#171 The Errors in the Idea of Purpose Driven Organizations

swarm of honey bees

Show Notes

From this episode:

“I think we have a role in a greater purpose, but arrogance makes it hard to see. Humans see themselves as the center, the destructive ones but also the reformed ones. We see humans needing to go from doing bad things to doing good things. Until we learn to listen and not put themselves in the driver’s seat, they will keep misunderstanding our role. And all of life suffers.”

In this episode:

This episode presents a framework of three worldviews for understanding purpose in organizations.  They are the authority worldview, the humanist worldview, and the living systems worldview. We’ll see how acting from the first two worldviews creates critical errors, both in parenting and business, as well as exploring the indigenous origins of the living systems worldview.

Check out the article we’ll be critiquing before listening to the podcast:

Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization – How to get employees to bring their smarts and energy to work by Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor

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Transcript

Zac: WELCOME back to Business Second Opinion Podcast. We’re always excited to bring you another episode

But first…WE want to welcome this month’s sponsor. No wait! Time for a change. Time for upleveling our show and partners to an acceleration of The Regenerative Paradigm. We are opening up sponsorship to those who relate to our work and worldview, want to associate their name with us and vice versa. In the end we want for these folks to value the idea of sponsoring disruptive and thought provoking dialogues. Maybe they use our podcast content in their organizations and associations to uplift thinking. So we are opening our sponsorship to new and additional sponsors starting in June. If you can’t get enough of Zac and Carol and the contrarian view of Business Second Opinion, ask for a prospectus and proposal. Also we are about to launch The Regenerative Media Company that will be adding a TV channel, called Regenerative Life Hacks, on YouTube, having conversations that are both quirky and compelling. Real stories and experiences that wake up people, their organizations and communities to a regenerative paradigm. Email carol@carolsanford.com for more info on sponsorship and shows.

Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to explore questions about business and business practice. In the process of examining them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but one that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects. And by the way, if you want to learn more about how to work more closely with us, stay tuned at the end of the show.

I am Zac Swartout, and always with me is Carol Sanford, our inhouse positive contrarian. Who responds to big and hard questions with a radically different take. 

Hey Carol

Carol: Hi Zac, I have been making people mad among our membership community members. Well, maybe not mad, but more like confused. Our audience and members are all well-intended, “make a difference” folks. They strongly identify with being Purpose-Driven, Mission-Driven, Vision-Driven businesses, as organizations and individual humans. I have been repeatedly saying that such identities are diversions! Meaning it is not hitting the nail on the head nor advancing significantly the kind of change they envision when labeling themselves in this way or designing their business around it as a focusing or core concept and strategy

Zac:  You’re been getting people riled up? Say it aint so? But I can see how people can get defensive about this topic. Folks can get their entire identity wrapped around really high level intentions which are pointed to by these monikers or even mantras that they create. For them, it indicates who their community is. Are you going to say more about this admonition you are offering? 

Carol: When we were in a community meeting of the Governing Bodies, two members said almost simultaneously, that I needed to do a podcast because it was hard for them to explain to others although they were beginning to really see the errors they had been blind to before.

Zac: Great well let’s dive in! We hinted at this before but never really said much about why. So the article from HBR is called Creating a Purpose Driven Organization by Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor from the July/August 2018 issue. I thought as I read it, that if I was associated with many ecological and social activists, it would feel like preaching to the choir. But I have now trained myself to read others’ offerings with discriminating judgement rather than as affirmation or debate with my own ideas.

Carol: I think we will do what often helps, which is use what I call an ordering framework to see the differences about worldviews. Let’s try three we will call, an authority worldview, a humanist worldview and a living systems worldview. And take living systems from an indigenous worldview.

Zac: By worldview we mean a connected set of ideas, usually held unconsciously, about how humans, our world, and universe work and what that means for how we should think and live.

Carol: Maybe you give a quick summary of the article for those who have not read it

Zac: Oh right yea – ok so the article’s by line really says it all: “How to get employees to bring their smarts and energy to work.” Implying here that there’s a problem and that employees don’t do this automatically so we need to fix it.

The authors propose that the way to get people invested and motivated at work is to have them discover a sense of purpose. The authors then outline an 8 step process:

  1. Envision an inspired workforce
  2. Discover the purpose
  3. Recognize the need for authenticity
  4. Turn the authentic message into a constant message
  5. Stimulate individual learning
  6. Turn midlevel managers into purpose-driven leaders
  7. Connect the people to the purpose
  8. Unleash the positive energizers

Carol: We also might offer a foundation on authority and humanist worldview. Why don’t you start with authority and I will add in humanist

Zac: The authority worldview comes to us from a much older time – think Kings and Queens. Where all authority was sourced from the man on the top and whatever he says goes. That man is also the source of all wisdom, decisions, you name it. We still see it reflected today in many of our institutions but before I jump too far ahead  – Carol how about humanist?

