THE BLOG
01/20/2015 09:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making Wisdom a Permanent Resident in Your Business Brain

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If you're a young business leader, paid to build and implement best practices through better strategies, you will be constantly searching for something new to secure your businesses position in the midst of all the chaos sprouting around you. The 21 century business leaders must be the David's that face the Goliaths rising due to the numerous emerging management issues. The recent wave of globalization has marked a surge in cultural integration and is calling for more business to understand its impact as they begin to experience increased diversity and ripple effects that come due to these cultural effects. As a result, intense debates have developed across the business realm to understand the role culture plays to solve the world's biggest and wicked problems. According to John Camillus who has been studying strategy for over 15 years, wickedness isn't a degree of difficulty. Wicked issues are different because traditional processes can't resolve them. (Ritel, Webber 1973) The spiraling environmental concerns, corruption, corrosion of business ethics and moral principles and poverty twist into an outcry for businesses to develop new ways of modelling their businesses and thinking to address these examples of wicked problems. Contemporary Business models have been used as guides and recipes for creative managers and business leaders (Baden-Fuller, Charles; Mary S. Morgan 2010) yet now is the time to go beyond these business models and investigate how the 21 century business needs to function in this globalized world with all its wicked problems and what is important. It's a call for wisdom.Through drawing profound business lessons & wisdom in:

i) Spirituality

ii) Culture & Language

iii) Experiences & Education ( increased exposure through travelling)

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During a project assignment after working hours, I vividly remember sitting on a rock at the edges of the coast overlooking the deep blue waters; watching the rise and fall of the tide and hearing the rushing waves as they caressed the brown sands of San Pedro in Cote d'voire. As the waves dispersed making beautiful ridges across the white sands - It got me thinking of the movements that were occurring within my business and the new environment that encompassed me. I found myself in a sequence imagining myself and the different agents (both people and entities) as a network just like the ridges that the waves I watched had created. It was this network that was involved in causing business activity or lack of it. Just as infinite neurons, powered by oxygen and sugars, we were a network of neurons powering a brain. A business brain! This brought me to the importance of wisdom to reside in the "business brain" in driving processes that led to positive change. Given that business networks are the drivers of movement and development in the environment in which they operate, it becomes essential to maintain all parts of a body (the body which is the environment in which business operates) as well as the business wellbeing (the mind, soul) all healthy.

Some businesses had good brains but crippled bodies or vice versa. This has been the case in countries were businesses have not maintained their environments and polluted their business mind with corruption and inflated egos thirsty for power. There have been many start-ups whose great "business brains" have been paired with bodies with broken arms or unresponsive legs. Yet I believe that great brains can stir any "body" to make a positive impact. The unfortunate scenario is the perfect "body" with a non-existent brain - this scenario is a scream for more "business brains" to operate in environments were the youth, governments and general public are engaged and also benefit greatly. However having worked in various environments it was clear that many "business brains" adapted to their various environments of operation and most were controlled by a headquarters - which we can call the "main business brain". Some comparable to the brain that operates it's legs in China while it's head is in America and has a body that sunbaths in Hawaii while its hands are pick-pocketing in Africa and the Middle east. No pun intended in that example. However it is a shadow of the crazy reality in some companies. It is difficult to pin a standard or norm of the perfect "business brain" or networks - thus just like the diversity we face in our everyday life such is the diversity of "business brains."

Influence of culture in business operations

During my time in Ivory Coast, I not only realized and experienced the importance of culture for the "business brain" to function and maintain a healthy body, but I understood the magnitude of the role that culture played in mapping the mindset of the "business brain". Despite having grown up in Southern Africa, my West African experience dissected the theory behind the complexity of putting Africa in one bracket. It crushed and separated the ideology of Africa as one blob in the middle of the globe somewhere where the lion roars and the jungle is colorful. The experience didn't trample on the toes of a rich African culture because there was no such thing as an "African culture". I collided head-on with this tangible hand - the Ivorian heritage which illuminated their intangible cultural history and present that had no resemblance to where I had been raised up. "The African culture" suddenly became an absurd and ignorant rant as the historical seeds of Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Benin uprooted the misconceptions that had been instituted by an invisible Anglophone Africa curtain which had painted the whole continent in black and white. Spending time working in West Africa as a Southern African expatriate was that experience that gave flesh to the African family body as well as wisdom and insight about doing business across cultures. It would be foolish to come blindly to do business in francophone Africa with an Anglophone mentality. The two "business brains" are different. Doing business successfully across Africa or any region for that matter requires that hindsight about the diverse "business brains" that need to be adapted across the region.


Language is a good starting point in any cultural setup
. It sets the tone and pace of the most important thing in pushing any execution of any project in a local setting. It clothes communication and gives life and meaning to relationships that are essential for long term initiatives within any organization. For many who have travelled or worked in environments different from their home country they will know the importance of learning the language - which translates to fitting in and absorbing the cultural wealth.

"Simply - no business can ever be successful without that local knowledge." After all the Swahili proverb stresses that learning, if you use it, increases.

What was funny was that the blow of the culture shock I encountered in West Africa was greater than what struck me in Europe. Mainly because my own initial lack of knowledge about the different angles of Africa was exposed. It allowed me to comprehend the biggest loophole in a United Africa for increase in business collaborations. From the North to the South of Africa - there is still a stretch of understanding lacking before a united Africa and the diverse "business brains" across the continent can collaborate and maneuver with ease for economic growth as a united continent. For the different "business brains" to collaborate the diverse cultural wealth of the African people must be fueled and channeled to promote a system that can allow easier trade and business operations across the continent. It's a necessary step for Africa to make through wisdom of the business climate and cultures across the continent.

