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Bring Meaning to Work and Purpose to Spirituality

While Barack Obama rose to the occasion and is on his way to the White House under the banner of change, the deeper meanings of change remain a mystery and huge risks to the Obama administration, America and the world at large. I wrote in a separate blog ( Obama’s One Authentic Swing) that there are hopeful signs that the new chief in town is indeed aware of this double-edged sword and things appear to be in motion to direct and re-direct the human energy on planet Earth towards a more sustainable path than it has been for the past 8 years under GWB.

For the fortunate few like ourselves, who don’t have to worry too much about physical and financial survival, our most sacred duty is to recognize the cosmic connections of change beyond survival, competition and even morality in order to ensure the success of the sweeping changes that out time is calling upon us. No, I am not trying to preach theology, at least not in the conventional definition of the word. I am simply trying to carry the logic of science-based systems thinking to its natural conclusion. We need a theoretical framework to see such cosmic connections. As Albert Einstein said, "There is no empirical method without speculative concepts and systems; and there is no speculative thinking whose concepts do not reveal, on closer investigation, the empirical material from which they stem.” The greatest challenge of our time is that our accepted systems of personal, social and political language are no longer adequate for dealing with increased complexities of the new reality that we have co-created with nature (Confusions in Our Sense of Reality) . We need a new language, a new pairs of eyes if you will, to see, feel and act differently from the past if we are to survive, triumph, reconcile and dance gracefully within nature. We need to understand Who Is My Self and What Is My Work in this cosmic context.

The theoretical framework that I am putting forward - based on the works of numerous giants - is called Expanding Cosmic Flows:
Expanding Reality Model 2008-08-29.pdf
Cosmic Flows 2008-08-29.pdf

It makes only two fundamental hypotheses: the universe is expanding and finite or conserved in total energy. These two principles are supported overwhelmingly by all scientific findings known to man to date. While history is no guarantee of the future, these are as sound judgments that we could make at this time of history. Except for the most extreme fundamentalists, most people today recognize the truth that every human being and social or ethnic group is entrenched in some system of concepts about the ultimate reality of which we are a part. Science is valuable so far as it tries to make such systems explicit so that we can scrutinize them, recognize general trends or patterns and try to improve them. It is not about getting rid of hypotheses as mistaken by most working scientists even today.

So here goes our latest story of the cosmic reality that we are living and part of …

• The universe came from an origin of unconsciousness (the details would probably never be known due to lack of adequate language but we could see the trend within the limitations of existing language);
• For some mysterious reasons, it is expanding in the direction of greater consciousness or complexity (physical, then chemical, then biological … eventually metaphysical – us!);
• Such expansion is continuous but not linear in any linguistic dimension such as time or geography. In fact, it appears exponential on the time dimension;
• An organism such as a human being serves as an agent of cosmic flows. It accomplishes its mission by fulfilling four essential and systemic functions:
- Expanding in consciousness or complexity
- Integrating the new complexity into existing organism. This is a very rigorous and discriminating process, resulting in the formation of a distinct cultural identity
- Once the organism has achieved its new identity, it must perform by furthering the cause of the universe: facilitating cosmic flows in the direction of greater consciousness or complexity, which ranges in action from snakes shedding their old skins to cultural change agents catalyzing the demise of various human debris in various contexts (e.g., Iraq or Corporate America)
- As re-enforcement of its cosmic mission, the organism is rewarded by experiences consistent with its cultural identity
• The four functions inter-lock to form an immune system that embodies and spreads a specific set of values and cultural identity while expel others. This is the driving force for both the creation of human civilizations and cultural wars between different ones;
• As the organism awakens more and more to its cosmic origins and connections, it becomes necessary to transform its existing cultural identity or paradigm in the cosmic direction of greater consciousness or complexity. It does so by fulfilling the four essential functions differently – qualitatively, not just quantitatively as before. As individual organisms seek to transform themselves, they will be met with the most fierce (literally life and death) resistances from others both within and without his/her own tribe who are still steeped in the previous identities and paradigms;
• Despite the treacherous paths and massive casualties, history clearly reveals a pattern of cosmic flows and transformations that have and are still taking place in human societies everywhere and along the developmental path of a single individual:
- Magical
- Mechanical
- Relational
- Systemic
- Organic
• The energies of an organism do not flow exclusively along one path although there tends to be a dominant one. It varies with circumstances physically, socially and politically.
• Change should be identified with total energy patterns, not from one to another part of the overall flow;
• The direction of change is paramount and must be aligned with the cosmic direction of greater consciousness and complexity
• Cosmic energy must flow up (performing) as well as down (expanding) in the healthy state of an organism. Thus both actionless minds and mindless actions are pathological if they are not connected by clear values (integrating) and feedback experiences (re-enforcing)

OK, that should suffice as a primer of the framework. Now let’s look at some contemporary cultural scenes through these lenses and see if they are useful for us to draw new insights – the ultimate criteria for and against any theory.

In today’s Chicago Tribune, editorial board member Clarence Page told a story of the Luo tribe, a minority in Kenya that Obama’s father belonged to, celebrating Obama’s victory “with a bitter knowledge that it is easier for a Luo to be elected president in America than in Kenya.”

