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Spirituality: The Discipline of Doing Business With The Unknown

Managers and entrepreneurs that embrace spirituality open themselves to greater opportunities for innovation
Managers and entrepreneurs that embrace spirituality open themselves to greater opportunities for innovation
  • Spirituality increases opportunities for innovation and creative problem-solving.
  • There is an overlap between science and “pure” spirituality, which Nandram calls “practical spirituality”.
  • Spirituality does not have to be linked to religious practices.

Since coming down from the trees, spirituality has played an important role in human society and history – 85% of the world’s population today consider themselves religious. But the transcendent also has a key role to play in entrepreneurship and business management, says Professor Sharda Nandram of Nyenrode Business University.

Spirituality is “the discipline of doing business with the unknown,” says Nandram, who was recently inaugurated as the Business and Spirituality chair at Nyenrode. The unknown, she continues, is an ocean of possibilities, making it an endless source of innovation and inspiration.

“We know how important intuition is for entrepreneurs,” she says. “The more creativity there is, the faster it is possible to think of solutions.”

But let’s draw in the reins for a second and think about what “spirituality” means. Perhaps you associate the term with “New Age” hippie movements that sprang up in the seventies. Or maybe it brings to mind stained glass windows, wooden pews, and the singing of hymns.

While Nandram acknowledges the metaphysical is often thought about in connection with religion in a Western context, she draws on Eastern philosophy to create a secular definition – one which focuses on the pursuit of meaning and fulfilment as part of a person’s well-being.

“Spirituality is the ability of any entity to become aware of its connection with its existence beyond perceived existence,” she says.

Okay, you might be thinking, but of what relevance is this to managing a business? Nandram’s advocacy can largely be trimmed down to three advantages: creativity, connection and satisfaction. First, however, it’s time to strap on your abstract boxing gloves, because we need to iron out what the professor means by “perceived existence” and “beyond perceived existence”.

Imagine a building. Let’s use The Shard as an example. Picture a tower of glass webbed with steel, rising out of the brick and tarmac streets of London to poke the (probably raining) sky. It’s an impressive feat of architecture but what you don’t see is the building’s foundations. Whatever magic was worked above ground is second only to that which holds it up. Without a strong platform, everyone from the ground floor to the 72nd would be desperately trying to bail out before the building belly-flops onto the pavement.

The ”perceived existence” is what happens above ground. It’s in plain sight: the edifice of windows. What is “beyond perceived existence” is everything we cannot see but which is nonetheless still there and still integral to our success.

Each individual worker is their own tower. Each has a foundation, the integrity of which is crucial to their stability. Nandram proposes that spirituality is a way of communicating between the bottom and top of the structure, thereby knowing yourself and your capabilities as completely as possible.

We can also use the building analogy to explain why Nandram asserts this awareness promotes connection, satisfaction and creativity.

The first two points come hand-in-hand. Feelings of connectivity arise as employees communicate not only with their “deeper selves” but understand how their deeper self is embedded within the organisation, Nandram suggests.

In our analogy, buildings rely on external sources for electricity, gas and water. The majority of pipes and wires are invisible behind walls and under floorboards, but still essential for the facility to function. By exploring their own selves, employees discover they are part of a network. Feeling connected helps boost confidence, provides a sense of purpose, and reduces perceived isolation. They are not alone and powerless in the midst of a desert.

With regards to creativity, Nandram suggests spirituality acts as a compass with which to navigate the unknown.

Visualise what Nandram calls the “infinite source of innovation” as the vacant airspace our structure will stand in. Comprehensively understanding the foundation we are working from defines the limits of what we can achieve.

This is actually a good thing. Sinking too deep into the possibilities allows your imagination to run wild, chase every dream, and with no boundaries your plans will fall under the weight of your aspirations. You cannot just keep adding levels until you reach Mars.

Nandram illustrates this with a Venn Diagram that separates science (“rationality”) from deep (“pure”) spirituality, with the overlapping section called “practical spirituality”.

Her mission is for this practical spirituality to be taught and developed further in business education. She continues a long tradition of teaching spirituality and business at Nyenrode, following in the footsteps of the late Prof. Dr. Paul de Blot, a Jesuit Father monk who taught in this field from 2006 – 2013.

Nandram’s inauguration reaffirm’s the Business and Spirituality module’s importance in how the university views the future of business. Even so, she acknowledges it will take time to catch on outside of Nyenrode – 15 or 20 years, is her prediction.

She believes managers and entrepreneurs that embrace spirituality open themselves to greater opportunities for innovation. It is not about just giving employees meditation time or doing company-wide yoga sessions. It’s about changing how we think, becoming more aware of who we are, what our potential is, and how we fit into the “integrated whole”.

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