What is a conscious organization?


Photo: Josh Riemer

The Conscious Organizations virtual conference, October 28-30, 2020, hosts 17 global thought leaders with ideas and methods for creating a conscious organization. I am honored and excited to facilitate dialogue on harnessing and protecting attention on October 29.


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Many Definitions

There are many ways to define a conscious organization.  You will have your own definition. I will introduce a few below.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein had a lot to say about consciousness. One of his many quotes on this topic goes,

“We experience ourselves, our thoughts and our feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires, and affection for a few persons nearest to us.” 

Einstein is describing separateness and we can extrapolate his quote to define the unconscious organization.  These operate primarily from their own, siloed interests with little consideration and care about the negative externalities they create that cause harm to people and the planet.


Photo: Mathias Jensen

Conscious Capitalism

The idea of conscious capital was created by Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey and marketing professor Raj Sisodia.  A conscious organization is one that is socially responsible and operates ethically while pursuing profits. There is a holistic intention to serve all stakeholders including employees, humanity, and the environment, not just customers, management and shareholders.

Conscious Leadership

Dr. Lance Secretan, a renowned author, speaker and leadership coach, has given the world important and impactful teachings on this topic. Dr. Secretan builds on Einstein, conscious capitalism and others with a holistic and inspirational vision for the 21st century, namely, that we can move away from separateness through the “practice of oneness”.  This practice means following the principles of courage, authenticity, service, truthfulness, love and effectiveness, as outlined in his book, ONE:  The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership.

Theory U

conscious organization

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A fourth definition I would like to mention arises from the Theory U and ULab movement at the Presencing Institute at MIT, led by Dr. Otto Scharmer who states, 

“The essence of consciousness-based systems thinking, aka Theory U, is to relink the parts and the whole by making the system sense and see itself.

There are a lot of parts that require this “re-linking”.  

The “relink” mentioned above is established by sensing and truly seeing our Earth, sensing and truly seeing our own selves, sensing and truly seeing our teams and organizations, and sensing and truly seeing our educational systems, hospital systems, political systems, etc.

Sensing and Seeing into Five Relationships

conscious organization

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I have read most of the “consciousness” books written by the above mentioned authors.  Since 2015, I have been a regular participant in the Theory ULab movement.  I am currently a student of and collaborate with Dr. Lance Secretan.   Since 2018 I am an advanced teacher of the Theory U movement practice called Social Presencing.

Reading is useful but can only teach so much. Until I learned to “sense into” and “see”, at a deeper level, within myself, I did not fully begin to understand the experience of what a conscious organization might be.  The learning and the practices continue forever!

The idea of “sensing into” and holistically “seeing” leads me to add to the definition of conscious organization.  I believe that a conscious organization is an organization whose members continuously practice paying attention, with intention, to the five relationships they are always in.

These relationships are

    1. Our relationship with ourselves (degree of self-awareness of physical and emotional states),
    2. Our physical relationship with Earth, as our bodies are attached through the gravitational pull,
    3. Our relationship with the visible social body – other humans we are interacting within a given moment,
    4. Our relationship with the invisible social field – the level of relational connectedness, history, opinions, affinity,
    5. Our relationship with the space, which now includes both our physical and our virtual spaces.

As humans, when we pay attention, or just notice, these five relationships, we are able to feel…… emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually….. that we are part of a larger whole.  We can learn to pay attention by getting out of our tech and back in our bodies, using a variety of practices, from mindfulness to play, developed by reputable organizations such as the Presencing Institute, the Secretan Center, the Strozzi Institute, Potential Project and others.  We can learn to pay attention by cultivating vulnerability and empathy.