What the Heck is a Conscious Corporation?

crowd cheeringLet’s unpack the adjective “conscious” before answering this question. Some basic Webster’s definitions of conscious are “aware; cognizant”, and “knowing what one is doing and why”. Consciousness, then, is “the state of being conscious”.

On a personal level, being conscious is a matter of degree; being unconscious or dead is at one end of the spectrum and being enlightened is at the other. It’s safe to say that most of us are likely to abide somewhere between those two extremes. From an evolutionary standpoint, consciousness is our most basic survival tool. The more conscious we are, the better are our chances of survival. And the more conscious a corporation is, the more likely it will be to thrive.

In the context of the corporation, the adjective “conscious” can be used to modify three main subjects. The first two subjects are collectives comprised of many individuals: the corporation itself and society at large. The third subject is people.

A corporation is a conscious collective whose level of collective consciousness will depend on a variety of factors, especially the level of consciousness of the leader, the management team and the board of directors.  All corporations have a center of gravity of consciousness at some point in the continuum between unconscious or dead (bankrupt) and enlightened. There appears to be a direct correlation between the level of consciousness of a corporation and the level of consciousness of its leader.

A general rule is that the level of consciousness of a corporation will not exceed the level of consciousness of the leader. In other words, the level of consciousness of the leader will generally determine the upper limit of the level of the collective consciousness of the corporation. An exception comes when a relatively conscious leader is replaced by a less conscious one whose level of consciousness is below the level of consciousness of the collective. This can cause chaos and dissonance, which may be what happened recently at HP with Mr. Apotheker.

Society at large is also a conscious collective whose level of collective consciousness will depend on a variety of factors, including the level of consciousness of its leaders, quality of education, and flows and quality of information. Such level of consciousness probably has a mean or center of gravity, which can decline, for example, under the influence of fear after an event like 9/11 or increase with knowledge.  Occupy Wall Street and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, for example, have made society more conscious about the role, effects and influence of corporations.

It’s helpful to frame a discussion of consciousness in the context of developmental theories, which outline how consciousness develops over the course of a lifetime.  There are numerous models (Beck’s Spiral Dynamics, Wilber’s Integral Theory, Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Hall-Tonna’s 7 Stages of Leadership, and Kegan’s 6 stages of equilibrium). Each of us has a predominant level of consciousness, which determines how we generally perceive and process our quotidian reality. There are several assessment tools (e.g. Cook-Grueter (see: www.cook-greuter.com) and Hall-Tonna (See: www.valuestech.com), which can give a person a sense of his or her developmental center of gravity or predominant level of consciousness. The risk with these tools is that the ego tends to over-identify with the indicated level. The ego also can cause one to forget that one is a work in progress and can manifest higher or lower stages of consciousness.  Stressful events, for example, can cause one’s level of consciousness to drop. Those cautions aside, the more conscious is the leader, the more conscious the corporation will tend to be. Happily, there are many resources available today to help corporate leaders cultivate their consciousness.

To answer the question, every corporation is a conscious corporation, but those that optimize that consciousness as much as possible may have an evolutionary advantage.  In short, expressly cultivating the consciousness of business leaders appears to be an effective way of increasing the consciousness of corporations.  Conscious leadership, coupled with structures within the corporation and legal architecture such as benefit corporation laws, help optimize a corporation’s collective consciousness to thrive.

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