Human Values

According to the Indian programme ‘Education in Human Values’​ created by educator Sathya Sai Baba, the great aim of education is the development of character. At the heart of the programme are five human values which are instilled in all students. These are love, peace, righteousness, truth and non-violence.

Human Values

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai. Source: Wikipedia

I thought I would share this short quote from our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. In turbulent and chaotic times, and times when an organisation is experiencing a bifurcation – a rapid transition from one state to another – the practising of human values is essential:

An education devoid of values results in the loss of the ability to see connections and the dynamic relationship between the parts and the whole. Introducing human values such as love, peace, righteousness, truth and non-violence into education develops exactly what Sergio has stressed – not just intelligence, but also wisdom. The Indian programme ‘Education in Human Values’​ was created with the explicit intention of producing future leaders who would receive an education infused with these values. We can refer to this as a form of ‘holonomic education’, one which prepares the individual not only for financial independence, which enables a dignified life, but also for a life of better choices, greater happiness and harmony. If we do not have this on a personal level, we will never have it at the social level – of households, organisations and society.

Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson – Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

Universal human values form the ethical and spiritual foundation of an organisation, allowing people to connect, communicate and work together in teams in order to achieve common goals. Authentic dialogue becomes possible, allowing the whole to overcome not just complex but wicked problems.

Film Review: The Pilgrimage – The Best Story of Paulo Coelho

Não Pare Na PistaThis weekend Maria and I went to see the recently released “Não Pare na Pista: A Melhor História de Paulo Coelho” the film biopic of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. This translates as “Don’t Stop on the Track” with the film’s full English title becoming “The Pilgrimage – The Best Story of Paulo Coelho”.

I am sure Coelho needs little introduction as the author of The Alchemist, selling over 165 million books (all titles). Coelho is the only author in the world to be more translated than Shakespeare,  and has won numerous literacy awards around the world.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

It is interesting that Coelho appears to have a much lower profile here in Brazil than his global success would suggest he warrants, and as I could not find many English-language reviews, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on what turned out to be an excellent portrayal of his incredibly intense teenage and early adult years.

The film is not a linear progression of Coelho’s life. It weaves a number of narrative threads through three periods of his life – his late teenage years, his late twenties and thirties, and his life as it is now. The younger Coelho is convincingly played by Ravel Andrade, with both the adult and old Coelhos played by Júlio Andrade.

Ravel Andrade

Ravel Andrade

Guti Fraga

As a troublesome teenager, Coelho is incarcerated in a mental hospital where is he administered horrendous electric-shock treatment by Doctor Edgar Mutarelli, played by the very wonderful actor Guti Fraga, who Maria and I had the pleasure to meet in 2011 when he spoke at that year’s Strategy Execution Summit about his work teaching children to act in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. For all its glamour, Brazil is a tough country to live for many, and there must be hundreds of thousands of extremely moving stories yet to be told to the rest of the world here.

Coelho harbours a dream of being a writer, a dream that continues into his early twenties, an extremely strange period in the history of Brazil which saw both the start of the brutal dictatorial period, as well as a flourishing underground movement which unlike the loved-up psychedelic sixties of Britain, had a much more darker edge, with the disappearance, brutal beatings, torture and killings of thousands of young dissenters.

Ravel Andrade

Ravel Andrade

I thought that the transition from teenager to adult was fantastic, the director seguing the manic dancing of both Coelhos together, capturing the excitement of the freedom and energy of the young artist. As Coelho starts his alternative sci-fi managzine 2001, he meets singer Raul Seixas, played by Lucci Ferreira, himself a larger-than-life musician whose own biopic is also well worth watching if you are interested in Brazilian music of the 60s and 70s.

Júlio Andrade and Lucci Ferreira

One of the slightly queasy aspects of living in Brazil, especially as a Brit, is the fact that the consequences of the dictatorial period, being so recent, are still resonating in Brazilian society today. This connection of the present to the past really impacts on one key scene, where Coelho, like so many other musicians, artists and intellectuals were rounded up and imprisoned. I won’t spoil the film to say what happens next.

As  I mentioned before, the film cuts back and forth to the modern day, where Coelho and his wife Christina Oiticica, played by Fábiana Gugli, are in Spain for the launch of the 25th anniversary edition of The Alchemist. If there was one aspect of the film which didn’t work for me, it was the heavy prosthetics required to age Andrade, which kept knocking me out of the experience of the film somewhat.

Santiago de Compostela

That aside, director Daniel Augusto’s treatment of an older Coelho reflecting on his life, perhaps yearning for his more rebellious years, and rediscovering friends as he accidentally finds himself back on the road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, the path of pilgrims which Coelho undertook in 1986 and which would lead to his own spiritual awakening and the inspiration for The Alchemist, was well-crafted and gives the film some inspiring textured emotional and philosophical layers.

