Michael J. Gelb is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development, and the author of 16 books, including the bestseller How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. His books are available in 25 languages and have sold more than one-million copies. He helps organizations around the world develop more creative, innovative and conscious cultures.
Raj Sisodia is the FW Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Conscious Capitalism Inc. Raj has published eleven books, including Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, and Everybody Matters.
The Healing Organization
What if there was a company whose CEO said, “Let’s pay all our people as much as possible?”
What if that same company showed up to help communities in distress before FEMA and the Red Cross when there was a disaster?
What if your company treated your spouse, your children, and even your pets, as stakeholders, and made it a priority to ensure that you can be present for them?
What if there was a company that not only reduced its environmental footprint to zero, but actually made a net positive contribution to their ecosystem?
And what if these businesses, who prioritize the welfare of all their stakeholders, who help heal their employees, customers and communities, are more profitable and prosperous than their industry peers?
After finishing high school in India with good grades in math and science, I did what was expected and went to engineering school, despite having no passion for engineering. After graduating I went on to business school because I was told my salary would double and I could work in an air-conditioned office. I then went to Columbia University to do a Ph.D. in marketing and business policy—primarily so I could return to the U.S., where I had spent a formative part of my childhood.
While intellectually stimulating, I found the experience of studying and then teaching business at odds with my own trusting, idealistic, and peaceful sensibilities. I never felt resonant with the dominant view that business had to be a “dog eat dog” world in which “only the paranoid survive.”
Coming from India, then a commercial backwater, I was stunned at the sheer omnipresence of marketing in U.S. culture. I found a lot of it unethical, much of it wasteful, and most of it ineffective. My academic work over the succeeding two decades focused primarily on
describing what was wrong with marketing. My colleagues and I showed that spending had gone up dramatically while customer loyalty and trust had plummeted; only 8 percent of Americans had a positive view of marketing. In 2004, it was estimated that companies spent $1 trillion on marketing, which was equal to the GDP of India that year. Today that number has increased further: Americans each received approximately 41 pounds of junk mail in 2016, or 6.7 billion tons collectively—most of which is never recycled. I wondered: what were we getting from this tsunami of spending? How was it benefiting customers, companies, and society? My conclusion was that marketing was doing more harm than good.
I was going to alert society by publishing these troubling statistics and more in a book entitled The Shame of Marketing. Fortunately, my mentor Jag Sheth gave me a sage piece of advice. He said, “Raj, in America, people would rather hear about the solution than the problem.”
That simple insight turned my life around. I relabeled the book In Search of Marketing Excellence, and started to look for companies that spent modestly on marketing and yet had outstanding customer loyalty and trust. That book evolved into Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, and it led to the identification of the four pillars of what we would later call Conscious Capitalism.
I remember the moment when I found my purpose—or more accurately, when my purpose found me. On June 12, 2005, I was researching stories of how some companies were demonstrating deep and authentic caring about their customers, employees, and communities and found myself moved to tears. I had never had a positive emotional response to my work before. I realized “There’s a better way.” Not only did I find one, I discovered a bonus to the better way: It wasn’t just more caring and humane, it was also far more profitable.
I gradually began to understand that business could help to heal, instead of contributing to the suffering I saw all around the world. I saw the suffering near my mother’s village, where the beautiful, life-giving Chambal river had been reduced to a poisonous trickle by effluents from a textile plant. I saw it in my father’s village, where all the birds have disappeared, as have the butterflies, bees, and earth- worms, because of an over-reliance on insecticides and pesticides. I saw it in startling statistics about the pervasiveness of financial distress in the U.S., about rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, and about increasing cultural discord. I viscerally felt the need for healing at every level, from within my own being to the world at large.
I was energized and motivated to learn as much as I could about organizations that had a healing effect on their stakeholders. When I thought about it, I experienced chills and goosebumps—a sure sign that this was an idea I needed to pursue. As I continued, people with compelling stories of healing organizations kept showing up!
Wonderful collaborators have appeared via synchronicity for all my books. For this book, I knew that there was only one possible co-author: Michael Gelb. Michael had come into my life when I was thirty-nine years old, right when most people experience the much-joked-about but very real midlife crisis. His presence, energy, and wisdom changed my life. Michael showed me that I could be a creative and whole person, not just the left-brained, hyper-analytical type that I had pigeonholed myself to be. He helped me gain the courage to trust my own instincts and listen to my inner voice, so that I could eventually discover and fulfill my own unique purpose.
As we started to work on the book, Michael said something that had a profound impact on me: “Writing this book is a sacred undertaking. We have to do justice to the challenge we have chosen.” We have both carried this commitment with us throughout the journey. Every word has been filtered through our souls.
