By Gary Reusche
“To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” Chinese proverb
We live in a world of constant change. Ray Kurzweil, in his 1971 book The Law of Accelerating Returns, showed that technological change was exponential. More recently, Kai-Fu Lee wrote in 2019 about artificial intelligence (AI):
“Appreciating the momentous social and economic turbulence that is on our horizon should humble us. It should also turn our competitive instincts into a search for cooperative solutions to the common challenges that we all face as human beings, people whose fates are inextricably intertwined across all economic classes and national borders.”
In such a world, the capabilities of a single individual to analyze, understand, and take action are no longer sufficient. In a world that is constantly changing, individuals, communities, and businesses require a culture of learning to enable decision-making and achieve sustainable goals. This culture of learning involves study, consultation, action, and reflection. Bahá’í consultation is a collective process involving the input, ideas, and inspirations from the consultative group.
Although science and reason are fundamental to business decision making, effective planning for the business world increasingly requires emotional, cultural, ethical, and spiritual perspectives. We need to augment our scientific ways with the wisdom to appreciate our intellectual limitations. No one person knows everything, that’s why we need one another.
Consider the success of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Business now positions itself in the community, shows its respect for the environment, and human values. However, in the ebbf publication, Purpose Beyond Profit, Marjo Lips-Wiersma wrote,
“…if we only consider the business case for being socially responsible, that is, voluntary decisions to act in a socially or environmentally responsible way must lead to higher profits, we ignore the moral imperative for doing the right thing. In so doing important opportunities for business to advance other social goals are missed.”
Bahá’í consultation creates the environment to see issues from different perspectives and seek a unified approach. When our vision is too narrow, Marjo Lips-Wiersma continues
“…it ignores the true nature of humanity which is spiritual…… we see evidence that the real problems of the world, such as poverty, climate change, and inequality, are not being addressed adequately.”
To take another example: scientific reason relies on data and analysis, and yet there is much in this world that cannot be measured. For instance, one cannot provide data that proves the extent of love for another human being, or a spiritual connection with the natural world. Scientific reason often seeks to understand the natural world by breaking it down into individual parts. But it is the integrity of the whole that matters, what Rachel Carson called the “web of life.” Scientific reason alone won’t provide us with the answers we seek. Through consultation, we bring in a range of other perspectives that help us understand our challenges and develop robust solutions.
In adopting Bahá’í consultation, the benefit for business is that collective intelligence creates better solutions than an individual could. But that is not the only reason. The consultative process facilitates creative decisions as a result of group synergy. The group ownership of these decisions increases the commitment to them and their implementation. This is a significant benefit of implementing consultation in business.
In any process of corporate decision making, the actual implementers play a critical role. The best-laid plans of management can go awry when there is no commitment from those implementing the decision. In business, it is common for different groups or individuals to have their own agendas. Many good decisions are not implemented because they are not supported by those most directly affected.
Whether in the Bahá’í community or in a business group, the implementation of Bahá’í consultation is predicated on a shared set of values among the participants and the desire to work collaboratively and in unity. However, the values required for successful consultation may be at odds with the values of one or more of the participants. Particularly in the western world, we grow up and learn in a culture of competition, where one wants to “shine” and be recognized for his or her special value. Consultative decision making will only be successful as long as there is a “glue” to bind the group together and an organizational culture that values coherence and managing one’s ‘ego’. When people stick to their view unreasonably, consultation falls into a self-defeating trap. In order for consultation to succeed, a group needs to develop a culture of teamwork and continuous improvement.