However contrary it may seem given the biggest loophole of a united Africa , It is without doubt that the most common factors across Africa is the "Ubuntu spirit" together with depths of values and wisdom that have been passed on throughout generations. I would describe this "Ubuntu" as the two sided coin that works for the good and also the bad of the continent. It is this Ubuntu that equates to our humanness across Africa- the caring, respect, sharing and empathy which some have discussed extensively as collectivism. It is this collectivism that shapes organization structures, collective decision making among individuals, hierarchical structures of power, morals and cultural conformity in businesses that operate in African countries. In 1994 Anderson spoke of "our humanness" more closely related to our aspirations and dreams, our ideas and values, our personality and emotions, and our actions and attitudes. My biggest wish is that this "Ubuntu" can flow across the continent for economic progression and development of the African people. However there is a wisdom rooted because of this "Ubuntu" in these strong community bonds. Like the DRC Hema Proverb says wisdom is like fire - we take it from others. Many hidden treasures for business success can be found in much of this wisdom. The ability to think and act (perform movement) in any business requires using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. This is Wisdom. Wisdom requires a sound mind and a sound mind inhabits a brain. It gets us back to that sound "business brains".

It is this "Ubuntu" - togetherness - that allows an overflow of joy. Contrary to too many cooks spoil the broth - many happy hands make work light in Tanzania. Where two are united in accord great things can happen. It cultivates the atmosphere for successful teamwork! It's a spice that must also be added to the inhuman professional world to loosen up the tension in workplaces.

We know very well that in the brain transmissions ordered depend highly on previous knowledge, memory, experience and reason. From this information in our brains an understanding is needed for wisdom. It becomes easier to grasp and visualize everyday scenarios where wisdom, the mind and brain are correlated through previous knowledge, memory, experience and reason - making it possible to envision a "business brain" in action during business processes just like the brain during brain activity. It's the series of transmissions which lead to thought, action, perception and so on . Wisdom is a very essential element of the "business brain" - the measurement of wisdom itself can be connected to the quality and outcomes of the decisions made by the "business brain" through application. The Chairman of Unilever speaks of intuition highly guiding such decisions.

"When delineating the business strategy, an entrepreneur should not overestimate the importance of figures and mathematical models as conjured by the computer. Conversely, intuition, creativity and experience play a much more important part in this."

Floris Maljers, Chairman of the Unilever Board of Directors

He emphasizes the important role that experience and intuition can play in analyzing the complexities facing businesses in an uncertain environment. And for me like Strive Masiyiwa faith plays a big part in giving one foresight that allows shaping life decisions and values, the business brain and mind. Others have chosen to tag it as what drives philanthropy. "Religion likely motivates his philanthropy, which involves orphans and schooling, and is very personal: "I spend most of my waking hours interacting with philanthropists, but [the Masiyiwas] really stand out," says Jane Wales, president and CEO of the Global Philanthropy Forum and the World Affairs Council. "A lot of folks talk about 'engaged philanthropy' -- this is the real deal." She adds. I would conclude that it's something good business must inherit to fully apply the understanding of a servant - steward relationship in one's organization - pairing spirituality and a concern for ethics. Bill Gates has also highlighted the importance of the golden rule - which I think is an essential component of success in business. Business is after all people.

This new era bombarded with wicked problems requires a new kind of leaders. "Based upon extensive research and experiences with top leaders from around the world, Nancy Bigers and Matthew Marquardt have identified the eight critical competencies needed by twenty-first century leaders: (1) a global mindset, (2) learning and teaching skills, (3) a servant-steward relationship to one's organization, (4) systems thinking, (5) spirituality and a concern for ethics, (6) a willingness to embrace new technologies, (7) innovation and risk-taking, and (8) vision-building ". If we devoted time to acquire divine knowledge and understanding we would see clearly that all these characteristics are embedded in the depths of the parables and secrets of the word of God through revelation and some overlap greatly with traits taught through African proverbs.

A wise 21 century leader is surely a good steward with a human heart of flesh. Bill Gate says. "The golden rule that all lives have equal value and we should treat people as we would like to be treated."When asked if he believed in God, he responded, "I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don't know."

Influence of Spirituality and Faith

I have seen that throughout the world, our faith or lack of it does affect the decisions in our life and the world at large thus it does influence business values, activities, policies and hence the global business arena is forecasted and mirrored by our beliefs. It is the reason why the various country laws which affect the business processes are highly correlated to the country's culture, values and religious beliefs. Wisdom in business is understanding the effect these have on your business and having the constant courage to execute the right actions across different cultural setups without wavering and constantly changing who you are as a person or business. Some may confuse spirituality and faith - spirituality denotes to the core of who you are - it is the essence of what makes you tick and breathe - how you take care of your spirit - the measure of your stength.

Influence of experiences and education

Each one of us draws good lessons or teachings of life from experiences which hopefully we apply in our everyday life decisions and actions. Hence since past experiences are contributing factors to additional wisdom - my decision making style has become dynamic. Dynamic because as we become of age and move through generations and cultures - the mindset also keeps evolving. It is highly recommended for one to have experienced a culture beyond that which they were born into. Age is not always proportional to wisdom but exposure, endurance, strength and courage (all which are friends of wisdom) come with trials and tests and are hence correlated to wisdom. It's fitting to apply the Kenyan proverb - travelling is learning.

It's no doubt in Uganda they say to get lost is to learn the way. Hence it is a necessary experience for global business leaders who drive "business brains" to get lost in the world, experience living abroad in a different culture, explore and understand that any failure encountered will lead you back to the trail of success


How has your cultural experiences, background, spirituality and the various levels of exposure played a part in shaping your business and life?

Read more at the human business blog on seesano.

photo :Virginie Long