My last blog discussed the risks and costs of arrogance and dogmatism in organizational culture.

When human relations descend to dogmatism and arrogance, they become all “push.” These insiders push their ideas, desires, and feelings on others; they stop listening, interacting, and connecting; they squash difference and dissent. The “push mentality” obstructs more authentic forms of communication, collaboration, connection, and relationships.

The term “authenticity” is extremely loaded (I can’t unpack its richness here) but let me point out a few principles of authentic culture that combat destructive over-simplicity, dogmatism, and arrogance. Just as a warning, we are going one level deeper here than the practical advice we normally read online, like be yourself, be present, align your vision & values, etc.

A few key principles of authentic culture:

1. The other: An openness to the otherness of the other; affirming differences in addition to commonalities (not feeling insecure about / not rushing in to fill every gap and difference between us); welcoming people’s unique gifts; and respecting the otherness within yourself. There is always an otherness that goes beyond our understanding and control.

2. Being-with: A deeper understanding of our connectedness with others; how we are embedded in communities of language, thought, and action. (Very tough to change attitudes and behaviour without also engaging the environment in which that behavior is embedded.) Business is a team sport—in a much deeper way than most people ever dare to admit. And so is individual success.

3. Complexity: Affirming the richness, diversity, complexity, and emergent nature of truth and existence. We live in a world of color, not black & white, and not shades of grey. There is always more going on in and around us than we can experience, understand, or control. In other words, your theories, statistics, ideas, facts, and stories can never fully capture the richness existence.

4. Change: Stepping into the river of our dynamic state of becoming rather than seeking the false promise / false comfort of a fixed, static, predictable, comprehensible, and controllable being. Life, language, thought, and action are emergent, organic, and embedded (contextual).

5. Possibility: Accepting that we live in our possibilities (our projects and aspirations for the future give meaning and context to our experience in the present moment); our possibilities are not fixed (they can change); we create new possibilities every day (the are recreated and reinterpreted in how we live them each day); and new possibilities for innovation, action, and co-creation will never be exhausted. In other words, we do not enter into a world that is already fully formed, final, and fixed. Nor do we merely witness ongoing changes as objective bystanders. We are creating the world with our decisions and actions.

6. No pure authenticity: Striving for purity (the dream of being completely whole, one, integrated, unified, and in control) is a “totalitarian” project. The moment you think you have arrived (i.e., have become fully authentic), you have ceased to live; your journey has halted; you become an empty caricature of yesterday’s insight; you stand in denial of otherness, complexity, change, and possibility; and you find yourself on the road to blindness and ossification (death). Understanding this is an important step on the way to becoming authentic (there is both truth and irony in this sentence.) Authenticity is crucial but never complete.

Great line by Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And by Nietzsche: “Only that which has no history [story] can be defined.” I.e., life is too rich and complex for final, neat and tidy definitions, classification, labels… Even if we can’t live without them, we can be more vigilant about their uses and abuses.

Even the conservative enlightenment thinker Immanuel Kant (250 years ago) acknowledged an “immeasurable field” of ideas, experiences, and sensations “we are not conscious of.” He suggests that “our mind is like an immense map with only a few places illuminated,” and that the clear thoughts we are aware of “are only the infinitesimally few points on this map that lie open to consciousness.” Conservatives tend to find this shocking and frightening—a sign of impending chaos, anarchy, and moral decay. Progressives, conversely, tend to see it as a sign of the wild richness of existence—an invitation to new possibilities, innovation, growth, and transformation.

To be frank:

1. You are not the (exclusive) author of your thoughts, desires, and decisions.

2. There are aspects of yourself that you will never fully understand or control.

3. A large portion of what you call individuality (your individualism) is false and destructive.

This changes everything.

We are not going to get very far with management models that are based on 17th & 18th century definitions about individualism, accountability, discipline, and action. Reason, persuasion, directives, and will power are wildly superficial (flat) drivers of collaboration, growth, and transformation.

Time to start catching up to the 20th century—which might just give us a chance to take a few steps into the 21st.

My next blog (fourth & final in this series) will discuss:

1. A good and strong leader

2. A good and strong team

3. Drivers of an authentic culture


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