Can We Really Change Corporates – Rethinking Ambition
One of the things I fundamentally hold to be both true (and so possible) is that we can shift corporate culture. So it was a surprise for me to hear colleagues talk about changing culture has being impossible. They were expressing was a strong feeling that corporates will never shift out of the Red command and control culture as described by Laloux in Reinventing Organisations. At best, they said, we could shift an organisation into Amber or benevolent dictatorship but when the going gets tough the organisation will revert back into its fear based, command and control culture.
I got a strong sense of resignation – why bother, our efforts are futile, leadership will never change, they don’t want to, they have too much too lose. Man lives with and is motivated by fear and significance and so we will ever change. It didn’t ring true for me
Perhaps it is an overly ambitious view, that a handful of us can shift a culture so deeply entrenched it is taken as normal, ‘the way things are’. Ambition is such a Western thing, but do we have it all wrong ? Do we only choose to shift into ambition when we can see the end result ? It would explain why more people don’t explore and it certainly explains why it was so hard for me to break the woman’s diving world record, I was sitting with an invisible belief that you only start when you can see the end.
What if the very thing keeping us stuck in cultures we abhore and that are abusive and disempowering is that we are using the same red based, unilateral control based emotional and mental models that created and now sustain the very thing we despise ?
I find it impossible to believe that showing up in a totally non-unilateral way (Teal in Laloux’s world) is a waste of time – especially after coming back from Dharamsala in India. For those who aren’t aware, this is the location of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Exile community.
When I was there we had two conversations with monks, one who was part of the uprising in the 90’s and who was in a Chinese prison, tortured and starved almost to death. The thing that I really noticed was how they both spoke about and viewed what is happening to Tibet and Tibetan culture(it is being eradicated ina ruthless and violent manner with millions of Tibetans starving to death). In Western minds it is impossible to stand up to China, so why bother ? In Western thinking, talking about a personal experience so horrific would bring out intense and embodied anger, hatred and sorrow. I saw none of this and it surprised me.
There is something incredible in the way the monks and other Tibetans in Dharamsala think about the world. When asked how they aren’t angry and don’t hate China the answer is along the lines of… it has to change, it isn’t sustainable to do what the Chinese government does to its people, they have a younger generation that is out in the world and coming back with new ideas, it will change… oh and besides, who am I hating ? It isn’t the man in the street, they are also suffering and besides, I have Chinese friends, they are good people.
It just doesn’t seem to occur to them to give up and stop working toward freeing Tibet even though China is a formidable almost untouchable foe and even though they can’t necessarily see the ‘how’. Instead they choose to live from an ambition so deep it transcends lifetimes. This hope brings in a sense of the inevitable – things will change, they don’t know when and they may not know how but they will keep on working, living and thinking as if it was possible…. until it has changed.
It is as if they see ambition in a totally different way. They seem to see past generations, into a future that seems impossible from this ‘here’. They don’t seem to live from the stress, defensiveness, anxiety, resignation and resentment that is the default starting point out here in the West. They live in what I can only call Deep Hope!
Which makes me wonder how many of us have given up and are just not being present in our lives ? Have we managed to get ourselves to believe that if we can’t see the change, if we can’t connect the change to us, then it isn’t worth trying or changing ?
What would become possible if we were able to shift out of resignation and fear and into deep hope ? I can’t think of a more freeing way of living in this world, in fact, this is how I choose to experience each day, from deep ambition, deep acceptance and deep hope. Things may not change in my lifetime, but maybe how I showed up in this lifetime makes the change possible in another.