I myself first read The Alchemist in 2005 as I flew to India where I would live for some months. At this time Coelho’s books were near omnipresent, although I myself knew little about the writer. It can be a slight shock to discover his alternative past, which not only was psychedelic but also included periods in which he took part in occult ceremonies, an aspect of Coelho’s life which the film does not run from or try to diminish.

For all its potential sensationalism his life offers, I felt that this was a sensitive and well-observed attempt at capturing the whole life of Coelho, a feat surely difficult to undertake if it is to be contained within a film of little under two hours.

Julio Andrade

Julio Andrade

It was interesting as there were a couple of groups of young teens at our showing, teens who were rudely being noisily boisterous despite shusshing and countless warnings from the cinema staff. I don’t know why they went, as I thought that it was maybe not so suitable for them, and to the relief of the rest of the audience, they left after around maybe half an hour or so. Maybe they thought the film would be full of sex and drugs, and while these are referenced, we never lose sight of the writing, the philosophy, the spirituality and the reflections of one of the most influential authors in the world.

You yourself may or may not be a fan of Coelho’s writing, but either way, this is a hugely enjoyable film, capturing every side of this complex thinker, spiritual guide and story teller. I don’t know if the film has been released outside of Brazil yet, but it really deserves to do well. Sensitively acted, beautifully portrayed, textured, profound and exciting, I can definitely recommend this to all of you.


Book Review – Hearing our Calling: Rethinking Work and the Workplace

Hearing Our Calling Gill CoombsWith an already extensive catalogue of non-fiction books covering Steiner-Waldorf education, biodynamics and organics, holistic health, philosophy of the natural world, mind body spirit, parenting and child health, philosophy of human life and religion & spirituality, in 2013 Floris Books made the decision to expand into business and economics. Starting this April with our own book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, the following month Floris then published Hearing our Calling from our good friend Gill Coombs, who like me studied Holistic Science at Schumacher College.

Hearing our Calling is an inspirational invitation to re-evaluate what is truly important and meaningful to us in our work. Gill shows how so many of us came to occupy predictable and homogenised roles, characterised as ‘busyness’ and not authentic business. Drawing on her many years of experience as a therapeutic counsellor, she provides real-life case studies across a range of sectors to show how we too can mobilise to create workplaces in harmony with nature and which support healthy communities.

Gill Coombs

Gill Coombs

The book starts with a look back at the history of work, enabling us to better understand both the current workplace today, and the impact on both ourselves and society. Having first examined what has gone wrong in modern economies, Gill then leads us towards an examination of what it means to have a vocation in life:

Vocation is something special. It’s our primary calling, and when we’re engaged in our vocational work it’s as if we are simply a tool or a conduit for what the universe is trying to do: be it writing a book, making a chair or singing a song. We can often hear our calling when we’re very young; we experiment with it through play. But as we pass through a long and rigid education system, our primary gifts can atrophy through lack of use and encouragement.

This notion of a calling is not static but dynamic:

We all have a calling: work which draws us, emerging through our history and our context. But it isn’t a fixed, unchanging vocation which we must identify and then make our way towards, and then having found it simply do it and be complete for the rest of our lives. We’re constantly evolving along with our context, physically and psychologically changing, and changed by, all we encounter. Each time this happens we are refined. We become more complex; we deepen and we grow. And so does our work.

I enjoyed reading about the many different people Gill has helped in her career, and I am sure that there will be much recognition from many of us who may recognise certain situations we have found ourselves in when working in particularly stressful or unfulfilling roles. In this example, Gill shows how the helped a sales director discover his sense of play:

Richard used to worry that during our coaching sessions, in which we were supposed to be talking about developing his leadership skills, he would often digress into completely unconnected topics such as radio comedy shows. To begin with, we found ways of disciplining and limiting these digressions. But as I became increasingly aware of their nature, it grew clear that the digressions were trying to take our coaching work somewhere important.

Yes, Richard agreed when I put it to him: he would love to be a comedy script writer. He’d fantasised about it lots of times, and developed little skits with friends. We explored the possibility of his seeking to develop his career in this direction, and he wrote a couple of scripts, but it didn’t feel to either of us like the right route.

We began to look at other possible outlets for his comedic talents. What eventually emerged was that he passionately wanted to influence the procedure-bound culture of the organisation of which he was a director, and could see no way of doing so – until we explored introducing the notion of play… and then he began to have ideas. His vocation ‘would out’, and made its presence clearly known during our sessions.

How Richard’s calling will evolve in the future, I don’t know. Through our work together he found an expression, a response, which felt right for that time in his life. I imagine there will be more twists and turns to his story. Calling is a process, rather than a distant goal.

