Long before we had our current generation of business gurus, we had Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), one of the most remarkable thinkers the world has ever known. I have often thought that in addition to his literature, poetry, science and political work, were he alive today he would make on of our greatest business gurus. What do you think:
Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though ’twere his own.
On mental models
A person hears only what they understand.
Few people have the imagination for reality.
Everybody wants to be somebody,but nobody wants to grow…
On Management by Means
What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
On understanding the organisation’s purpose
The greater part of all the mischief in the world arises from the fact that men do not sufficiently understand their own aims.
The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.
On Jung’s mandala
If you don’t feel it, you’ll never get it.
So following on from my previous article in which I spoke to Maria Auxiliadora about what we can learn from starlings, I thought that I would also speak to her about why she teaches Goethe to her business students, and in particularly to students of change management and the execution of business strategy.
Maria also teaches some of the philosophy of Henri Bortoft, who is one of the world’s most respected authorities on the scientific consciousness of Goethe, hence me including him in my questions too.
Why are you using the teachings of Goethe and Henri Bortoft’s teachings on change management and execution of strategy?
Normally the problem we are facing in organisations is that the world is becoming much more complex. The variables that impact on companies are much more than in the past so the tools you learnt to use are not enough to answer these challenges nowadays.
These challenges are to be innovative, creative, collaborative, working in teams. All of these relate to people and in administration until some years ago people just treated people as a resource. The vision was one of a machine. “If something is not going well I just have to replace this piece with another piece and everything will be ok again.”
This worked well for a long time but nowadays it is not true? It was based on Cartesians and a mechanistic way of seeing the world, like a clock. But everything is a system. So if something is not going well the whole is not going well, and not just the part. But we didn’t learn this in schools.
I use the teachings of Henri Bortoft to explain mental models. I say to my students that when we have a filter to understand what we are seeing, when we have a concept in our minds, it is very difficult not to have it in order to evaluate the reality. We have filters to interpret, to see. We never learnt how to see as Goethe proposed, as Goethe invited us.
So what is Maria’s interpretation of Goethe? What does she tell students about Goethe?
Goethe was a poet, and I like to write as well, I always liked to read poetry etc, and it is a way of doing things where first of all you feel and then you put into words. So his scientific way of interpreting things was the same process as writing, of being a poet. That is, look without preconceptions, look at it freely, and feel what you are looking at, try to mix with what you are looking at, and feel the wholeness of what you are seeing. After doing that then the rational comes in order to put order and give names. It is a different movement from the one proposed by Descartes, where first of all you rationalise what you are seeing and then explain.
When I tell people about Goethe and change management we should link to Jung’s mandala. We have to feel not only think about the situation. Much of the time in organisations people are telling you things but in fact what is happening is something different, not exactly what they are saying. If you just interpret rationally what people are doing or saying you do not have the whole.
I think what you are saying is that Goethe is teaching people in business to be more mindful of the whole situation, as opposed to accidentally thinking that you have, when you have only comprehended a part.
Yes, and also to help people to listen better. When we have our rational aspect dominating ourselves, normally we try to find answers quickly. We jump to conclusions. But if we quieten our minds and our pre-conceptions we are able to listen better and have an active listening process. So I can really listen to what you are saying but to pay attention in your movements, to pay attention to the environment, to the whole.
And what else do you teach that complements Goethe?
One thing I also teach is human values. Normally what I say is that any system needs a stable base in order that people feel safe and trusting, but at the same time you have to be flexible, you have to be open to the new, to be open to change. But in order to change you have to have stability. It seems like a paradox but it is not. Just as in our personal lives, we have personal values, and with these fundamentals we are able to risk. We need stability. This stability is the human values, the trust, confidence in others, in the environment. You have to have love, in the wide sense. You have to have respect, discernment. These are the basis of one system one family, one person, what if they have then they are able to do new things with confidence.
In order that someone change, they have to see the value of change. Value is the understanding of meaning, if it is relevant to the person and if it teaches something and you have the feeling that you can take one more step. In to have these three things you have to have human values as the basis.