Spirituality Fosters Economic Development

‘Spirituality is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for further economic development’

lef beleggen

‘One click and your customer is gone’

Interview with Frans van der Reep. March 2003, Bi-Nieuws, the Netherlands


■ For many companies and not-for-profit organizations the Internet is eroding hierarchical structures, and with them the control they imply, as a means of coordinating people and resources in business activity. In many cases, top-down management has simply become too expensive to maintain.

■ Companies that can bring themselves into a position to ‘encounter’, and thus cease to ‘counter’ (control), will be the ones who survive. They will find themselves able to encounter the customer, to encounter other companies, to innovate and create in the marketplace (‘Who’s my PAL’, Pooling Allying Linking,) and to develop the possibility of real cooperation between coworkers.

■ The Internet forces companies and organisations to make drastic cuts in the cost of organization and to conduct large-scale transformations in their business. No longer organising their activities with solid, fixed, routines, (‘counter’) control and management, they will begin to structure themselves in the pursuit of ‘encounters’, ‘whole-people’ and leadership: a leap from ‘power-fight’ to ‘fighting power’. Learning to deal with emotions of vulnerability and dependability, which so many among us are confronted with at the moment, people in such a system are able to truly cooperate…

4 practices engels

Statement 1: Companies and organizations that coordinate all their activities by ‘counter’ – control and hierarchy, using ‘the right practice’( left under box in the fugure) – pay a high price.

Right practices deal with control excellence, best practices with operational excellence. Shared practices are based on ones understanding of ones core excellence ( what are you really good at) and next practices  focus at communicational excellence, the quality of the company’s cooperation being the ultimate asset.

According to Van der Reep, there is a tension between ‘counter’ vs. ‘encounter’ and ‘release’ vs. ‘control’ (see quadrant statement 1). “That tension can also be found in the wording in Dutch, German and French language.

Dutch: Moeten-Ontmoeten, German: begegnen-gegner and French: rencontrer-contre. The question now is when and where in the management of a company you should choose a hierarchical structure (‘counter’), and when and where a more organic network-based format (‘encounter’). The morning newspaper is a great example of a process where counter and encounter go together: for years already a well defined logistic process – the counter – has been the key to ensuring a paper arrives at your doorstep on time. The creative, information-driven process of the journalist is however much more in the area of encounter. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the creative journalist also benefits from having the paper delivered on time and thus from obeying certain hierarchical rules, such as copy deadlines. A win-win situation.”

An example of an organization where a mismatch could arise is the Dutch system of policing and Justice, according to Van der Reep. “This hierarchical organization, based on strict separations, is totally unlike the flexible networking structure of criminal organisations.  Whatever redistribution in their organization and whatever strengthening of control they might try, their efforts will not bring Justice and the Police into a position to follow the fast movements of criminal network organisations.”

Differentiating between really organising and management

The consequences of the “one size fits all” approach, in which activities are just organised around control and hierarchy, ‘the right practices’ (this is the way it is) come with a high price to society according to Van der Reep. He concludes that justice and policing, and with them many other profit and non-profit organisations, will need to begin to differentiate in their methods of organisation and management. Van der Reep also takes this one step further: “Management teams of (big) corporations don’t only find themselves confronted with the challenge of improving their internally oriented traditional control from “you have to, the right practice,” to “operational excellence and best practice”. At the same time new methods of control via the Internet, forced upon them by both the market and the tempo of change itself, need to be implemented. This means that they need to both increase control and release at the same time to implement shared practices, ultimately leaving the directing of activities to either the market or the customer. Many companies are therefore wrestling with the question of how to reach a synergy between enforcing the supply based – control oriented – internal structure of the company on the one hand, and the engagement-oriented cooperative structures and demand-focused (customer) chains of shared and next practices, based on communicational excellence, on the other hand.”

Statement 2: To develop control and release, which is necessary to deliver top notch performance, companies need to build ‘giants’ and need to know what are their ‘A’s’.

“Inside is outside”, Van der Reep continues. “Through the Internet customers can determine with increasing ease which company has the best offering for them. This creates incentives for companies to compare themselves with the outside world continuously. Companies are only allowed to exist in as far as their capacity to organize cooperation is cheaper, faster and better than the market. Cooperation within companies  therefore must be organised more cheaply than the market is able to organise it. If not, then the company has no competitive advantage and the customer will be gone with one ‘click’.” This is why companies increasingly need to ask themselves where their core business is, where their competitive advantages are, where they can make competitive offers and where they cannot. Van der Reep: “Entrepreneurs need to gain more clarity what their core excellences are as to how their grades stack up in the eye of their customers and what their ‘A’s’ are.”

