Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
We begin by sharing a few pertinent quotes from various bestselling books on business management and leadership. These quotes speak of the journey of a business organisation.
“Initially, entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal.”[i]
“At this stage companies are led by a few people who are fueled by their passion to change the world. They are willing to work all day and all night. There are no “strategic planning” systems, although there are frequent meetings to determine where to go next….They [the founders] are willing to risk everything to make it happen and are they were highly energized by the challenge and the risks involved”[ii].
“The second stage in the evolution of a new industry is characterized by rapid growth. Now it has grown from few people to several hundred people. Formal training systems have been implemented in an effort to make sure that new employees are told about the corporate culture, ethics and values. Mission statements are created and distributed.”[iii]
“As a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success – too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products. What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff. Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring constraints create friction. Problems surface – with customers, with cash flow, with schedules. In response, someone (often a board member) says, “It’s time to grow up. This place needs some professional management.” The company begins to hire MBAs and seasoned executives from blue-chip companies. Processes, procedures, checklists, and all the rest begin to sprout up like weeds. What was once an egalitarian environment gets replaced with a hierarchy. Chains of command appear for the first time. Reporting relationships become clear, and an executive class with special perks begins to appear. “We” and “they” segmentations appear – just like in a real company. The professional managers finally rein in the mess. They create order out of chaos, but they also kill the entrepreneurial spirit. Members of the founding team begin to grumble, “This isn’t fun anymore. I used to be able to just get things done. Now I have to fill out these stupid forms and follow these stupid rules. Worst of all, I have to spend a horrendous amount of time in useless meetings.” The creative magic begins to wane as some of the most innovative people leave, disgusted by the burgeoning bureaucracy and hierarchy. The exciting start-up transforms into just another company, with nothing special to recommend it. The cancer of mediocrity begins to grow in earnest.”[iv]
“Unmanaged, the evolution of the corporate architecture proceeds in a predictable way, which evitable leads to cultural lock-in — a state in which the corporation is effectively frozen in place.”[v]
Do these quotes remind us of something else? Don’t they sound surprisingly similar in spirit to the different evolutionary stages of psycho-social development that Sri Aurobindo speaks of in his social philosophy?
Sri Aurobindo’s The Psychology of Social Development was first published in the philosophical monthly Arya from August 15, 1916 to July 15, 1918. It was later published as a book The Human Cycle. The very first chapter in the book, “The Cycle of Society” introduces the different stages through which a society or a collective passes in its evolutionary journey. In this series of articles, we have been exploring how a close study of the different stages – symbolic, typal, conventional, individualistic and subjective – help inform our understanding of the journey through which an organisation evolves.
We have been applying Sri Aurobindo’s social thought to the field of business management and organisational studies. Our goal is to bring to light the significance of the profound truths in Sri Aurobindo’s psychological-sociological thought as applicable in the field of business studies, through relevant examples. We also hope to point out that his keen insights either preceded or were contemporary to some of the most innovative ideas coming out from the field of business studies, with one major difference being that Sri Aurobindo’s insights resulted from his deep and fundamental understanding of the foundational truths of human psychology.
Our approach has been to closely follow the line of thought given by Sri Aurobindo in The Human Cycle, and explain with the help of several examples how a collective (a business organisation in the present case) closely follows the fundamental lines of evolutionary growth that Sri Aurobindo has spoken of. In the first part of the series, we began with an examination of the parallel between an individual and a collective organisation. We then focused on the symbolic, typal and conventional stages of an organisation’s progression, though brief mention was also made of the individualistic stage in order to provide a complete picture. This second part focuses primarily on the end of conventional stage leading toward an individualistic stage of the socio-psychological evolution with an explicit focus on the role of Reason in shaping the organisation’s path. Several examples of business organisations are presented to illustrate this. These examples are drawn from information that is available in the public domain, but with a specific objective to chart the organisation’s growth process from the perspective of Sri Aurobindo’s sociological thought.
Sri Aurobindo, however, has also spoken of the next steps of a socio-psychological evolutionary path, and that’s where his fundamental contribution to sociological and organisational studies rests. But in order to be ready to launch into the next future, an organisation, like any collective or any individual, must be able to retrace its evolutionary journey from its beginning to where it is now. That’s the point we want to bring home through this series of articles, to encourage a close study of the deeper motivation and inner workings of an organisation’s journey so that it may become more self-aware and conscious of its next direction. This is what we believe is the fundamental contribution of Sri Aurobindo’s social philosophy to the field of organisational studies, that is, it gives organisations a blueprint for where they must go if they want to fulfill their deeper purpose of existence.
Another close reading of the quotes with which we open this paper tells us how a new venture first begins with some type of a symbolic idea, which is a representation of something greater than the individual, an idea which makes the person toil day in and day out to realize it and manifest in reality. We see then that over time as the idea begins to crystallize, more carefully selected people join the venture, in most cases the psychological driver for them is generally the idea of becoming a part of something bigger than themselves, still a representation of the symbolic leading on to the typal stage.
In the first part of the series “The Organisational Cycle” we had analysed this progression from symbolic to typal to conventional stages using the case study of the world-renowned Aravind Eye Hospital. We had written extensively about the ‘symbolic’ beginnings which led Dr. V (founder of Aravind) to start this enterprise, and gradually involving members of immediate family who were mostly driven by the dharmic or ethical idea of working in an establishment that would give them an opportunity to be a part of a work bigger than that of an eye doctor. This, we saw, was the typal stage. We also gave several examples of how this stage slowly transitions into the conventional stage, in the context of an organisation. These examples were selected both from the Aravind study as well as the personal experiences of the first author in a big multinational corporation.
In this paper, we dig a bit deeper into what leads to the failure of the conventional stage in an organisation, which eventually opens the way for a more individualistic stage that is also the stage of reasoning.
[i]Jim Collins. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap …and Others Don’t, Harper Business, p. 230.
[ii]Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan. 2001. Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market–And How to Successfully Transform Them, p. 77.
[iii]Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan, p. 81.
[iv]Jim Collins, p. 231.
[v]Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan, p. 64.