Hearing Our Calling is an insightful treatise guiding us towards happier, more purposeful lives filled with generosity, spontaneity, creativity, connectedness and love. Looking to the future, Gill closes with a look at both the future of education and a new conceptualisation of the workplace.

A return to the values of the community and also more mature approaches to conflict play key roles in this vision, as do of course the design of healthier environments. Gill asks to imagine a society that asks of us not “can you find a job” but “what needs can you respond to?” and it is in answering this second question that we will find meaning, health and happiness in our work.

Related Articles

Book Review Taking Appearance Seriously Henri Bortoft

Book Review: Thinking Like a Plant: A Living Science for Life by Craig Holdrege

Book Review: Smart Swarm – Using Animal Behaviour to Change our World

Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College

Contemplating Parts and Wholes with a Walk Down São Paulo’s Most Enchanting Street

Maria and I were back at Sustentare Business School this weekend teaching MBA students about chaos, complexity, holonomic thinking and strategy. One toy I have that makes a great visual impression is my Hoberman sphere, which starts as a compacted ball, but which you can extend into a large interconnected sphere.

Hoberman Sphere

Hoberman Spehere Sustentare

It is a fun way to talk about the way in which we perceive parts and wholes in organisations. Many times we are so focused on our teams, our departments, our projects and our products and services, we fail to understand the organisation as a system. We fail to see the interconnections, relationships and processes which impact on both ourselves and the organisation as a whole. This dynamic also extends to seeing our organisations as self-contained spheres and not perceiving the way in which our organisations interconnect organically into the wider ecosystem.

While the Hoberman sphere is brilliant at introducing the theme of the relationship between the whole and the parts, at the end of the day it is still a mechanical device. What we we need when we dive deeply into the systems view of life is a more organic way of comprehending the relationship, and for this we need holonomic thinking. We need to move into a way of seeing which sees the whole as an ‘active absence’ – a stance we take in which we do not step back to see the whole, but plunge into a contemplation of the parts in order to encounter the way in which the whole expresses itself, comes-to-presence in the parts.

Credit: Fernando Peire

Credit: Fernando Peire

One programme we discussed on the course was the Channel 5 series The Restaurant Inspector with Fernando Peire, who each episode visits a failing restaurant to offer his expert advice to the owners on what is wrong and what they should do. In this When talking about the dynamics of seeing, this programme is brilliant for showing the contrasting ways in which Peire perceives the restaurant from the owners.

His approach is entirely from the experience of the clientele, something which the owners often really struggle to understand. More than this, in this quote from Peire, we discover his whole mental model of the restaurant which affects every aspect of his work:

Peire takes an almost paternal, nurturing interest in both the restaurant and the Club. For him, it is always about creating the right atmosphere, the right ambience, so that the particular, Ivy magic can emerge. How does he describe what makes the Ivy special? “It’s the conversation. The Ivy is all about conversation. When you read about the Ivy, people talk about the buzz. I’m very proud of our staff too – they are an integral part of the Ivy. But it’s people talking to each other – even married couples talking to each other…”

Source: London Book Fair

Restaurants are of course incredibly sensory experiences, and recently I discovered an incredibly enchanting street in São Paulo that really epitomised the way in which an owner of a restaurant understands the experience of the clientele. This example really helps me to explain the concept of the dynamic relationship between the whole and parts, and of the active absence of the whole.

Avanhandava Street (Rua Avanhandava) lies in the heart of São Paulo, and the only way to introduce it to you is with this story of the street from Walter Mancini. In 1980 Mancini opened the first Famiglia Mancini restaurant (Mancini Family) but his vision was greater than just one single restaurant. He thus began the first project in São Paulo to renovate an entire street, and in this video he will show what it has now become.

The street is home to five restaurants and two shops, and the experience for visitors begins at the very entrance, which comes into its own at night with the street lights and fountains. In this second video Mancini shows us around probably the most famous restaurant, Famiglia Mancini, which sees queues of people waiting for a table every single day of the week.

The restaurant has been created and developed since 1980 with great love and devotion, as you can see from the great enthusiasm of Mancini. The details are astounding, it is truly an experience of near sensory overload, and both Maria and I will definitely be returning to be able to take in all those aspects which we will have missed on the first visit.

Madreperola is their sea food restaurant, and as the camera pans around, see how much detail you can take in:

As you would of course expect, there is a pizza and pasta restaurant, and in this video look out for the innovation which stops the pizzas from humidifying when taken out of the firewood ovens:

In introducing Il Ristaurante, Mancini focuses on just one aspect, the music:

Mancini clearly has an artistic eye for detail, both a skill and great love which inspired Calligrafia, a name which was inspired by his love of handwritten lettering and calligraphy.

