Why are we looking at consciousness as a way of bringing about sustainable behaviour change in organisations? To answer this, we need to look at what consciousness is. There are several dictionary definitions of consciousness:
- the processing of information at various levels of awareness
- the ability to know one’s thoughts
- more than awake/aware a lens through which we view reality, resulting in perceptions, beliefs, mindsets, values, attitudes being aligned with that reality – it is possible to takeoff this lens and try on a different one
- a state of awareness and knowing – internal and external
- having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations and thoughts
For me, consciousness means being awake, being aware, being present, noticing what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, what’s important to you, why you like some things and hate others. Knowing what you love, what you believe in, what you think about the world, what you fear, what you avoid, what you don’t say, how you say what you say…. It’s about being aware of the real impact you have in the world through the habitual things you do, the emotionally-driven actions you take, through your decision-making and as a consequence of your choices.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been running dynamic risk assessment training for a major oil and gas client. What the sponsors wanted was for people to dynamically review risk as they were carrying out tasks. There are several reasons why people don’t maintain a dynamic appreciation of the risks around them: they are on automatic pilot, they’ve gone ‘blind’ to what’s going on around them because they are so focused on the task to the exclusion of everything else, they are doing work that’s habitual or routine – they could do it with their eyes shut, or they might have other more compelling things on their mind – their wife is running up debt, their son has been caught in possession of drugs, an elderly parent is ill, their supervisor wants them to hurry along as there are more jobs waiting…. In short, it’s normal that most people have regular periods or spontaneous moments where they become ‘not’ conscious, or aware, of what they are doing or thinking and lose track of what’s called ‘situational awareness’. Most of the time, they don’t need to be fully aware and present, if they are doing familiar tasks in a safe and familiar environment. That’s how we manage to pull our socks on in a morning while we are still half asleep. But what about the tasks that haven’t been completely thought through beforehand? What about when conditions change suddenly? If you aren’t fully awake, if you aren’t conscious about what you are doing because your head is somewhere else, what might the consequences be? And we are talking about situational risk here. What about the long term effects of our actions? Or the global effects of our actions? How often do we take time out to consider the systemic risk of our behaviours?
As one bright young apprentice said while we were teaching the new process, what happens when this new process becomes a habit? Don’t we go back to sleep? And the answer is, yes we do! The more procedures (or habits) we have, the less conscious we can become. And if we aren’t fully conscious about what’s going on in our own mind, or if we aren’t aware of our most basic behaviours and decisions at work and at home, how can we be conscious about the impact we have on others and on the world around us?
Something I’ve noticed in the highly regulated offshore industry is that the more procedures people are given, the more checklists, tick boxes, processes they have to follow, the less people think. Even when those processes are designed to get people to think about risk. The conclusion I’ve come to is that we need regulations and complete compliance – but to really keep people and the planet safe from our worst industrial (or banking, even!) mistakes we have to foster an ability to think about things in the widest possible way – with full awareness and with applied wisdom.
I think about corporate consciousness like this: organisations are like people, they have to know themselves fully and well to reach their potential. In a modern world where organisations are under massive public scrutiny, it behoves them to fully understand what makes them like they are: their drivers, their real motives and intents, their real values (not the ones published in the corporate literature), their unspoken rules, their fears of competition and failure and desires for success and reward, the true power they have in the world which they wield sometimes well, sometimes to global detriment. Once an organisation is able to look at itself clearly, they have to be able to join the dots between the impact of their corporate (and individual) behaviours and what is happening in the world – lack of trust, fear about an uncertain future, degradation of the environment, global warming, poverty, famine. Corporate consciousness involves being transparent and honest about what they see internally and externally. Corporate consciousness requires ownership and responsibility for the effects of their activities. And corporate consciousness requires they use their considerable power, and entrepreneurial creativity, to make the world a better place. For us and our children. Seven generations into the future. For the greater good.