Carol: Most of our audience and community members were steeped in the humanist worldview before they joined us. It is infused with the idea of being better humans and doing good for others and increasingly it includes for non human others and having a mission or purpose about caring for Earth. 

Zac, where were you educated and worked in this way and what did it mean?

Zac: Yeah, that was a big part of my life while I was in business school. The Bainbridge Graduate Institute or BGI, now Presidio, was a school founded on principles of sustainability – which also is borne out of the humanist movement. For me it meant that I needed to put people, the planet, and profit on the same footing and ensure that I was accounting for the benefits and impacts to all of them simultaneously. 

Carol:  George Lakoff, the UC Berkeley Linguist has a useful take on this. He says it is easy to see in  parenting. The difference between the authority view and humanist view.  Family roles. The main belief which underlies the strict father model of the authority model is the belief that the world is a dangerous place. In authority view, children are believed to learn internal discipline, that is, the ability to make themselves do things they don’t want to do but which are necessary for becoming strong, self-reliant, competitive, and independent, all highly regarded qualities in this worldview.

Zac, How does this fit with your idea of an authority worldview?

Zac: That definitely lands. I grew up in a household with a stern father and nurturing mother. Although I’m not sure the strictness worked on me. I still can’t stand doing things I don’t want to do. Although that doesn’t sound like the worldview played out as intended.

Carol: This is a quick summary of a complex set of ideas, however, one can see immediately that these assumptions about the world as dangerous and humans as naturally bad have a long history in Western thought, usually expressed theologically as the fallenness of nature and the doctrine of original sin. It would contend that you need strict methods of childrearing to actually have children grow up and know how to be in the world, and that’s how they get shaped.

Zac: I also think that the authority view promotes experiences that split children off from a wider spectrum of experience. From embodied experiences, to the world in which they live. Not to mention how the child relates to itself, to other people, and to nature in a controlling and dominating way, rather than in a reciprocal and relational way. 

Carol: According to Lakoff, the assumptions about the world underlying the nurturing parent model are more benign, but in my view they are still very Western when compared to Asian or indigenous thought which I want to introduce to our worldview conversation. Lakoff stated that nurturing parenting assumes that the world should and can become better. They also assume that children are born good and should be made better. The parents are responsible to nurture their children and turn them into nurturers, people who can both empathize with and act responsibly toward themselves and others. Persons with this more relational egoic structure would be more available for dialogue and negotiation rather than relying on repression and domination. 

Zac, how does your own upbringing fit here? And your current parenting intentions?

Zac: This definitely fits more with my mom’s approach. I would also say that I’ve seen this reflected also more in my female teachers growing up than my male teachers, who were mostly leaned more heavily into the authority role. This was helpful to me to be able, as you say, to understand how to relate to people more. I gravitated more towards this as a younger person, while never understanding nor welcoming the authority approach.

Carol: The nurturing parent model is thus a more benign form of a Western worldview than the strict father model, however, it is still very Western in one key way: the belief that the world can and should be made better by humans. In contrast, an underlying assumption of ancient Eastern thought as well as of much Indigenous thought is that the world is already harmonious and self-balancing. The human role is not to shape it, even in a benign and nurturing way, but to align oneself with it, seeing their distinctive and additive role in it. Thus, modern humans who are concerned about the environment and who are beginning to identify with Native American or First Nations thought should be cautious in assuming that they really understand indigenous thought. It is easy to filter the words of Native teachers through a nurturing parent model of reality and think that you mean the same thing. The actual differences between Native thought and Western thought are much deeper, akin to the differences between Eastern and Western thought, and require a deeper silencing of the Western ego in order to be apprehended.

Zac: Which brings us back to purpose-driven, mission driven, visions driven. I can see how both a mix of authority and nurturing here at the same time. Its authority aspects play out here in the leader being the source of the purpose and needed to get people to adhere to it. While the humanist recognizes the need for individuals to find the purpose in their own way so they use trainings to facilitate that learning. 

Carol: A few years ago, I asked a Lumi elder in the Calichon region of Vancouver Island, in your province of British Columbia, a question that fits here. I was working with the Deputy Ministers in the Province on seeing a Regenerative Paradigm of economic development (a video of one final presentation on my Vimeo channel). The DMs were very enamored of writing purpose and mission statements for the few years before I arrived. So I asked the Lumi Elder what he thought of that and did the tribe have a mission, purpose or vision. He was quiet for such a long time, I thought he did not hear me or was politely pointing out how I had not spoken clearly. Then he told me a story about the birth of humans into a land from beyond time which was so moving. But he ended by saying, “I think we have a role in a greater purpose, but arrogance makes it hard to see. Humans see themselves as the center, the destructive ones but also the reformed ones. We see humans needing to go from doing bad things to doing good things. Until we learn to listen and not put themselves in the driver’s seat, they will keep misunderstanding our role. And all of life suffers.”

Zac, What is your experience of that story? How does it show up in your life, business or communities?

