Competition is part of the modus operandi of human beings. If we look at nature, we see competition and collaboration happening all the time. In a holonomic view of any system, we understand that it is not one or the other, but one and another. Competition itself is not, therefore, something negative or destructive; rather, it is a form of development, which emerges naturally from the human desire to do better and to achieve more.
We often have a mistaken view of competition, associating the word and its meaning with rivalry, the survival of one over the other. Indeed, a competitive process may result in the failure of one of the participants, but, when seen from the perspective of the system, it is part of the whole evolutionary process.
This brings us to the definition of ‘teacher’ and ‘disciple’ in Indian culture. Those who are considered to be good teachers are those who can bring out the best in their disciples, and who are able, due to their extensive experience and levels of consciousness, to enable their pupils to achieve their true potential, allowing the next generation to overtake the former, in a constant process of evolution and improvement. Drawing a parallel with organisations, a good leader in a privileged position from the top has the opportunity to view the long term, and to look where the organisation should go, while also knowing the potential of his or her subordinates and enabling them to flourish and progress.
It is important to emphasise the crucial difference between a dichotomous vision of ‘or’ with a holonomic view of ‘and’. It is possible for all parts to grow and thrive, enhancing and promoting one another. ‘The real leader is one who takes people where they could not go alone.’ In other words, developing the potential of each one on behalf of the whole means giving people access to education, knowledge, challenges, a sense of achievement and of being a part of something significant.
In addition to being inspiring, the leader must be able to see how the organisation as a whole is progressing, instigating a process of crafting and refining individuals, so that the organisation can thrive. This does not mean that everything will always be wonderful and painless. It is important to note that this process brings losses, pain, challenges and risks, in the name of creating something better. In the course of this work, the leader constantly comes up against a big hurdle, which is the ego. This ego causes us to be stuck inside ourselves, unable to really see that which is all around us, denying us the ability to truly recognise other people.
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. This approach to education enables and equips people not only to perform technical tasks, but also to develop wisdom and discernment, in order to give the individual the ability to make better choices in their path in life, from the point of view of everyone and not just themselves.
There is a beautiful story of an African educator, Victor Kanu, who created a school in Zambia which implemented this programme of education in human values. Kanu graduated from Oxford University, and then had a brilliant diplomatic career in the UK. However, a moment came in his life when he received an internal call from his heart to return to Africa and to work in education. Following this call, Kanu founded one of the most innovative schools in the world. The Sathya Sai School of Ndola, Zambia, provides students with a comprehensive education via an academic curriculum which has, at its core, the teaching of human values, as developed in India.
There are three explicit and inter-related aims which are spiritual and moral excellence, academic excellence and environmental excellence. The school provides young people with the skills necessary for a wide range of functions in any organisation, and it also promotes leadership for a better world, one in which humanity is more equitable and harmonious. The school was given the nickname ‘Sathya Sai Miracle School’ because it received young boys and girls who had been rejected from other schools due to their inappropriate behaviour and learning difficulties and transformed them into exceptional students who achieved an astonishing pass rate at the nationally held exams at grades 7, 9 and 12.
The way in which the principles of human values are put into practice is, indeed, a miracle, because ‘what seemed impossible became possible’. As well as achieving national recognition, it has also won awards internationally, receiving a Gold Star Award in Paris in 2005 in recognition of outstanding commitment to quality, excellence, customer satisfaction and innovation.
In one of his speeches, Kanu drew attention to an important question, which is little reflected upon nowadays. He asked whether the world today was more harmonious, peaceful, prosperous, safe, better to live in, and happier? The answer from the audience was, unfortunately, negative. Kanu also asked the audience what additional ingredient of education was required to guide the actions and decisions of students towards leading the world to a better level?
In his opinion, what was missing from formal education was the pillar of human values. 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 not just intelligence, but also wisdom.
The Indian programme 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.
Sustainability is the understanding of action and reaction, the understanding that our existence on Earth is an ecosystem, which consists of feedback loops, both positive and negative. In thinking about the interconnectedness of life, we can again look to American Indians and their definition of sustainability, which is to ‘take decisions now, thinking of the consequences for the seventh generation of the future’. Indigenous people come to decisions from a dialogue in which different members of the tribe sit in a circle. There is a difference between consensus and acceptance, which is fundamental, and they will only close a dialogue after they have reached a decision which covers the long term, and which has the understanding and acceptance of all. This form of decision making represents consciousness and discernment in practice, a detachment of their ideas towards collective wisdom and joint decision-making which is fully discussed and justified.
If we want a world where everyone thinks like us, then, once again, we are being driven by ego, by a desire for control and domination, which ignores interconnections. We can only cope with the complexity of today’s world if we hear different voices and understand different perspectives. It is through active dialogue, without attachment to a desired outcome, that we can develop a more complete picture of what we are analysing.
An awareness of the value of ‘difference’ can teach us much, because we do not have all the answers and, from a different perspective, it can enhance our vision and evaluation of the same issue. In a more complex world, where information is available to everyone all the time, asking the right questions is far more important than ascertaining the right answers. We have to look at the world through other lenses that are wider and larger than our individual perceptions.
Extract taken from Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson (2014)
Simon Robinson is the co-founder and CEO (Worldwide) of Holonomics Education, a strategy and innovation consultancy based in São Paulo whose mission is to help organisations to implement great customer experiences, powerful and effective strategies, and develop purposeful, meaningful and sustainable brands. He is the co-author of Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design and his research examines how the dynamic conception of wholeness in hermeneutics and phenomenology can deepen our thinking on innovation, customer experience design and the circular economy.