February 4, 2014
I have some respect for corporate America, based mainly on the utter honesty of much of its language. For example, if you would like to teach something in a corporate environment, you won’t get very far if you tell management that you’d like to teach, and what. No: what you must say is, “I’d like to take ownership of knowledge transfer on this project.”
Well, that’s a very important and potent way of saying “I’d like to teach.” But there’s more to it than the mere verbal weight of it. Consider the terminology: the sentence opens by staking a claim of territory or ownership. This particular task is not merely my specialty; it is my property.
Now for the second half of that statement, which I really love for its brutish honesty. It says, basically: “teaching is nothing more than a movement of goods from one place to another; it is not a shred more dignified or complicated than unloading a truckload of product.” The truck, or teacher, contains the knowledge to be transferred. Somewhere out there, it is presumed, are receivers of that knowledge — those who will download the goods carried by the truck-teacher. It is language that is absolutely hammer-like in its candidness; it says all you need to know about the corporate mindset, about what makes American business the juggernaut force that it is in our world.
Now let’s try a simple thought experiment. I say, “thought experiment” because it is the sort of thing that can only be done ideationally, never in reality. I have, in the past, taught what is called meditation. Let’s say I draw up a proposal to a big corporation: a technology giant like Google or Apple or Microsoft; or an investment bank like Bank of America or Citigroup. I propose a knowledge transfer to the company’s employees of the practice of meditation, and I list all the benefits to be had for the company by the application of this series of training modules in meditation (this type of document is known as a “business case”): greater productivity, reduced absenteeism, a more collaborative atmosphere in the workplace (better teamwork), and — the great Polaris toward which all these subsidiary benefits are steered — increased profit.
Let us now dream that our corporation has accepted my proposal (again, this is only a thought experiment), and its leaders demand that I produce some prototypes of the training modules. What will they be expecting? Well, a series of Powerpoint slide shows would certainly be required. Perhaps some handout-type material for the classroom would be desirable. A Sharepoint, Intranet, or other internal online forum would have to be developed; it would contain video productions, documentation, and perhaps even a support applet to facilitate post-classroom reference and help. And all that would be merely the beginning.
For there must also be metrics. How can I justify the use of the company’s resources and money if I cannot measure the benefits of my knowledge transfer program in meditation? So I will require initial surveys, questionnaires, follow-up surveys and questionnaires, and other instruments and means by which I might measure the effects of my program in the areas mentioned above (performance, productivity, absenteeism, etc.). Finally, I would need certain reporting mechanisms — Excel sheets or data warehouse reports — to summarize and chart the progress of my program in all its profitable effects.
Well, could it be done? Of course it could. But could it be done well, that is, true to the spirit of meditation as I had learned it in a Zen temple and in various Taoist centers and seminars? Opinions may actually vary considerably on this point.
For one thing, many — including myself — would tell you that there is no such thing as a “spirit” of meditation. That is itself to subject meditation to a private and insular agenda: if you are using it purely for spiritual purposes or to further the goals of a religion or similar ideology, it is no longer meditation but a kind of indoctrination. Meditation done properly has no specific purposes or goals.
And yet I speak of it being “done properly” — so what do I mean by “proper”? Perhaps I mean “genuine,” or “resonant or in accord with reality.” Whose reality then?
Well, if I am working for IBM or Oracle or Morgan Stanley, then it must be in accordance with IBM’s reality, Oracle’s reality, Morgan Stanley’s reality. Their reality is all the same thing: profit, even if they achieve that reality via different means.
That, of course, throws me back to square one as it were. If I am to be hired by one of these corporations for my project, then I must make profit the objective of my teaching; and I must demonstrate that there is knowledge to be transferred from one mind to others in the actual doing of this thing. And that brings us back to…reality.
The only true reality with which a practice of meditation must resonate is the individual’s. I can no more dictate or define your reality than I can channel the ghost of Steve Jobs in a boardroom. For meditation takes us out of the world of common understanding, of agreed-upon realities. It draws us beyond recognized fact and opinion and into a deeply personal reality that somehow also makes contact with universal realities and principles of being.
So my proposal would somehow have to draw a line between the discovery and nurturance of that personal reality and its cosmic connection on the one hand, and the realities of top-line revenue and bottom-line profit on the other. Now I could easily cite research that demonstrates improved physical and psychological health even among novice meditators. But science remains rather ambivalent on such matters: “meditation is good for you” is still not a widely accepted reality. We tend to be much better at identifying things that are bad for us (cigarettes, crack cocaine, soda pop) than those which are good.
How might I draw such a line, then? How might I help a corporation see that having employees who can simultaneously see and experience all that is within and beyond themselves would make an accounting ledger’s black thicker and the red more distant? How could I make Jamie Dimon or Larry Ellison see the positive potential of a knowledge transfer involving techniques of meditative practice for their employees? I conclude that it cannot be done; it is merely impossible.
I shall start working on my Powerpoint slides this morning.