Zac: As you are talking I notice the language the elder used “we have a role in a greater purpose.” Once again, the purpose isn’t ours. We don’t own it, as the article would want you to believe. We can only seek to contribute to it and it’s up to us to figure out how to do that in a good way.

Carol: Our language makes it easy to see if we look. The noun is always we or I, with an active verb, of some kind of doing. We stop doing or start doing something to make things better. And there is then an object. Some issue or problem for some set of people or place. The humanist view is transferred to our well-intended ideas about a better world for people and planet, and think that’s our job to do. But language can give you a discerning clue.

Zac: We humans do get really committed to our missions and purposes. Which are, as we have pointed to before, from fragmented ideas we generate from a fragmenting mind. As a contrast, the indigenous mind seeks to hear and understand. In our school, we use the 7 first principles as an instrument for listening. But you have to use an indigenous, regenerative living systems mind to do so, or it is hard to understand. Instead we get caught up wanting to know what I as a self-identified good person am going to do to show my commitment. 

Carol: We speak to our good deeds and their consequences or impacts and results. “Did we do to it what we set out to do?” Not, “what is the system pursuing and what is our role, and contribution in any transaction?” We seek new behaviors for people and systems and work to bring those about with our philanthropy, feedback, behavior modification, missions, purposes for children and employees.

Zac, does this seem evident to you and how do you see it? Give some examples if you would. 

Zac: Sure, so I’m sure many people know about the statistics around North American trees. So there are more trees now in the US than there were 100 years ago. This is in large part due to conservation efforts and the replanting efforts of companies like Weyerhauser. So sustainability works right? We’re fine now right? Well this also doesn’t take into account the devastation of old growth forests and the second and third order effects of that. As you say Carol, we set out to plant more trees, but what do these ecosystems need to thrive and how might we best contribute to their ongoing growth and evolution?

Carol: The authors suggested first and second to “envision an inspired workforce and discover a purpose”. How does the humanist, nurturing parent fit here? Where does it blindly charge into our story here?

Zac: Rather than forcing people to think in a certain way the authors instead are encouraging and supporting people to see something they might not otherwise. So there is a nurturing aspect here. However it’s not an indigenous way of thinking. It’s still focused exclusively on humans, and really only inside the organization, and drops out the level of systemic thinking required to contribute to a whole.

Carol: And then, third and fourth, to “ be authentic and create a constant message around that authenticity?” Speak to this as a worldview and how language helps give them away. 

Zac: So this one is slightly more tricky. On its face seems like a humanist worldview but it’s actually about authority. Really it goes back to the idea of role modeling as a leader which is all about following authority, rather than discovering a new way to listen for what is being called for.

Carol: finally “stimulate individual learning,”  and have “purpose-driven leaders”. Why are they starting from the wrong place and that gets them here? It sounds so good and makes most well-intended people ecstatic? Why should they not be jumping for joy?

Zac: On their face they seem great. But once you dig into the details of what the authors mean here is where we run into trouble. Once again looking at the language around stimulating individual learning – what they actually mean is that: “learning and development are powerful incentives”. Incentives coming from an authority paradigm. And when they discuss turning midlevel managers into purpose driven leaders, what they actually mean is doing a different kind of training to help them again, be better role models.

Then, Carol, why does this matter anyway?  We are not doing bad like some in society in a self-centered way.

Carol: But we are still human centered. And often a subset of humans’ ideas about humans. We have to get to a system-centered way.  A working whole or life, democracy and society as we know it will cease to exist. For all species and forms of life, likely. To engage in an Indigenous worldview, we have to learn to image systems as work, not systems as things made up of parts. Not just how they relate and connect, but how they work. How a mountain lifeshed is working to be alive by continuous nested relationships acting in a systemic reciprocity. If we envision a board marker,  from a humanist view and want to improve it, we start by looking at its parts and how to make them better.  If from seek a systems views we are in a setting at a surface with an idea to convey in a particular setting with particular people

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Carol: We have several new learning communities to do this kind of thinking starting in 2021.   If today’s show intrigued you, it was sparked by members in one of our regenerative business communities. The second year is about leadership including leadership of change in one business or organization and an industry. Check out our different business communities at CarolSanfordIntitute.com under Offerings.

Zac: Many of you all might be wondering how to get your idea selected by Business Second Opinion for a show. You can go to the Business Second Opinion webpage and drop a business practice you want to question, but you need to be sure that it has an authored article that people can reach and read (Harvard Business Review has limited, but open access). And remember – you want a second opinion, not a first opinion.

Carol:  Your organization can set up a book club for The Regenerative Life, using an extensive workbook and video online Workshops for Free.  50% discounts on bulk buys through my publisher. More at carolsanford.com.

Zac: This has been Business Second Opinion

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Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to answer questions about business and business practice, you may not know you need to ask. But we believe you should be asking for the benefit of your understanding and your business’s ethics and practice. In the process of answering them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects.

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