Book Review: Flourishing Enterprise

Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business by Chris Laszlo and Judy Sorum Brown, with John R. Ehrenfeld, Mary Gorham, Ilma Barros-Pose, Linda Robson, Roger Saillant, Dave Sherman, and Paul Werder, introduces the notion of flourishing. The Foreword is written by Peter Senge. There is also an Afterword written by David Cooperrider. The last chapter is an odyssey of the book itself. Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusions.

Introduction & Overview
Even though sustainability initiatives “are more widespread now than in previous years,“ the initial energy “seems to have dissipated” (p.3). “We must tap into a different level of energy” (p.4). This is why the authors reframe sustainability as flourishing (pp.1–21), provide a historical context (pp.21–34), examine the roots of flourishing (pp.35–67), provide a bridge between concepts and practices (pp.68–150), and invite further exploration (pp.151–157). The authors note that sustainability efforts “often run into trouble when they conflict with current ways of operating and require new levels of collaboration” (p.4). The challenge is “to realize and acknowledge how much we are caged in by ideas that are no longer working” (p.9).

Meaning & Connectedness
The foundation of much of the authors’ work is “the search for meaning and consciousness of interconnectedness” (p.12). The authors define spirituality as “a way of experiencing the world and taking action that leads to caring, based on a personal quest for connectedness and meaning” (p.12–13). The following components are identified with spirituality: “Conditions for Community, Meaning at Work, Inner Life, Personal Responsibility, Positive Connections with Others, and Behaviors Associated with Expressing Inner Life” (p.15).

Spirituality & Flourishing
The authors have “explored the dynamic and complementary relationship between connectedness (… spirituality) and sustainability (… flourishing)” (p.19). Flourishing “cannot be pursued using … reductionist modes of thinking and acting” (p.19). Everyone “will need to develop the capacity to feel, see, and act differently” (p.20). The increasing importance of knowledge, collaboration, and networks “point to the importance of the capacity … to attune, notice, and sense in a variety of ways” (p.26).

Reflective Practices
“To get to … flourishing, we will need to go beyond our usual language and thinking” (p.35). “We will need to tap into … human emotions and motivations grounded in caring and connection” (p.35). “Yet we can see all around us the lack of care” (p.36). The step forward is therefore “to invest time and attention in reflective practices” (p.36). It is only when we have “a sense of connectedness—to our life’s purpose …, to other people, and to all life—that we reacquire … our capacity to think and act in ways that support flourishing” (p.36). “As beliefs are transformed, new habits of thought and action are created” (p.37).

We need “to understand what beliefs are, how they function, and where they come from” (p.38). “Reflective practices … raise our awareness of our … beliefs, helping us to see what we see and why we see it” (p.39). As long as we “operate from … outmoded beliefs, we can no longer hope to bring about true sustainability or … quality of life” (p.42). For example, “beliefs aimed at creating a flourishing world does not hold nature as a bank of resources … to be exploited” (p.43). “Because our places of work play such an important role in all our lives, … organizations must serve the whole human being” (p.44).

To understand “why we hold our … beliefs, we have to dig deeper into our assumptions about the nature of reality itself” (p.49). Our “deeper assumptions … shape the everyday … beliefs on which we base our thinking and acting” (p.49). Though it is tempting “to jump into action” it is important to “unearth these deeper assumptions” (p.49). Reflective practices allow us to “still the mind” and “access our deeper wisdom” (p.55). They enable “a more authentic and deeply human way of being in the world” (p.55–56), and “enable us to grasp an underlying order … of the universe” (p.57). Individuals who “experience a sense of interconnectedness with other and with the world around them are more likely to exhibit care for the world” (p.58).

The Tree of Flourishing Enterprise
“The Tree of Flourishing Enterprise” (p.60) shows “the different factors required to support a flourishing enterprise” (p.61). It shows how many “day-to-day” factors “above the surface” depend on what is happening “below ground” (p.61). “It is only in the nourishing soil of our beliefs and mental models that transformation can take hold” (p.61). “We can’t mandate reflection” (p.62). Reflective practices “must be welcomed rather than imposed or made mandatory” (p.62).

“The Tree of Flourishing Enterprise” (p.60). Source: Charlotte Gorham.

Guiding Principles
The authors have discovered “a core set of guiding principles” in support of flourishing (pp.68–69). The guiding principles are:

  1. “We are fundamentally interconnected …”
  2. “Our beliefs shape our actions …”
  3. “We can choose to act from love and caring rather than from fear.”
  4. “What we focus on expands.”
  5. “Flourishing depends on action coming from deep wisdom.”

Individual Practices
The authors introduce the following foundational individual practices:

  • “Meditation” (pp.78–81).
  • “Mindful Action and Flow (pp.81–82).
  • “Remembrance and Transformational Problem Solving” (pp.82–87).
  • “Journaling” (pp.87–90).
  • “Nature Immersion” (pp.90–92).
  • “Art and Aesthetics” (pp.92–93).
  • “Poetry and Evocative Language” (pp.93–95).
  • “Music” (pp.95–96).

Organizational Practices
Then, the authors introduce the following team and organizational practices:

  • “Story Café” (pp.104–105).
  • “The MetaSkills Wheel” (pp.105–108).
  • “Jazz Improvisation” (pp.108–112).
  • “Dialogue” (pp.112–117).
  • “Shared Values Management” (pp.117–120).
  • “Barrett Cultural Values Assessment” (pp.120–122).

Systems-Level Practices
Finally, the authors introduce the following systems-level practices:

  • “Traditional Systems-Level Approaches to Sustainability” (pp.124–138).
  • “W-Holistic AI – Appreciative Inquiry with Reflective Practice” (pp.138–149).

Flourishing Enterprise seeks to guide individuals and organizations to bring flourishing at every scale. The authors invite the readers to join them in working toward “the possibility that humans and other life can flourish on earth forever” (p.10). It’s a very long-term vision indeed. The reflective practices that are introduced in the book are just the tip of an iceberg. The starting point has been practices that promote flourishing at individual, organizational, and systems levels. The authors believe that the most important shift is one of heart and spirit. This shift is both simple and challenging. It requires us to show up fully as human beings. When we show up fully, so too will our sense of interconnectedness and meaning, and our ability to take action that leads to flourishing.