Hardcore human rights activists would probably deny or even decry such a comparison but it speaks to the truth: in a culture dominated by Magical energy, it is impossible to heel the racial or ethnic wounds since they are the bedrocks of the Magical identity. This is the case not only in present day Africa but also historically Europe (e.g., witch hunts), large parts of Asia today (e.g., the cast system in India) and even in the Southern States of America where Obama’s election is still being greeted with anger and fear by the rural and white majority.

What freed humanity from the stranglehold of Magical energy was clearly the Mechanical, the product of the enlightenment age and industrialization afterwards. Once again, it did not just happen in 17th century England or 18th century America, it is happening today in China and other so called developing nations at a massive scale. It is also happening to every young child growing up in this country and every employee in Corporate America. Madeline and I were discussing the challenges facing technocrats at Blue Cross and Blue Field and Abbott today (Challenges and Solutions for the Technocrats). It is essentially about how to free technology leaders from the mental treadmills of Mechanical energy in order to better deal with the demands of social complexity. We could only hope to succeed by replacing, 1% at a time, the Mechanical with Relational or other deeper forms of energies. That is by no means a trivial task but for a worthy cause in the context of cosmic connections. That is why theory U appeals to so many organizational change and leadership development professionals. It offers a technique for such transition to take place, in theory at least. In reality, any theory alone is powerless in combating the energy flows of the dominant culture. That’s why we need to create a community such as ours for people to discover, transform and master the new energy forces separate from the pressures and toxicity of the existing environment until they are strong enough to see battle. There is nothing childish or hysterical about what we are trying to do. It’s simply common sense and natural in the context of cosmic connections.

Another distinctive advantage of this framework is that it shed lights on the gray areas between what is traditionally considered economical, moral and religious. As these are all parts of the cosmic system, it is impossible to address one without the other as pointed out by Mark Taylor with regard to the current financial crisis in the latest edition of the Barron’s (Confusions in Our Sense of Reality).

It turns out that our state of being or flow has everything to do with what we will admit as real, which in turn shapes our moral and religious sensibilities profoundly. The road to redemption was once only through heaven but that picture has become far less certain these days in the face of our greater knowledge of the creativity of the universe, including but not limited to the planet Earth. The key here is not to become hung up with traditional terms and definitions but learn to recognize the patterns of change and adapt our thinking, feeling and actions with our learning. Thus the vision of expanding cosmic flows invokes a more profound religious feeling in me than does any static definition of redemption to whatever men-made idols of worship. The same could be said about the many ideologies centered on men, atheistic or otherwise. The problem with the latter is that humanity could no more exist or prosper by itself than a fish could without water. Alienation awaits those who are so bold or foolish to set up camp in a vacuum. The universe is a much kinder and nurturing place than some humanists believe it to be.

For those of us who spend a good chunk of our waking hours in Corporate America or other organized human enterprises, it pays to recognize the causes and effects of the different performance measures being thrown about by HR, our bosses, colleagues or even direct reports. My experience has been that most of the time spent on employee performance management is wasteful or even harmful. I have seen more than a few friendships going up in smokes because of difficulties of interpreting and applying these measurements in complex organizational settings where they are easily abused, mostly by ignorance rather than intention. Even the management gurus often see only part of the picture and confuse causes with effectives. For example, in his well written book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lecioni recognizes the important relationships between trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results. However, he had very little to say about what builds trust that initiates and cascades down the performance pyramid. Similarly, Jim Collins identified a 5-level leadership hierarchy and credited the so called level 5 leadership at the top of the ladder with taking companies from Good to Great in his extremely well researched and influential work. Like Lecioni, however, Collins described level 5 leadership as a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will” and little beyond that. It is clear from Expanding Cosmic Flows, performance is only one of the four essential functions of an organism. We must pay attention to the other three functions of a human being if we are to succeed in improving his/her performance in a sustainable way.

In more recent works on leadership and organizational learning, Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and the MIT group have begun to raise more serious questions on the blind spot of leadership and provide more systemic answers using the language of theory U. The Expanding Cosmic Flows theory takes a step further in three important ways: first, it explains the system dynamics within a single functional flow that is both necessary and resistant to change; secondly, it points out that the energy paths of transformation are fundamentally different from the functional ones and both compete for finite total energy in the organism and the universe; finally, it makes explicit cosmic assumptions about the momentum of transformation or the arrow of the U, thus integrating functional, transformational and cosmic energy flows into a single architecture of reality.

As individuals, we all spend energy at all levels of the cosmic flows. As a species, collectively as well individually, we have probably overstayed our welcome in the Magical and Mechanical forms of existence and caused serious ecological imbalances (terrorism and industrial wastes are but the byproducts of such an imbalance). The path to healing and hope is not to turn the cosmic clock backwards but to embark on a new course of transformation to discover and master new and deeper cosmic connections. The Expanding Cosmic Flows theory is an attempt in that direction and will no doubt be further developed under the guidance of our community of transformational practitioners through our varied settings and experiences. As predicted by the theory, that's how the universe expands and flows …

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