ideology or purpose other than to simply make money by any means necessary. In a culture that desperately needs authentic heroes, such self-serving motives only perpetuate the problem. We need businesses that can muster the courage required for some deep examination and provide true leadership.
Deming put it this way in his first of the Fourteen Points: “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs” (W. Edwards Deming Institute). It is true that making money is important. Yet inherent in the point is a clear leadership principle: “create constancy of purpose…” Such thorough-going leadership penetrates the entire organization, and engages all stakeholders—everyone who has skin in the game.
Often in our weekly meetings the owner (Rick Bahl) will genuinely solicit ideas from everyone. This adheres to Deming’s fourteenth point: “Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.” The examined life in a business means that regular time for thinking be allocated for everyone. The words “I don’t pay you to think” should never be uttered from a leader’s lips. True, work needs to get done. But leading organizations realize the dignity of each person and the potential contributions made from open dialog. The 21st century is uncharted territory for all of us—the knowledge worker needs more than knowledge: wisdom is what is required. Organizations can develop wisdom through intentional examination of the life of the business itself.
What goes for people works well for organizations: the unexamined business is not worth operating.
Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966. Plato, Apology 38a. Ed. Editor-in-chief, Tufts University Gregory R. Crane. 2013. 20 September 2013. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=plat.+apol.+38a&redirect=true>.
W. Edwards Deming Institute. The Fourteen Points For The Transformation Of Management. 2013. 20 September 2013. <https://www.deming.org/theman/theories/fourteenpoints>.