Published on 29th May, 2015, in the Economic Times.
Modern management, immersed in Americana, loves habits. Good habits, of course. Habits are repetitive actions that we do unconsciously, on cue. We don’t think much about them. We get used to doing them, and we them efficiently, and get agitated when we are unable to do them. In many ways, it is Pavlonian conditioning, a well-trained dog of a mind, that salivates automatically when the bell is rung.
In many ways, it is the opposite of what is taught in yoga and other Indian spiritual practices, which speak of awareness (dharana) and attention (dhyana), to all actions. To do things consciously, not unconsciously. To be mindful, not mindless, when we are acting. To be sensitive, and caring, adapting to the context, not doing it because that is just the way we are, hardwired to function in a particular way, going to the gym, come rain or shine, because we have made a habit of it.
In the Hindu architecture of the universe, there is a fundamental divide between mind and matter, the psychological and the physical realm. Not so in Americana, this values the material, the tangible, the measurable, much more than the intangible mercurial mind.
In fact, the Americans inherited this from the Europeans. In the 18th century, the word ‘spiritual’ meant everything from psychological to the paranormal, and psychology became a good word, stripped of occult overtones, only after the works of Freud and Jung in the 20th century. In Indian thought, in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu scriptures, the spiritual was primarily about the mind, the expanding mind, that can even reach infinity.
This is why yoga in America is simply seen as an exotic form of physical exercise, with greater value given to postures (asanas) with little value given to breath (pranayama) and even less to meditation and other practices related to the mind. Any mention of infinite mind (brahmana) and there is panic, as evident from the many cases in American courts, that the yoga is religious!
This tendency to focus on the body over the mind is the reason why habits are so much valued in modern management. We want our employees to have good habits, behave like domesticated animals, coming on time, working effectively and efficiently, leaving on time, or late, when told, without complaint, for a pre-agreed non-exploitative fee, in an inclusive diverse secular ecosystem. And this is achieved through training and rigorous measurement and of course, technology. Keeping everyone on the straight and narrow.
What is overlooked is the human mind. It loves to wander. It gets bored. It wants variety. It seeks excitement. It seeks validation and meaning. It gets distracted. It yearns for freedom. It can imagine alternate realities, even in the middle of a heated strategic meeting in the boardroom. It yearns for weekends, when it can live by its own rules, not the company’s rules. It yearns for holidays.
We forget that the way a promoter looks at the company is very different from the way an employee looks at the company. Most promoters follow their own habits and want the organizational processes to align with their habits, which are naturally ‘good’. Many leaders believe everyone in the office must come on time, even if they come late. Many leaders insist that everyone works late, because they work late. Many leaders, who finish work on time, expect their followers also to be as efficient, and effective. We assume that the world should be as we are. But the world is not. That is psychological diversity, different from physical and cosmetic diversity (gender, religion, sexuality, age, and race) sought out by many multinationals today.
If we have a common goal, and need everyone to align, how do we get our teams to run with us? How do we get everyone to collaborate if each one has a different habit? Who should change their habit — the leader, the follower? Must it be democratic vote?
Habits and rhythms and patterns of behavior give us a sense of stability and security. When asked to change it, our body responds violently as it perceives it as a threat. So we resist change. We like the idea of growth but not at the cost of our habits, good or bad. While yes, mimicry of great leaders may be a good way to impress them, and win favors; it remains in the end mimicry, inauthentic, a burden on our mind, that yearns to live by its own rules, not the rules of others.