At the outset of the Renaissance, Sir Isaac Newton pioneered a way of thinking that structured our approach to problem solving ever since. Newton’s method was to disaggregate complex things into their component parts,presuming that if he could understand the parts, he would understand the whole.
But today a new approach to thinking is gaining momentum in medicine that has nothing to do with politics or funding. Rather, it pits the Eastern philosophy for problem solving against Newton’s model. And its effects are starting to spill over into business.
As with medicine, our Newtonian approach to fixing a business is look for the part that’s broken, fix it, and expect the whole to work again. Eastern philosophy works the other way around. It starts with a broad theory of a healthy whole, and then seeks to understand how to move the entire enterprise to that state.
So, how does this way of thinking translate into running a business?
When things go wrong, most of us spend our time looking for the part that’s not working in our businesses. On the other hand, the Eastern approach involves undistracted thinking, alone and deeply, about how the whole of our business might better. It centers on seeing our business as a harmonious, integrated and continuously evolving system of forces and processes that relate to one another in dynamic and complex ways. This style of thinking imagines and then evaluates alternatives for how the entirety might be reconfigured. Not just to make it work again as it did in the past. But rather much better, and perhaps in ways that might not be direct extensions of, or even comparable to, how it worked in the past.
Whenwe devote concentrated time tothis kind of thinking, rather than looking for the broken part, we begin to see that shifts in one area reverberate through all the others. We recognize that the connective tissues …. communications channels and the information they carry …. rather than any person, product, department or process are often the culprits. We recognize that the most obvious target for a fix might not be the right move. And finally, we recognize opportunities to reinvent our businesses in ways that never make it onto our screens through the Newtonian method.
A sharp decline in sales,for example, might have little to do with your sales organization, its leadership, or the incentive system, but rather be rooted in the emergence of an alternative technology or a shift in tastes that you’ve missed. Tinkering with the sub parts of the sales system will never have the desired effect. Only when you look at the whole of the phenomenon of the decline will you find the true solution. Which might be a quantum leap in the significance of your business, rather than simply extending for a while through a painful and steady decline
So, from the Eastern perspective, our Jobs at the Top of our businesses aren’t about fixing parts.They’re about conceptualizing and maintaining balanced and vigorous wholes.
The proof? The businesses we admire most today are led in the Eastern way by individuals who have the capacity to integrate complex aggregations of signals from multiple sources into a pattern of the whole that others don’t see.These leaders also have the discipline to stay intensely focused on the whole and thereby draw courage to act in ways that others won’t.
Asaresult,theseleadersarethe destinies of their companies. Not the “tweakers” of the status quo.
Leading-edge thinkers in medicine are predicting that, fifty years from now health care will be restructured around functional physicians. Doctors who look at the whole of an individual’s life to understand the broader patterns that lead to health. Rather than being looked down on as “only generalists,”they’ll be practicing at the vanguard of medical care.Eventually, we’ll stop treating patients as collections of independent problems and treat them instead as the beautiful, but not necessarily entirely predictable and logical, wholes that they are.
So,this if approach works for fixing people—as it seems to work in the East—why shouldn’t it also work for businesses in the West?
Try reserving time every week to think alone, explicitly and without distractions, about your business as a dynamic whole. You’ll begin seeing things you never saw before. And become compelled to do something about them!