We have written this book with love, joy, and a deep sense of responsibility. Having completed the necessary research and inner work, we also write now with a sense of urgency. There is no time to waste; it is later than we realize.
My vision—symbolically, but also practically—is to have the other side of the river near my mother’s village return to being green and blue again, to have the water restored to its pristine beauty, and to return to my father’s village and hear the birds sing once again.
When I graduated from Clark University with a double major in psychology and philosophy I set criteria for what I wanted to do with my life: It had to be something healing for others and for myself. This led me to spend a year studying the world’s wisdom traditions and meditation practices with J. G. Bennett in England. In 1978 I completed a three-year certification training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique of Mind/Body Coordination. In the same year I received my master’s degree from Goddard College and soon thereafter my thesis was published as my first book: BodyLearning. During this time I met and began collaborating with the originator of Mind Mapping, creative thinking pioneer Tony Buzan. Together, we developed and led five-day “Mind & Body” seminars for senior corporate leaders globally. In 1982 I was certified as the first Master Trainer of Buzan’s work. Later that year, with an idealistic dream to help save the world, I moved to Washington, D.C.—a place where it seemed that creative thinking, accelerated learning, and innovative leadership strategies were most desperately needed.
I began offering open-enrollment three-day High Performance Learning seminars, but was disappointed to discover that there were only a few registrants from government or the political sphere. Fortunately, the programs were popular with businesspeople and this led to many opportunities for me to teach and consult with companies in the D.C. area and beyond. This was the beginning of my realization that the dynamism of business made it, rather than government, the greatest point of leverage for making a positive difference in the world.
In 1997 I was asked to lead a series of these seminars as part of the Executive MBA program at George Mason University, to help participants learn the skills they needed to lead innovation efforts at work. Raj Sisodia, the director of the program who invited me to conduct the classes, was genuinely curious and open. He had a wonderful passion to enrich the lives of his students. I enjoyed our collaboration and we became friends.
Then in 2006, Raj sent me a copy of the draft manuscript of his seminal book Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose. Raj and his co-authors made a compelling business and academic case for what I had dreamed might be possible. Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t just a solo practitioner with a Quixotic notion of making a better world through helping businesses become more creative, conscious, and compassionate; I was part of a movement. With the support of John Mackey of Whole Foods Market, Kip Tindell of The Container Store, Doug Rauch of Trader Joe’s, and many others, this movement became Conscious Capitalism. I was thrilled when Raj invited me a few years later to keynote the annual Conscious Capitalism conference and then to serve as master of ceremonies for the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit.
I shared with Raj how much his books had inspired me and he said that my books had a similar effect on him. So it was natural for us to explore the possibility of writing something together. We both knew business leaders who were changing the world by creating positive, people-centered organizations and it was clear that they were having a healing effect on all their stakeholders. What if we explored further how and why they did this? What if we shared their stories to help more people realize and be inspired by what is possible? And what if these Healing Organizations were the key to mitigating many seemingly intractable problems like environmental degradation and climate change, obesity, opioid addiction, rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, and even the gaps between rich and poor, left and right?
For forty years, I have worked with visionary leaders around the world to support them in nurturing more innovative and human-centered cultures and to equip them with creative thinking tools and strategies that help translate ideals into reality. The Healing Organization represents an expansion of my own learning about what’s possible. As we worked on each story I found myself moved to tears by the courage, tenacity, and sheer goodness that emanates from each of them. Tempered by the decades, the dream with which I began my career is stronger and more vital than ever: I dream that together we can create a new story of business based on awakened conscience, through which we can help save the world.
FROM MICHAEL AND RAJ
Writing this book is, for us, a sacred undertaking.
It is something that we had to do. It feels like our entire lives have
been building toward this project.
Our process of writing has been a joyful experience of collaborative learning and discovery. Inspired by David Cooperrider’s Appreciative Inquiry, we suspended our preconceptions and opened our minds and hearts to learn as much as possible from each series of interviews. Wherever possible we visited the companies and met the leaders in person. There are many other Healing Organizations that could be featured in this book. The ones we profile here are those we know best.
The book is written in a unified voice. The we that is behind the words that follow is an expression of our shared healing purpose.
We want to alleviate unnecessary suffering—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially—caused by the way most business is done. We seek nothing less than the transformation of the workplace from a place of stress and fear to one of inspiration and growth, from what feels to many like a miserable prison to a joyful playground.
This book is not about the business of healing; it is about business as healing.
The scope of our concerns goes beyond employees and their families and includes all those whose lives are touched by the company: customers, suppliers, communities, citizens. Crucially, it includes the environment and all life on the planet.
And, now, as you read and contemplate what follows we hope that it will include you.
The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World is now available in hardcover book, audiobook, and e-book.