Conscious Awareness: The Core Practice of Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Awareness is a process of recognizing what is going on inside and out, the effects of decisions and actions, and the interaction between a complex array of factors and forces.

By Jeff Klein,
Trustee and Executive Team Member, Conscious Capitalism, Inc.

“The shift in management paradigm (represented by Conscious Capitalism) is as transformational as the shift from the medieval view that the sun revolves around the Earth 
to the view that Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. 
It is a fundamental transition in world-view. Once you make this shift, everything is different.”—Steve Denning, Forbes.com

Conscious Capitalism is an idea, an approach to business, a movement, a community, and an emerging paradigm. Two elements comprise the core of Conscious Capitalism. They are represented by the words in its name: Conscious and Capitalism.

Capitalism is the socioeconomic system based on the principles of property rights, rule of law, voluntary exchange, wealth creation, and entrepreneurial initiative. Business is the human activity and form of social organization embodying and operating under these principles. Ultimately, Capitalism is a system based on the creation and accumulation of (financial, social, intellectual, relational, technological . . .) capital to serve individual, group, and collective human survival, propagation, and flourishing.

While capitalism has proven to be the most successful form of human social cooperation and value creation ever known, there is room for improvement. Collectively, we recognize some of the unintended consequences of our activity in and through business and our economy (e.g., ecosystem pollution, suppression of the human spirit and ineffective activation of human potential, financial instability, etc.), and realize that there are better, more effective, more productive ways to orient and conduct ourselves in business, to the benefit of all, including financial stakeholders in our businesses. Conscious Capitalism reflects our inherent drive to improve our individual and collective condition and to elevate humanity.

The Conscious in Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Awareness is a process of recognizing what is going on inside and out, the effects of decisions and actions, and the interaction between a complex array of factors and forces. It is seeing our seeing, observing our thoughts, and recognizing our feelings and the effect they have on us, others, and our surroundings.

Conscious Awareness is a meta skill or meta tool—a skill that enhances the performance of other tools. It functions much as a mirror functions for a dancer—reflecting position and movement, providing feedback for the organism to adjust to, or as the coach in the press box serves a football team, providing a perspective on the whole field.

Much of what occurs within and between us is unconscious. That is, it happens without our Conscious Awareness that it is happening, much as our heart beats whether we notice it or not. This is good, as tracking everything that is going on clearly would overload, overwhelm, and paralyze us. But much of our unconscious behavior—following biological, social, and cultural programs set in place decades or millennia ago—often limits and inhibits us from being more effective.

Conscious Awareness supports us to be present with the people and circumstances we are facing in the moment, rather than ruminating about the past, projecting into the future, or otherwise being carried away by sensations, feelings, thoughts, and intuitions.

When we apply Conscious Awareness on a collective level—to observe the effects of our actions, in this context, specifically through business and our economy—as reflected in opening section above, we recognize opportunities for improvement and even dramatic reorientation.

Experience: Bringing the “Conscious” in Conscious Capitalism to Life, Every Day at Work

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
 In our response lies our growth and freedom.” —Viktor Frankl

I invite you to try this simple exercise: Sit or stand in a comfortable position. If you’d like, close your eyes (after your read the rest of the instructions!). Take a few deep breaths and allow your shoulders to drop. Now allow your attention to slowly move from the top of your head, down your body, checking in along the way to notice any sensations or tension in your body, all the way down to your feet. Continue to breathe as you move your attention. Stopping along the way if there is anything you find interesting. When you are ready, take another deep breath or two, open you eyes, and return to reading. (If you haven’t done so yet, you can start the exercise.)

Did you notice anything you hadn’t noticed before? Were your shoulders hunched at all before you took the first deep breaths? Did you find any tension in your body? Notice anything else? We can do the same thing with thoughts and feelings, and invariably find things we hadn’t noticed before opening and focusing our attention in this way.

Why it Matters: Signs of a Shift

As I outline in detail in my book, “Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living,” Conscious Awareness is a powerful tool for transcending unconscious patterns. It fosters an expanded perspective and openness to new possibilities. It is an essential element in the processes of building trust, bridging different perspectives and cultures, engaging stakeholders, and sustaining collaboration, all of which are increasingly important in business. The ongoing practice of cultivating Conscious Awareness can be a powerful process for enhancing our effectiveness as a leader, collaborator, and innovator.

Two of the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism—Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture—are built on the foundation of Conscious Awareness, and the other two tenets—Higher Purpose and a Stakeholder Orientation—require Conscious Awareness to activate and embody.

Some 86 percent of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests. Social purpose continues to rank as the No. 1 deciding factor for global consumers above design, innovation and brand loyalty.—2010 Edelman goodpurpose Study

Global consumers, employees, communities, and even investors increasingly expect and demand that business focus on treating people well and on serving society.

Companies at the forefront of the Conscious Capitalism movement, such as Patagonia, The Container Store, Whole Foods Market, The Motley Fool, and others, are strong, healthy, and flourishing. Their employee engagement and customer loyalty are tremendous, and they are growing at industry-leading rates. They are perennial Best Places to Work, with extraordinary employee retention. Where the retail industry average employee turnover is 100 percent, The Container Store enjoys a 1 percent turnover rate and Wholes Foods Market a rate of less than 10 percent.

While there is no definitive data, increasing evidence indicates that the financial performance of conscious businesses significantly surpasses their competitors and the overall market. As one indication, Russell Investment Groups’ assessment of the 100 Best Places to Work shows a 3 to 1 advantage to public companies that are Best Places to Work.

Download “What Are the Benefits?” graphic at end of this article.

Jeff Klein is the author of “It’s Just Good Business: The Emergence of Conscious Capitalism & the Practice of Working for Good” (http://www.amazon.com/Working-Good-Making-Difference-Living/dp/1591797268). He is a trustee and executive team member of Conscious Capitalism, Inc., and producer of Conscious Capitalism 2013 and the 2013 Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit. He also authored “Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living,” and hosts a weekly radio program called It’s Just Good Business on en*theos radio.
 For more information, visit  http://workingforgood.com and http://consciouscapitalism.org, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

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