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(November 07, 2006) Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to god, the things that are god's.

As usual, the Wikipedia has an interesting entry on the subject that describes content and context deeper than you'd ever care to know. From our vantage point, the aphorism has always shown the path to the effective blending of spirituality and work. Spirituality is context and work is content. Separating church and state (or work and spirituality) is a necessary part of personal priority setting. Understanding the difference between "Who I am" and "What I do" is where the rubber meets the road on this question.

You're probably scratching your head at this particular digression. Old pal Jeff Hunter has offered an interesting essay on Talent and Spirituality at his usually provocative website. Hunter opines that:

people hunger for meaning in their life, and since work has become an increasing part of their identity, there is an ever growing desire for individuals to be able to equate the value of their daily work with impact beyond their pocketbook. (Talentism)

He carries the argument further:

From an HR perspective, I believe this will be the greatest challenge that medium to large-scale companies will face in the coming 20 years. How do you balance the need to squeeze every last ounce of waste and inefficiency out of your processes, every last penny of value from your resources while creating systems that summon the human spirit? Or, to put a capitalist (talentist?) spin on the question "Which for-profit organizations will define spiritual fulfillment as their competitive advantage."

the spiritual problem that companies face is not a belief in a higher power. People have seen 1,400 CEO's be fired or walked out the door this year alone. The higher power of the working class is spending too much time in minimum security to be worthy of idolatry. The spiritual problem confronting today's organization is a belief in their own creative capacity and the inherent risks that come with that ability. The hierarchical control structures of work are designed to limit the unpredictable variations of the human being. When muscles or mind are the key component of the human cog then you must homogenize the diversity of the human spirit in order to maximize the utility of the human body. And therefore it was accepted (and rarely contradicted) as the appropriate and conventional wisdom that seeking a profitable path between the needs of fickle buyers and the opportunity of the unpredictable heart was a fool's errand. The epithets "soft" and "wishy-washy" were issued with snickers and sneers. When work was solely about the accumulation and preservation of capital, and when the acquisition of that capital was dependent on the ability to run machines or maximize the value of information, tapping into the infinite creative capacity of the human sprit was seen as sure path to disaster. (Talentism)

Jeff is simultaneously very, very, right and very, very wrong. (It's usually that way with the best and brightest. We should celebrate his willingness to clearly state a case and be open to the market's response. That sort of courage is quite rare these days.)

The problem is that his strawman (the notion that there is an inherent conflict between disciplined frugality and spirituality) is incorrect. Many Buddhist sub-sects believe that wealth is an outward sign of spiritual health. American Christianity has long held a warm place in its heart for both wealth and frugality. Meaning and money are not opposing forces, they are complementary. The healthy company of the future does not have to choose one over the other. It has to find a way to integrate the two.

Limiting the "unpredictable variations of the human being", the essence of effective industrial management, is a method for freeing resources to be creative rather than an approach to incarcerating them. Why argue that wasted energy and money is a good thing and somehow spiritual?

Jeff is right that increased flexibility and meaning are the terrain of corporate success in the coming years. The "over 50" and "under 30" components of the workforce are beginning to demand change in these arenas. HR's role in integrating rational business behavior with the creation of a platform for personal meaning could be powerful.

You just can't get there by suggesting that there's an inherent conflict.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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