I hope you have enjoyed these short videos. If we go back to the original theme of this article, it was the relationship between the whole and the parts. It allows us to contemplate what Famiglia Mancini is as a whole.

Famiglia Mancini is not simply the totality of the physical parts. There is something more about Famiglia Mancini that we can not write down, we can not touch and feel, but which to us exists and which we encounter through a sensitive contemplation of each and every part. This allows us to experience Rua Avanhandava as an authentic whole, where every part belongs together, creating an unbroken experience we can delight in.

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

We can only really grasp the whole in our intuition, and so this is why it is important to contemplate the four different ways of knowing: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition. In this mode of experience we are discussing, we are moving from the sensory to the intuitive, and in our intuitions we will discover the meaning of Famiglia Mancini.

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

It may seem obvious that a restaurant owner understands the experience of the client, but in so many cases this appears not be the case, as it was for Maria and I who went to a restaurant recently where the staff seemed to be happy to play music from a radio, with adverts, and as such we decided to leave. The restaurant we did discover was one where the owner also owned a farm and who used all his own ingredients in the food, which was extremely tasty, and we will certainly be returning very soon.

I will be returning to Rua Avanhandava as it has inspired an idea for a photographic project. It would be amazing to meet Walter Mancini and I will see if it will be possible to speak to him to se can put into words what Famiglia Mancini means to him.

But regardless of how he chooses to express the whole for himself, it is clear that his love for art, food and his continual attention to the experience of his clientele has resulted in the one of the most delightfully curious and enchanting experiences it is possible to have in São Paulo. The Mancini family certainly deserve the highest praise for their restaurants, for creating such a wonderful experience of the parts and the whole for us to explore, contemplate and plunge into.

Related Articles

Book Review: The Systems View of Life: Part Two – Into the Phenomenon

Changing the Metaphor of Money

Credit: Dominic Alves, Flickr

Credit: Dominic Alves, Flickr

Following on from my previous article on metaphors and paradigm shifts, I thought I would write about one particular monumental shift in paradigm, which was central to the development of VISA’s credit card system. VISA was inspired by the vision of Dee Hock, who himself was inspired by nature. Here is one of his quotes, which comes from his book Birth of the Chaordic Age:

Dee Hock Quote

It is extremely clear just how profound Hock’s comprehension of nature is, as a continually changing process in flux, which he is able to comprehend as a whole:

Dee Hock Quote

In order to understand the urgent requirement for a new organisational structure, it is important to understand that in the 1960s, the credit card industry was in a crisis, with the system on the point of collapse. Losses were in the hundreds of millions and growing and in the Bank of America there was a fundamental lack of awareness of the problems.

The clearing system was disintegrating under the volume of transactions, a system in which there were very high authorisation costs. This meant that it was vulnerable to fraud, and therefore in Hock’s words was “a bonanza for criminals”.

Dee Hock: Credit - Social Action DK

Dee Hock: Credit – Social Action DK

As Hock describes in his story of the creation of VISA, the only approach to solving this entangled nightmare was to examine the fundamentals: what is the function of a bank, the function of money and the function of credit cards.

As the thinking process evolved, Hock’s team began to strip away the “onion” of their business, and they conceived credit card’s as having three functions:

  1. Identify the buyer and seller
  2. Act as a guarantor in the purchase and exchange of goods and services.
  3. The origination and transfer of value data.

In this ah ha moment, Hock describes the insight as a revelation, being able to think in a more holistic manner. For the team, “a change of consciousness occurred”.

In this way of conceptualising the business, the “demand for value” would be in the form of “energy impulses” circulating around the globe, seven days a week. The implication and realisation was that no single organisation would be able, on their own, to develop a system capable of meeting the predicted demand and usage patterns.

Hock calculated that while no single bank had the resources (and at this point in time, Bank of America had their own legal patented credit card system which they licensed out as a franchise). What he was able to imagine was a “transcendental organisation” linking partners together in whole new ways never previously known.

In reflecting on his thinking process, Hock breaks down the creative process about visioning the future into four distinct ways of looking at things: as they were, as they are, as they might become and as they ought to be. It is important to synthesise and hold all four ways of seeing in mind at once, an act which Hock describes as the work of “genius”.

What is also vital I feel in the story, is that VISA could only have been developed with a very clear set of values that each partner adhered to. These were openness, fairness, trust and confidence. When these universal values are absent, genuine co-creation and innovation becomes near impossible. We should always work hard not only on our creativity, but on our values, since without values, the creative work will have been in vain.

Related articles

Dee Hock In His Own Words

The Power of Metaphor and the Limits of Paradigm Shifts