Friday, November 03, 2006

A Review of "Conscious Business" by Fred Kofman

A review by Matthew Brannagan- an Allied Ronin affiliate

“Consciousness is the ability to experience reality, to be aware of our inner and outer worlds.”

Too few businesses concern themselves with the levels of consciousness present within their companies. Fred Kofman's Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values is an illuminating view of the effects a methodology grounded in values-based business practices and leadership can have on an organization, and their personnel. This well detailed book expertly weaves a principled approach to business etiquette with a developmentalist’s insight into personal growth. Key to Kofman's teaching is the concept that conscious actions and communications are a central component of a successful business, and a happy work force.

Born and raised in Argentina during a period of military dictatorship, Kofman saw at an early age the impact unconsciousness can have on the truth. He lived for many years in a place where the truth was distorted to control social order. Years later, while working as a researcher on organizational learning at MIT, he realized these same behaviors were at work in meeting rooms throughout the business world. In an effort to create some positive change in the workplace he formed his consulting business, now called Axialent, devoted to “helping leaders realize their true greatness and express it at work.” Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values is just one of his many contributions to that cause.

By weaving an elaborate tapestry of sound academic knowledge, and personally relevant stories he has created a text that should be required reading for all those wishing to achieve success in business. He illustrates beautifully the trappings that exist for a business that overlooks consciousness, while providing a fully equipped toolkit for organizations seeking to develop an approach to business that aligns with values as important to a businesses success as they are to the individuals they employ. From a social and cultural standpoint, his teachings extend far behind the framework of business relations, as he offers insights into communication, right leadership, integrity, and consciousness that are as relevant to relationships, families and communities as they are to the leading companies he represents.For businesses, however, he brings forth, with vivid detail, the intelligent and skillful means in which organizations can create an organizational culture that fosters responsibility and integrity, and values communication and accountability, while developing leaders whose strong ways of being will invite organizational success at all levels. This is where Kofman is at his finest as Conscious Business serves it’s readers with answers to questions for many of the scenarios that diminish the level of consciousness of businesses who are seeking to raise it.

Unique to this book is an approach rooted in what he calls the three dimensions of business: the task, or It; the relationship, or We; and the self, or I. Though most businesses focus almost exclusively on the task, or It, the teachings in this book implore organizations to create equanimity amongst these three dimensions. With this approach the I, We and It all contribute to who the organization is Being, what they are Doing, and what results they are Having, ultimately making an enormous impact on what the organization and its employees are Becoming.Later, Kofman outlines the ways we interact with one another at work, including:

• Communicating to understand each other.
• Negotiating differences to make decisions.
• Coordinating actions through mutual commitments.

Then he brings together the conscious and unconscious ways in which we can address those challenges. What he offers is a conscious approach to business, where responsibility and integrity can overwhelm, and overcome, unconscious means such as manipulative communication and narcissistic negotiation. By directing attention to who an organization is Being, and what they are Doing, positive gains are certain to be made in the results they are Having.

Among the many compelling stories utilized throughout the book, is the one of a manager, William, and his boss, Zack. In this all too common scenario Zack responds to difficult news from William by using the principles of unconditional responsibility, taught to him by Kofman, to manipulate and shame William. While Zack attempted to utilize a tool he had learned, he did not do so skillfully, and the result was an increased friction between the two. What is reminded in this book, however, is that business success is not the ultimate goal, in fact it is merely one of the many means that we utilize to pursue our happiness. With that in mind we must focus on what Kofman calls the “success beyond success”, or the alignment with our values and our happiness that is beyond the organizational success. This commitment to success beyond success encourages focus on essential integrity and happiness, which provides further support for a “leap in consciousness.”

In regards to consciousness, Kofman describes seven important qualities that are apparent in conscious business and individuals: unconditional responsibility, ontological humility, essential integrity, constructive negotiation, authentic communication, emotional mastery and impeccable coordination. The concepts are simple to identify, but difficult to maintain in practice, and Conscious Business provides a roadmap for organizations and individuals to not just learn what these concepts are, but how to incorporate them into one’s personal and professional practices. In so doing, readers will be able to meet the invitation offered at the end of the book to “take these skills and enter the market with helping hands.”

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