by David Weitzner, Ph.D. Author of Connected Capitalism: How Jewish Wisdom Can Change Work
Over the past year, many of us have spent a lot of time working from home alone. To make sense of this work, we looked inward, breathed and waited for the pandemic to pass. Mindfulness has been a great tool for those periods of relative isolation and helplessness as it promotes wellbeing and reduces stress.
However, if we turn to the post-pandemic recovery, most organizations will have to take a different route to prominence in workspaces. The inner, passive, non-judgmental approach of mindfulness that so many have taken – one that focuses on developing the ability to be present without judgment or reaction – is likely to prove inadequate for our rebuilding needs.
Mindfulness is a spiritual system that is honed by those who have idealized monastic life. It tells us to “be patient and let things be” as a useful antidote to the sometimes overwhelming chaos of daily work. However, making effective decisions in the fast-paced and ever-changing task of recovery requires a peaceful mindset that is somewhat impatient and proactive.
To rebuild the post-pandemic, organizations need people who can react and create the world they want. Implementing this strategy requires a paradigm shift for those of us who have gone all-in on mindfulness – one that incorporates the currently unpopular notion that spirituality is so much more than a state of inner bliss.
If we are looking for meaning at work, we need to improve responsiveness, especially in an extremely disruptive competitive environment. Rather than passively failing to judge, we need to find ways to inspire the entire constellation of stakeholders who can contribute to or hinder our success in the workplace.
The response becomes spiritual as we invite stakeholders new and old into co-creative partnerships. At work, as in our private life, it is of spiritual importance to be in contact with other people. This is all the more true as we have to connect with others at work and come into contact with them in order to create something together. To do this, one must adopt a paradigm of being mentally reactive. I talk more about this concept in my new book, Networked Capitalism: How Jewish Wisdom Can Change Work.
What does “reactive spirituality” mean in connection with building a resilient workplace culture that is ready to relax?
Search for meaning, but also for connection and wonder
First, if a secular work culture is to be “spiritual,” it must be devoted not only to the pursuit of meaning, but also to connection and wonder. The highest form of curiosity is awe and wonder. The spiritual experience begins with meaning, leads to connections and climaxes with amazement, leading to a potentially endless cycle of growth.
For work to inspire meaning, it has to be an active, not a passive, exercise. In addition, work activities must encourage the development of new relationships if they are to be related. And if miracles are to work, work activities must create change in team members, leaders, and everyone around them.
While I was writing Connected Capitalism, I was speaking to a Google employee who was telling the following story: A year after his project assignment, his team had a meeting with a client to see how far they were going in creating the features of a product had come a year of work. The product manager described what the team had done. The customer replied: “OK. But what about all of these things that I asked you to do? “The product manager admitted that he had forgotten to work on these things and then said, ‘But let me show you …’ And the customer saw what the team had done and exclaimed, ‘This is amazing! Impressive!”
Not all companies can be Google and work this way, but that is the power of amazement and the connections it can build. “Impressive!” is sometimes an expression of amazement. Silence is sometimes an expression of wonder. It’s an indicator that our mental frames have been broken by the new content we’re trying to insert. Miracle is a power that transforms.
Stop managing people and processes and activate collaborative partnerships
Second, a reactive spiritual work culture means that leaders must move away from the idea of work as the act of managing people and processes and instead see work as finding, enabling, building and maintaining collaborative partnerships between team members dedicated to creating value . As in the example above. The team leader could have “managed” the team and the process to ensure that the tight project parameters set by the client were met. And sometimes that’s necessary to keep things from falling off the rails. Or the client could have “managed” the consultants to stick to the original vision. But wonderful things happen when we don’t.
Make yourself comfortable with uncertainty, compromise, and risk
Third, a spiritually reactive work culture requires that we are motivated, curious, and agile, while being content with uncertainty, compromise, and risk. We need to be curious enough to take risks, compromise, and react despite the reality of great uncertainty. That is, a recovery environment must be constructed by being active rather than passive. We have to make judgments to see the meaning. We have to judge with frequency and sometimes in a hurry when we are in recovery mode, not in spite of the uncertainty, but precisely because of the uncertainty.
As I argue in Connected Capitalism, effective work areas, especially in the post-COVID world, need to find ways to make all stakeholders feel like empowered partners in value-adding activities. I anticipate that companies that exchange mindfulness for ancient spiritual traditions based on reactive wisdom and which see the sacred and meaningful as best expressed in our actions and interactions with everyday life will thrive in the post-pandemic era .
David Weitzner is Assistant Professor of Management at York University. He is the author of Connected Capitalism: How Jewish Wisdom Can Change Work.