How Learning From Monk Sand Mandala Processes Could Help Drive Agile Work Environments and Extend Organizational Lifetimes
From the heart of all matter
Comes the anguished cry
Wake, wake, great Siva,
Our body grows weary
Of its law-fixed path,
Give us new form
Sing our destruction,
That we gain new life…
— Rabindranath Tagore
Over 3,000 people from 25+ countries are gathering for the 7th annual Wisdom 2.0 Summit in San Fransisco. During the opening ceremony, the Monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery honored the participants by practicing the meditative art of sand mandalas to ground + connect us in explorations.
Although this is beautiful to experience in it's own right, one question becomes:
What can we learn from this and directly apply to modern day business processes?
The concept of ‘creative destruction’ appears to be a contradictory phrase, yet there is truth to how it requires the execution of both creation and destruction, at different times and different places, working together, for a company to endure. Therefore, perhaps if we can view this combination of words as complimentary, rather conflicting, it might allow us to derive deeper value from it. Eastern philosophies embody paradoxical concepts impressively. For example, the yin-yang symbol depicts a sharp contrast between black and white, as absolutes, yet also illustrates the interconnectedness and interdependence between these seemingly opposite entities, together as one.
This introduces the idea of how balance can ultimately be found within the tension of opposites.
Consider how corporations operate with rigid continuity, driven by a strict mental model that prevents them from maintaining above market competitive status. Yet, in order to keep up with the rate of change of the market, companies must adopt a multi-dimensional flexible combination of mental models that can shift as needed. This includes the full embodiment of the ability to embrace and leverage paradoxical concepts.
Whether it be the balance between creation and destruction or convergent and divergent thinking, the application of opposites is ironically what creates sustainable solutions. This requires a way of thinking in which agility itself drives sustainability and the transitory nature of life’s impermanence is fully personified.
If employees could learn to approach life, work and projects from this perspective, perhaps they would then be able to spontaneously work together operating in a series of mental models that allow for the creative destruction process to occur on the micro level in projects and programs, ultimately reflecting in the macro enterprise level as well.
Where could employees learn this perspective? As previously mentioned, we could perhaps learn from Eastern philosophies through studying the driving mental forces behind sand mandala destruction ceremonies held by Buddhist monks. Monks spend extensive amounts of time, energy and focus when creating sand mandalas. They use tools to arrange millions of sand grains into complicated designs and patterns. The process can take months to complete. This deliberately calculated creation is much like the design of a business, a project, or a process. Both processes involve each decision being carefully calculated to mitigate risk.
Both strategic company builders as well as monk mandala builders are driven by the possibility of an ideal state through the creation process. Where the monks excel, and many companies do not however, is at executing the destruction process.
Wikipedia states: “The destruction of a sand mandala is also highly ceremonial. Even the deity syllables are removed in a specific order along with the rest of the geometry until at last the mandala has been dismantled. The sand is collected in a jar that is then wrapped in silk and transported to a river (or any place with moving water), where it is released back into nature. This symbolizes the impermanence of life and the world.” If companies seek to master thriving in the reality of change, they must comprehend the necessity of this way of working and when necessary, deliberately dismantle aspects of their infrastructure, making way for a series of transformative processes. This largely involves the ability to let things go, such as a project one could have been working on for months. This will ultimately allow their culture to embrace multiple mental models, rather being restricted to one that inhibits their ability to keep pace with the market.
Explore the euphemism:
as above, so below; as within, so without
Thinking of this, consider that each individual that makes up a corporation has their own mindset, yet in aggregate, they make up the collective mindset that governs. Therefore, if each individual could transform his or her own mind to not only comprehend the reality of impermanence, yet to also value and apply it strategically, then the collective mindset would become agile and resilient. This would allow the company to (at least) keep up with the market rate of change. The market exhibits the creative destruction process already, reflecting the reality of life’s impermanence.
The opening up of new markets and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as US Steel illustrate the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one ... [The process] must be seen in its role in the perennial gale of creative destruction; it cannot be understood on the hypothesis that there is a perennial lull.
— Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942
Therefore, if a company could better build transformation into the culture as an on-going practice and embrace the transitory nature of life, it might be able to break free from the cyclical competitiveness levels into true differentiation. Simultaneously, it could also reach sustainability in lifetime embedded within a continual change process.
Humans get attached to the work they produce. As a strongly emotional species, we often suffer from this attachment and cling to it when, in reality, if we were able to let things go at the right times, we would be much better off mentally while also allowing the space for new opportunities. Therefore, there could likely be a strong correlation to enabling the creative destruction process when the majority individuals are learning mindfulness practices that deeper connect them with life and expose the transitory nature of all things.