I’d like to start with how this idea sprang to my mind, so please bear it with me!
Last week, I was reading an interesting article on the net where the author mentioned a theorist –don’t ask me his name, I don’t remember – who talked about dark knowledge; knowledge that exists, which is powerful and relevant but which hasn’t been taught or written by anyone. In his own interpretation, the author justified the use of ancient knowledge in the light of contemporary comprehension and application and complained about how it is often discarded. A mind-boggling line that sparked my curiosity said: “Business leaders can learn a lot from ancient philosophers.”
And, now here we are, discussing what current business leaders can learn from ancient times.
Time for Rituals
Let me make it clear: Unlike the common perception, rituals have nothing to do with worship, spiritualism, God, salvation or superstition. As per anthropologists, rituals initially stemmed from the variations in culture across the world and have absolutely no roots in the occult or religious traditions of this world. Personally, I like the definition coined by Roy Rappaport, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, who defined a ritual as “The performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not entirely encoded by the performers.” I like this definition because it captures a lot of the important aspects of ritual like a formality, structure encoding, performance and etc.
Rituals are often linked with family or religion because they celebrate or remind you of what’s important. The aim of a ritual is to unite people through a common practice or purpose. And, ancient scholars believed that rituals have a role to play in the world of business and trade. For example, decades or centuries ago, in many occidental countries, small entrepreneurs like fishermen used to practice a ritual that involved the use of “nazar” –an amulet believed to have the power to ward off the evil eye –in order to acquire success in their business. In some ancient Asian companies, rituals were performed on an everyday basis because it was believed to be an effective way of strengthening its “corporate” culture.
Today, you’ll be surprised to learn that there are several companies that believe that rituals have a significant role in creating strong corporate cultures. Let’s take the example of Starbucks. This famous coffeehouse company makes all new employees participate in a ritual –it includes new workers doing a tasting with their supervisors, who then walk them through their favorite coffee flavor along with the story of the coffee’s origin. This could have easily been part of a quick training session or an online course, but it’s that personal touch that transforms it into a ritual and which has somehow created a thread, connecting all employees.
Now, remember this is a ritual, not a habit. And, the only difference that I can think of is that the former has a meaning attached to it. If you want your company to benefit from a strong corporate culture, you need to create a meaningful ritual.
Disagreement Is Good
“To find yourself, think for yourself” – this is a quote from Socrates and I guess this Greek philosopher doesn’t need much introduction, right?
Modern business is a term that is often defined using words like latest gadgets and technologies, environmental values, dynamic hierarchy, social values and the profit motive. However, if we take Socrates’ philosophy, what modern business lacks is its incentive and encouragement for independent thinkers. Instead, today you’ll find that there are lots of workers who will say yes to anything their employers ask.
If we go as per Socrates’ notion, the business world needs employees who can actually give critical feedback to their managers without fearing the consequences.