A sort of “velvet revolution” has been taking place in business, you know. The soul and emotions started to make their way into what was originally a tough, rational environment, slowly and non-violently knocking the old predator capitalism to its knees. It’s no longer enough to earn money; businessmen today need to see a greater meaning behind all the work, and in return this meaning keeps pushing them forward, prevents them from burning out, and brings wealth that is not limited to finances or even to themselves.
Zdeněk, you’ve just returned from the Himalayas in Nepal. How did this month spent without your phone and far from home enrich your life and business?
I spent this month with a backpack on my back, eating rolled oats and rice. Up there in the mountains, the temperature dropped to -10 °C in the tent in the morning! Ten complete strangers met for the first time at the airport and managed to create an excellent, dynamic group and a true sense of togetherness. We shared a lot of interesting experiences, both joyful and sad. There were quite a lot of health issues, and only half of us made it to Mera Peak – a staggering 6,461 metres above sea level. Those mountains are incredibly beautiful, but just as tough. You need to remain humble and alert towards everything around you, or the mountains will punish you mercilessly. In fact, it’s similar to doing business: each step you take is either conscious and resonates with your energy and clear purpose, or you simply perish. You are responsible for the results and the team around you, and your ego keeps pushing you forward. If you lose yourself there, though, about why you are there and what it is you’re actually doing, things will get bad quickly.
This “conscious step” you’ve mentioned brings me to the topic that brings us together today. In JIC, you work as an expert and advisor, and our website says you’re a mentor, coach, businessman, as well as a guide to conscious business. What’s your idea of a typical conscious businessperson?
Often, I’d say, it’s about a lot of things you discover in life, experience both in your professional and personal lives. Also, it’s often about expensive training, but I don’t mean the kind you pay a lot for to have things explained or recommended to you; I mean the actual decisions you make in work and life that are sometimes only money-related (which is fine), but can also be about relationships, friends, health, joy, love, and things like these. It’s a process that usually knocks you around and gives you some bruises before you make it out. Like a fast ride through a tunnel. If you remain open to them, these experiences can teach you a lot as you encounter them in business. If, however, you let your ego remain in control, often only a major life crisis can wake you up.
When was the idea to do something differently, i.e. consciously, born?
It’s the next development phase, as the world and mankind keep developing. It’s a nice reflection of spiral dynamics by American professor of psychology Clare W. Graves. It contains gradual development phases for community systems, companies, and even individuals. All this is clearly defined in history and described looking at the present day and the future. There’s nothing wrong with “good old” capitalism, and lots of companies will move on like they have been, either consciously or unconsciously. It seems that mostly young people are the ones who no longer feel ok with it, so the time to make a change has come, and the change is happening.
How does a conscious businessperson contribute to themselves and to society?
A conscious businessperson does regular business and wants to be successful and earn money. We’re still living in capitalism, which likes to be tough and even merciless. The difference lies in how you perceive yourself, the people around you, as well as your relationship to what’s around you. A conscious businessperson sees all this differently; they are interested in their vision, greater meaning of everything that’s happening, the culture inside as well outside the company, and the ecology of relationships and the environment. They’d like to be TOP, only in a slightly different way than before. For those around them, these businesspeople are still seen as powerful leaders, only it’s no longer about “bread and games”, i.e. money or bonuses. A conscious leader can formulate their vision, attract people to them, and work together on what makes sense to them. Success and money still go hand-in-hand, but it is no longer what drives them.
Zdeněk Kříž is a businessman, guide to conscious business, mentor, and coach. He spent 12 years managing the village of Knínice and built the companies SULKOM and AGLAIA.
You can’t do business spending your nights working online
When people consider doing business these days, should they do it “consciously”? And is it even possible to break through doing the old “tough” business anymore?
I think all business is tough! Let me put it this way: a businessperson is a free human being, and – mostly – the fundamental element for them is their personal freedom. Well, at least at the very beginning, before the system of today’s reality massacres them. Typically, first they start working harder, then longer, then they start planning and work even harder. In the name of their ego and materialism, all this self-sacrifice leads them to completely lose their sense of self. Eventually, they end up at the intensive care unit. At least that’s how it used to be, and that’s the most fundamental reason to think differently. Today, young businesspeople seem to be more perceptive, and admit relatively early on spending their nights working online will not solve the challenges coming their way. From the very beginning, they search for some greater meaning to it all – why to sacrifice their energy, what it will bring to them and those around them, and, often, what it will bring to the planet.
