Take Care of the World, Take Care of You

There is a famous story from the Zen tradition that has been passed down for more than a thousand years, about two Zen teachers discussing a primary issue of where we put our focus and attention:

One teacher asks another, “Where do you come from?”

The second replies, “From the south.”

The first asks, “How is Zen practice in the South these days?”

The second responds, “There is lots of discussion.”

The first states, “How can all the discussion compare to planting the fields and cooking rice?

The second asks, “What are you doing about the world?”

The first replies, “What do you call the world?”

What do you call the world? How do you take care of the world and take care of yourself?

I find myself grappling with this question: What is the world and how do I take care of world and at the same time, how do I take care of myself – earning a living, shopping, cooking, eating, helping others, to solving the problems of “the world.” Could I be doing more and how can I have the most impact, best leverage my time and resources.

And the larger, underlying question – What do you call the world?

Many of us are committed to taking care of the world. We work hard to take care of our financial world, our family world, our internet/phone/electronic worlds, the world of our friends, our communities, the world of our body, and our spiritual worlds. Each person we meet is like their own world. Each experience we have can be its own world. Every organization is its own world. Sometimes each moment can seem like its own world; when we slow down enough to notice.

The question that this dialogue is raising is – What really matters? In what way is our activity helping, or not? What about the world of being, the world of just doing the simple, mundane things; things like planting the fields and cooking rice; things like meditation and other less goal-oriented activities; things like taking care of our children, or tending to our lives and the lives of others. What about taking care of these?

This simple dialogue also raises the issue of context and control – how much do we create our worlds, as well as the different worlds that exist and are created around us. What can we influence and what is beyond our influence?

There are many ways, small and large to change the world. One powerful way is to change the structure of corporations. I’m excited about the creation of a new corporate structure called a For-Benefit Corporation or a B-Corp, now legal in several states including the state of California. This movement has the potential for creating significant systemic change. Whereas the definition of a corporation today is that its sole responsibility is to maximize profits for its shareholders, a For-Benefit corporation has a different, wider responsibility built into its corporate By-Laws. A B-Corp’s responsibility is to be of benefit to its stakeholders and its customers. It operates with not just one bottom line, profits, but with three bottom lines: people, planet, profits.

Capitalism without a conscious is destructive and foolish. Just look slightly beneath the surface, at the damaging effects of our food supply systems, our manufacturing systems, issues of social and economic injustice. Building a society where greed is the only value leads to many unintended harmful consequences. The brilliance of redefining corporations is that it allows for all of the advantages of free markets combined with the consciousness and sensibility of taking care of people and the environment.

For more information about B-Corps: http://www.bcorporation.net/

Take a look at a TED talk about B-Corps by one of its founders, Jay Cohen Gilbert: http://www.bcorporation.net/B-Media/Videos

Please, take care of the world, and take care of you. What do you call the world?

“Don’t Stop The Line” and the Courage To Stop

“If you have these two things – the willingness to change, and the acceptance of everything as it comes, you will have all you need to work with.”
– Charlotte Selver

“Don’t stop the line.” For many years this was an agreement, almost an unwritten law of the General Motors assembly lines building cars and trucks. Management believed that keeping the car assembly line going at all times was essential. Keeping the line going was clearly more efficient than stopping the line. According to a 30-year GM employee, management assumed that “If the line stopped workers would play cards or goof off.” As a result of this philosophy and way of working, problems were ignored instead of addressed. Defective cars, some missing parts, or cars with parts put on backwards were put into their own special “defective” lot. This lot grew to enormous proportions. At some point, addressing and fixing these problem cars became too costly.

In late 2008, a group of General Motors assembly workers were sent to Fremont, California, as part of a GM/Toyota collaboration called NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.). Several GM managers were flown to Japan to learn the Japanese methodology for building cars. What they discovered— was an amazing aha! Anyone on the assembly line who had a concern about the quality of a part could stop the line at any time. Problems were addressed immediately. Groups of workers got together and address and solved problems. Toyota managers assumed that their workers wanted to build the best cars possible. At Toyota, constant improvement was a regular motto and attitude, and was regularly integrated within all aspects of car production. Teams were assembled to discuss problems, look for insights, and develop better methods for producing problem-free cars. Toyota consistently built better quality cars with more efficiency and lower costs.

General Motors went into bankruptcy and needed to be bailed out in 2008 by American taxpayers for many reasons. There were so many problems facing the company, but one notable contribution to its downfall was producing a poor quality product caused in part by not stopping and solving significant problems. I imagine that this “don’t stop the line” attitude was embedded in the company’s planning and strategy as well as assembly line. Just keep doing what we are doing and everything will be fine.

It is easy to look at GM and see their folly, and this particular GM tale is a well-known story in today’s organizational effectiveness lore. But what about my company and your company or organization? In my coaching and consulting practice, I notice many versions of “don’t stop the line.” It might take the form of “don’t question the boss” or “don’t confront the rude star salesperson.” It can also come in the guise of spending more time projecting and planning instead of cultivating strategic and critical thinking. There are many other subtle and not so subtle behaviors and habits of overlooking problems in the world of work. Stopping, admitting mistakes, working collaboratively and improving processes that are for the good of the organization, require courage and often require asking difficult questions.

What version of “don’t stop the line” is embedded in your organization, relationships, and life? What might stopping look like? What would courage look like?

More Vitality

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
– Pablo Picasso

“The antidote to exhaustion is not rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
– Brother David Steindl-rast

I was recently sitting in the office of a senior executive of a major corporation in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were meeting for the first time. During this conversation he shared with me his disappointment about work. “What happened?” he pondered. He had begun this job with such excitement and enthusiasm and now he felt discouraged and tired. “How did I get so busy, and disconnected? What happened to the enthusiasm and excitement I had for life as a child? When did my life get so out of balance?”

It is easy to fall into ruts of thinking, patterns of activity, false and undermining assumptions about our lives. If we continually make choices to be safe and secure, little by little we can find ourselves safe, secure and our edges dulled, work as more drudgery then heroic, and our relationships predictable.

Some questions I began with: Is there something you love about your work? Or, what might you love about your work? What do you look forward to doing? What brings you joy? What inspires you?

I asked: Who has been your most inspiring mentor, in your life or that you have read about?

I also recounted a short but powerful dialogue that comes from the Zen tradition: A student approached her teacher and says, “I’m feeling discouraged. What should I do?” The teacher responds by saying, “Encourage others.”

This executive has three people who report to him and oversees a department of more than 30 people. Imagine how his team must feel. Even if he doesn’t express his dissatisfaction, I imagine others can feel it and are influenced by it. Our emotions are contagious. Sometimes a way to shift our own mood is to become more aware of those around us. How can we help those we work with; how can we encourage others.

I also asked about some areas of his life that I think of as the most obvious and often the most important:
Sleep – what can you do to get a good night’s sleep.
Exercise – do you walk or play or exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
Food – do you pay attention to eating good, healthy food.
Conversations – do you have at least a few meaningful conversations each day, conversations where you are connecting on the level of your emotional life.