If you're a fish living in an aquarium, it doesn't take a whole lot of ingenuity to discover things like food, rocks, bubbles, and other fish.
But it takes a genius to discover water.
In response to a recent article on conscious business, someone asked me "so, what do you mean by conscious?" And I got stuck. I couldn't provide a concise answer. The whole notion of consciousness had become so core for me that that I was at a loss for words.
Then in my morning meditation today, I realized that the defining genius of some of my favorite teachers (such as Ron and Mary Hulnick, Steve Chandler, Ken Wilber and David Hawkins) is that like a fish explaining water, they've learned how to explain consciousness to other humans.
The picture below shows the ladder of consciousness. At the bottom of the ladder is death. As Steve Chandler points out, you've got to be a pretty good salesperson to close a deal with a dead person. And death makes it a lot harder to hit the quarterly numbers.
Just slightly above death is fear, along with its partners judgment and pain. Fear makes us stupid. It makes us un-conscious. At a physical level, it literally sucks the blood from our brains, reverses tens of thousands of years of evolution, and puts us into "fight or flight mode." When we're feeling scared, angry, hurt, stressed, guilty or unworthy, we're in a very low state of consciousness. Most violence comes from this level of consciousness, as do most of the deeper challenges in relationships and business.
At the top of the ladder is the power of the human spirit. Think Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, and the firemen at 9/11. Think "yes we can." This is where creativity lives, as well as inspiration, joy, love and peace. When we're living life from the top of the ladder, we're at the top of our game. Ideas flow, synchronicity connects, and we're able to see how even the most painful challenges in our lives have been gifts for our learning and growth. This is a place of profound but grounded optimism -- what Jim Collins calls Level 5 Leadership.
This grounded optimism makes a huge difference. According to Dr. Martin Seligman, "I have studied pessimism for the last twenty years, and in more than one thousand studies, involving more than half a million children and adults, pessimistic people do worse than optimistic people in three ways: First, they get depressed much more often. Second, they achieve less at school, on the job and on the playing field, much less than their talents would suggest. Third, their physical health is worse than that of optimists."
When we're at the top of the ladder we live life much more consciously than when we're at the bottom. We see how interconnected life is, and we treat other people and our environment with care and consideration. Not because we "should," or because we want others' approval, but because we genuinely want to. From this place, we naturally shift our focus from a single bottom line to a triple bottom line (of profits, society and the environment.) We create businesses that provide both money and meaning. We create conscious businesses -- organizations that are aware of the ladder of consciousness, and focus not just on what they do, but also on how they are.
Organizations which are not only aware of the other fish in the tank, but also of the water they swim in.