Change, innovation and excellence have become increasingly paramount, not just for the growth of individuals and organisations but for survival itself. Yet, few people or organisations show the guts and the grit to strike at the roots of habits and practices to cut through the conditioned ways that we are long accustomed to acting. If we don't know how to change the ways we are conditioned to act, it implies we haven't searched deep enough into the sources of our actions.
As individuals we become interminably inured to feel, think and act in certain ways. Our actions flow through conditioned channels just as waters flow through a routine system from its storage and then through pipes and taps at the desired outlets. Even what we term as anarchic, undisciplined actions or pin down as immoral or unethical behaviours flow from some conditioned part of our psyche. The difference here is that the waters - our energies - may drip or flow from undesired outlets. It applies as much to individuals as organisations.
If we don't know how to change the ways we are conditioned to act, it implies we haven't searched deep enough into the sources of our actions. To extend the metaphor of water, in the case of human actions we have to trace the sources well beyond the storage and channelised flow through desired outlets.
"'[K]nowing' and 'knowledge' are probably not deep enough if they don't automatically translate into actions. We often claim to 'know' but fail to act."
What does "looking into the sources of our actions" actually mean? How does it actually help us change? Not only change but transform? What are the sources from where innovation and excellence flow? In an earlier post, "Self-Investigation: The Real Way To Know, Grow and Lead", I focused on our ways of knowing, our ways of perception. Today, I want to delve into the sources of our actions. Both are genuinely connected but they need to be looked at separately as "knowing" and "knowledge" are not enough unless they translate into action. One could also say that "knowing" and "knowledge" are probably not deep enough if they don't automatically translate into actions. We often claim to "know" but fail to act. The "knowing-doing" gap is all too common.
Let us get deep to the source of this gap, clasping the thread from the end of action rather than the end of knowing and knowledge. Let us begin our inquiry into the nature of our actions with the help of the Bhagavad Gita. It points out to us that our actions build up their momentum at a far deeper level and in a far subtler manner than we are able to see.
For example, although we view our idle moments and sleep as hours of inaction, the Gita offers wisdom to the contrary:
"No one for a moment remains at all without performing actions..." (III, 5).
This implies that some subtle action goes on even during what we call the idle hours. What is important is not to lose on what we enjoy as our idle hours but to be aware that some subtle action runs through even those moments. One might also say this idleness is also a form of action, or as the Gita suggests, a mode of energy.
Another important source of the gap between "knowing" and "doing" is recognised in the very next verse where it says that what we enjoy being and doing at an internal plane belies our external conduct. This is the source of all hypocrisy in our lives:
Restraining oneself to actually act, one who dwells upon the objects of senses, is a hypocrite. (III,6)
This does not mean we should just act out our impulses. What it means is we have to work at a deeper level, to stay aware and let our impulses purify in the light of this pure awareness in order that actions may flow in their purity and strength.
"The moment we decide to do something for a larger good rather than just for the fulfilment of a selfish goal, our actions undergo a paradigm shift..."
What is more important is to keep our inner sources and channels of actions clean rather than to stress on a healthy and beautiful delivery from an ailing womb. But the science and mystery of human action is far greater than we have been able to look into thus far.
Let us take nature. What if we could enter into a contract with nature that if we sow a seed we must have in return a certain number of fruit? We would certainly like to ensure a fixed return on the investment of our efforts. But we simply miss the message of nature that when a seed loses itself into the soil under the right conditions, ready to dissolve its identity as a seed, it might yield more than we desired from it. So the Gita would advise us not to cover up the manifestation of the seed of our actions into their fruit under the narrow and dark shades of our desires. Rather it suggests letting our actions fulfil themselves in multifold manners and forms for a larger good. The moment we decide to do something for a larger good rather than just for the fulfilment of a selfish goal, our actions undergo a paradigm shift and derive their motivation and momentum from a far greater source than our selfish desires can supply.
Here we begin to lay our hands on the right and positive source of the much-aspired-for but rarely achieved change, innovation and excellence at individual as well as organisational level.
How can change, innovation, excellence flow in the actions and performance of an individual or organisation if it chooses to frustrate its inner energies into the same dark channels of selfish, self-limiting and, therefore, self-destructive confinement? When we thus delve deep to the very core of the fountainhead of our inner energies that build up and translate into our actions we set out on the right course to positive change.
How do we distinguish between change and innovation in real spiritual terms? Change still implies the continuity of an entity that claims to be undergoing the process of change. As we set out on a course to real innovation we have to go a step farther from the fountain of our energies to their very source, the fountainhead, and let it transform into a substance of a higher nature and quality. Real innovation is akin to how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly or how water turns into pearl in a seashell. We can here recall the words of Steve Jobs, unquestionably a great innovator, who knew why it was imperative to get back to the very source of one's dynamic vision and energies when he said, while well on his way to recreate Apple, "What we're trying to do is not highfalutin. We're trying to get back to the basics of great products, great marketing and great distribution. Apple has drifted away from doing the basics really well." Jobs knew and recognised very well that he had to transform the company to bring it up to the level of innovativeness he aspired for: "I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organise a company".
"When our energies flow into fixed habits and practices and then become stale, it implies that our vision has got anchored to the fountain but lost sight of the very source..."
As an individual has a self that is conditioned to identify itself in certain fixed ways so does an organisation pin down its identity in predefined ways. Unless they change the composition of their self into a superior essence and form, no real innovation can follow in their performance and products.
The pursuit of excellence is an exercise in transcending the stagnation of our performance and products into routine habits and practices. Even novel modes of actions and performance tend to stultify over the passage of time. When our energies flow into fixed habits and practices and then become stale, it implies that our vision has got anchored to the fountain but lost sight of the very source, the fountainhead of our energies, the essential vision and values that prompt their incessant flow.
This is not only the real plane from where real "knowing" and "action" flow but also the propensity that obliterates the gap between knowledge and action and prompts real change, innovation and excellence.