Leadership needs to stay sharp

Van der Reep insists: “Organising insight into ones own A’s, alongside the capability to let go of activities in which they is not a top performing actor, will become the core competence for companies in the near future. To built this competence it is essential that a company’s leaders keep a firm and sharp eye on its performance and are able to make judgements in advance of measurements from the market. Essential in this is the ability to cooperate with the other ‘A’s’ in the market, from the perspective of ones own nines, and thus to ‘Build Giants’.” Building giants is not a straightforward process however, Van der Reep explains: “It just doesn’t work if everyone, driven either by their egos or by the system, is seeking to score. Real cooperation makes players genuinely dependent and therefore vulnerable. Many companies are wrestling with ‘organigrams’ of their organisations, also known as ‘fight charts’, in which the most important data is “where am I and where are you?”. The main hypothesis here is that people need conflict to create their own space, feeding their sense of belonging and their needs for approval, certainty and safety. Along the same lines, people who come together to gossip are often assured by collective reasoning that their idle conversation somehow contains sublime truths about others and about the world. Who dares to rely upon his or her own judgment when things really get tough? This mechanism seems to work not only for people but also for political organisations and for whole countries.”

Statement 3: Building Giants is only possibly by releasing

Van der Reep: “‘Building Giants’ is a metaphor for complete cooperation within and between companies. In order to really cooperate it is necessary to release tension, an age-old idea also deeply embedded in spirituality. A company can only maintain its profit-making ability if it is also able to develop its ability to en-counter, a concept fundamental to Building Giants. This en-counter requires releasing an amount of ego-awareness.” Alongside this release, Van der Reep sees a further development, namely the disappearance of gossip. Gossip, according to Van der Reep, is a way of developing mutual co-assurance of both relationships and worldviews, providing comfort but precious little else. “Gossiping is costly and doesn’t really achieve anything. It makes organisations more expensive and slower, whereas the ‘piranha society’ that the Internet really is, forces companies to become faster, better and cheaper within every organisation and even every country. I therefore foresee that gossip as a form of social cohesion will be gradually flushed out and that, in its place, people’s raw competences will become much more important. Competence, not conflict will come to create comfort. Being good at what you do, not gossip, will become the basis of cooperation.”

conflict create comfort engels

Conflict creates comfort

“In the middle is your comfort zone. Life is about growing your comfort zone. In the bottom right corner of this diagram there is one way traffic, where most people reside. In Ego the sensation on the surface is fear. This is where the search for parallel self interest and coalitions is conducted, at the high price of a lack of confidence, cooperation that is both expensive and elaborate. In terms of a company this refers to an organisation stuck in the ‘ego’ that cannot attain the level of cooperation within the business community that the Internet demands. At the upper left-hand corner is the pedestrian sign, which symbolises the equal footing on which we all start, the point at which we ask ourselves the question as to what we plan to do with our lives. One is confronted by oneself at this stage of spiritual development. This is where sense-making groups are born alongside spirituality as a whole, referring in our case to companies that have the will to survive and which are beginning to release, pausing to consider their circumstances. On this road it is sufficient to have yourself as a companion.

At the top right we arrive at the ‘Feast of Pentacoste’, the wisdom that is engendered into you and which allows you to use fully the faculties of mind, spirit, heart and hand. The traffic sign means ‘No Entry’. It is a route that discovers you, not a path that you can choose to take. If you are not ready, you instead enter the bottom left-hand corner, which is psychosis. It’s all about using the talents you have when the right time is there. The journey from ego to release is all about the approach taken towards daily life: grounded versus released. Attached versus non-attached. The line between psychosis and enlightenment describes our relationship to the high and low spirits which are in each and every one of us. ”

Statement 4: Spirituality is a prerequisite for economic development

“Using the traffic signs I have tried to make a down-to-earth translation of ‘the spiritual’”, concludes Van der Reep. “Although it is dangerous to connect economic development with to spirituality – it is easily seen as too non-scientific and vague – I still feel brave enough to do so at this point. All religions are about making sense of our surroundings and about asking questions like ‘Where are you? What did you do with your life? Who are you really?’ For companies now more than ever, these questions are extremely important. There are good reasons why meditation courses, sabbaticals as well as holidays in India or Nepal are so popular among business managers today. Nevertheless, people don’t act out their spirituality on the shop floor. It’s something for your free time; employees find it hard to release their need to score points and their ego-thinking while on the job. This is a sad thing, since companies will only be able to maintain their earning abilities if they can improve their abilities to en-counter and Build Giants. This requires a release of ego-awareness and a resolute choice to take the path of release. It requires confidens in your life path. Let life unfold itself. This basic tenet alone allows for real cooperation. A choice of spirituality embedded in release therefore is an increasingly important requirement for further economic development.”

Putting your customer before your boss

Theory is not just theory: it can also create tangible results. Take Van der Reep’s revolutionary proposal to reverse the chain and organize along the principles of self-management. In the telephone industry he recommended having mechanics talk directly to customers, rather than having them controlled from a central point. Internet, intranet and extranet are then able to give employees the instruments, and using mobiles to give them the information need for the job, for planning work themselves, reducing the need for several layers of planning and coordination staff within companies. What was formerly the domain of the manager can thus be handed over to the employee, who can become the manager of his or her own workflow. This approach has led to many of improvements, both financial and with regards to customer satisfaction.

Frans van der Reep: “Real cooperation is something different than jointly pursuing your own self interest.”

Picture: De Beeldredaktie/Guide Benschop


Original 2003 interview:

Bi-Nieuws Kwartaal blad voor bedrijven eninstellingen van de CMHF, summer 2003, p 4-6


1 Comment

  1. hans konstapel October 17, 2013 3:22 pm  Reply

    When you experience an enlightment it looks a lot like a psychosis.

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