Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
However, even when the self-formulation journey of an organisation is still primarily focused around its more objective identity, Sri Aurobindo’s view of the inner processes driving a collective evolutionary path will suggest that such outer conditions “only apply to the imperfectly self-conscious period” of the organisation’s self-development. To quote from him,
“Even then there was always a greater subjective force working behind individuals, policies, economic movements and the change of institutions; but it worked for the most part subconsciously, more as a subliminal self than as a conscious mind. It is when this subconscious power of the group-soul comes to the surface that nations [we may substitute ‘nations’ with organisations or any collective entity] begin to enter into possession of their subjective selves; they set about getting, however vaguely or imperfectly, at their souls.”[i] (Emphasis added)
Let us consider an example, from a fairly large business organisation, a world leader in its field. Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft, has on several occasions emphasised the need to discover the soul of the company.
“…When I first started in my new role last year I told employees it was time for us to rediscover our soul — what makes us unique.”[ii]
“I also said that in order to accelerate our innovation, we must rediscover our soul – our unique core.”[iii]
“Perhaps the most important driver of success is culture. Over the past year, we’ve challenged ourselves to think about our core mission, our soul — what would be lost if we disappeared.” [iv]
Why would one of the largest multinational corporations want to embark upon this soul-searching mission? Doesn’t Microsoft already have a highly efficient and effective organisational structure and work culture which ensure its revenues, profits and overall financial health? What could be some of the possible reasons for this attempt to rediscover the company’s soul, its unique core?
It could primarily be economic reasons. In the past Microsoft was successfully able to implement its vision that a personal computer at every home and office would operate on Microsoft’s operating system and use Microsoft software. But things are different now. The company’s share of software used on connecting devices (including personal computers, phones and tablets) has plunged from 90 percent in 2009 to just around 20 percent today.[v] This staggering drop occurred not because Microsoft lost ground in the market of personal computers, on which its software still dominates, but rather because it failed to adapt its products to devices such as smartphones and tablets, the area where all the growth is happening today and is expected to happen tomorrow.[vi]
But economics alone is not enough. Other reasons could also be driving this tendency to look inside and renew itself. Vineet Nayar, former CEO of HCL and who is credited for turning HCL around, uses the metaphor of Mirror Mirror in his book:
“Mirror Mirror is a communications exercise that involves talking with employees throughout the organization about the truth as they see it and getting them to acknowledge the reality, the elephant in the room, that everyone essentially knows about but which has never been publicly acknowledged. It is a matter of getting the members of the organization to look at themselves in the mirror and describe carefully and truthfully what they see.”[vii]
The Mirror Mirror metaphor is good as long as we also realise its limitations. A mirror only reflects what is placed in front of it. If all that we place before the mirror is the organisation’s past performance and track record, it only ends up becoming a rear view mirror. In that case, the purpose might be lost. Also, a mirror may be only effective in showing the surface reality. More important is the individual’s ability to look beyond the outer surface, to look through the reflection in the mirror so that a deeper truth may begin to reveal itself. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that only a deeper look beyond the physical and vital helps us see that the “things of the mind” are in themselves essential or the sign of something essential.
“As man has been accustomed to look on himself as a body and a life, the physical animal with a certain moral or immoral temperament, and the things of the mind have been regarded as a fine flower and attainment of the physical life rather than themselves anything essential or the sign of something essential…
Certainly, there is always a vague sense of this subjective existence at work even on the surface of the communal mentality.”[viii]
In other words, a shift of our identification with only the physical and vital parts of our individual and collective beings toward a more mental part within us is already a step in the direction of greater subjective understanding. To illustrate the point further, let us try to understand Microsoft’s attempt to rediscover its soul in the light of this view.
Microsoft continues to attract some of the best and the smartest minds to develop its innovative products and services and yet for many years the company was experiencing loss of market share. A possible reason could be that the company was somehow unable to provide the best possible environment for even the smartest minds to reach their maximum potential and offer their best. On some level, these individuals might be experiencing feelings of mistrust, frustration and over-pressure because of internal aggressive competition between different units of the company, poor work-life balance, and suffocation because of a work-culture which values the dictates of the top executives (termed as ‘c-suites’ in the corporate slang) on ideas and projects. Because of these and other things, the best and smartest minds may also be unable to experience a deeper sense of self-fulfilment and self-development through their work. In such conditions, the collective mind of the company somehow remains at the level of a vague formation, unable to develop a conscious sense of its identity, thereby preventing both the individuals and the organisation to tap into its potential strength to lead toward a greater self-discovery.
 It is relatively easier to find examples of big business organisations because much has been written about them in scholarly and popular case studies. Also, many details about their performance, their guiding mission, their organisational structure etc. are easily available in public domain.
[i] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 37
[ii] Microsoft. Sharehold letter. Annual Report 2015. 2015. https://www.microsoft.com/investor/reports/ar15/index.html
[v] Benedict Evans. 2013. The Irrelevance of Microsoft. http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2013/7/20/the-irrelevance-of-microsoft
[vi] Bethany Mclean. 2014. The Empire Reboots. Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/business/2014/11/satya-nadella-bill-gates-steve-ballmer-microsoft
[vii] Vineet Nayar. 2010. Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down. Harvard Business Review Press. E-book. Paragraph 17.2.
[viii] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 37