You’ve said that a lot of companies live their stories the old way. If someone is experienced in doing business, though, why should they consider making a change?
As the saying goes, the only certainty in life is change. They don’t have to consider it; after all, it’s their company and their life. This really depends on if they and their families feel OK about it, on what enemies they have, on how they are perceived those around them. A number of leaders simply work hard, no matter what, and often completely exhaust themselves. After all, ego is a powerful tyrant. They may manage to succeed and get even richer, but only at the cost of becoming lonelier, unhappier, and less joyful. Not powerful, but often powerless, ill.
Well, this may be motivating for some people. However, how demanding is it for currently “unconscious” businesspeople to switch to conscious business? Is it solely about changing their own settings or does this also involve money and invasive, “painful” changes to how the company works?
As the Tibetans say, “enjoy life today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is never promised.” If you don’t feel fine in your current environment, you receive some warning signals, either mental or body-related, you should acknowledge them, listen to them and make a change – like any change, immediately. The longer and harder you try to overcome it, the more painful it becomes. A businessperson much always remember their “self” – that they are human beings with values, missions, and other roles to play in life. A company is only one part of them. And this goes hand-in-hand with money, as each change comes with a price. Delaying those changes only creates more pressure and makes the whole process that much more demanding. And with a family business – in terms of a new generation replacing the previous one – tens or even hundreds of thousands may be lost before the egos of these two generations settle down. While losses like these are often unnecessary, they are one example of the high price that sometimes needs to be paid in order to develop further.
Conscious business as a marketing trick?
What’s the relationship between conscious business and marketing? If the owner of a company transforms into a “conscious” businessperson, is it enough to simply define such a change only for themselves or do they have to declare it publicly?
As the saying goes, in order to set others on fire you need to be on fire yourself. The owner has to start with themselves, but in general it’s a process for all members of the company. It has to start with the people; it’s not enough to just put it on a poster or write it in the newspaper. You need to live it… Of course, a company’s culture is reflected by the overall concept of how the brand is built and its marketing.
Is it possible that some see “conscious business” as an empty phrase, a trendy label they stick on their forehead to have a clearer conscience (or as a marketing trick) so they can keep doing their tough business?
This is an approach to life, moral values, state of mind, and handling your own ego. On your path you’ll discover new things, and you’ll win or lose. Of course, it could work simply as a mask, to play with it on purpose, but this only makes discovering and facing the reality around yourself more difficult and painful. And the same goes for discovering yourself. If you live in an environment set up this way, I don’t think you can get an opportunity or enough space to pretend like this. Sooner or later, your deception will be revealed.
Can businessmen become conscious in any industry? Say an owner of a microbrewery, a window manufacturer, a family bakery, an owner of a dog salon or an IT company. How can these people contribute to society if they become conscious?
Every businessperson is basically a leader who, directly or indirectly, influences a number of other people, such as employees, business partners, and customers. The energy they present themselves with and the values they believe in as human beings very much determine the entire company culture. And this energy determines how the company attracts people, partners, and especially customers with similar behaviours and beliefs. It’s not about a specific type of activities but more about the culture the company enjoys and presents. This topic is very well described in Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan.
Conscious business is a lifestyle, not a recipe to success
And is it possible to do conscious business and get very rich at the same time? Shouldn’t a conscious businessperson accept only as much as they need?
This very much depends. In order to enjoy sliding down a hill, you have to first climb it and enjoy the view. I think you need to experience it and make up your mind about what money means to you. Again, this is very much about ego, and you need to win as well as lose – simply put, you need to discover things. To earn a few million, and even lose some.
Could you describe the essence of success for a company that is just starting out? Does it include brand? Conscious business? A fresh, new product? Can an average product have a bigger chance of success when it comes from a conscious business?
Business is a heterogeneous organism full of life. Things that work somewhere for someone may work totally differently elsewhere. Conscious business isn’t a recipe for success; it’s rather a lifestyle for owners and the people in their companies to help them become efficient and satisfied, and for the companies to be economically healthy and successful, as well as to fill all of those involved with positive energy and satisfaction.
Concepts like company vision, values, meaning, conscious business, mission, and others are getting used more and more often these days. Aren’t all these more or less synonymous? Or do you see any greater nuances there?
It’s about the angle you look at it from and how deeply. Each of these expressions is a topic for a two-day seminar, and an enjoyable one. However, I’m very happy that they are discussed. And that beginning businesspeople are starting to see this as an inseparable part of the entire business-doing craziness.