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Pragmatic Strategy – links to conscious capitalism and conscious business

The practice and ideas of conscious capitalism are not restricted to a few high-profile names; one of the joys of the subject is to look for ideas elsewhere and make connections. With this in mind Pragmatic Strategy – Eastern Wisdom, Global Success makes for an interesting and highly relevant read. The book is written by the knowledge management guru, Ikujiro Nonaka, and UK-based management scholar Zhichang Zhu (Nonaka & Zhu, 2012).

At its intellectual root is a weaving together of Eastern thought and ideas from the US philosophical tradition of Pragmatism, which is both convincing and relevant. The highlight of the book for me was towards the end in Part IV, Think When We Learn.  Here the authors explore, with convincing examples, why our current paradigms of strategy are failing and go on to offer a radically different perspective.  This is based upon:

  • The hazard of focusing only on profits and shareholder value, exploring this from a variety of novel perspectives
  • The problems and hidden assumptions that accompany traditional views of strategy, for example one person’s advantage coming with another’s loss
  • How we extend this to how we treat people as assets with little or no stake in the organisation who can be owned, utilised, discarded or replaced.

In itself this is a clear illustration of the problems we face, but it is in the response to this that they offer something substantial. This can be summarised as being less of a ‘God’s eye view of strategy’ and more that we are all participants in the process in which we all have a stake. In other words we are not mindless parts of a machine subject to the levers, pistons and pulleys of other’s intentions.

Here they argue that we all have at least some influence and control as part of an interconnected world, not in terms of grand abstract plans but rather in a contextually rich reality of everyday life. For both the pragmatists and Eastern way of thought there is a focus on:

  • Practical knowledge, rich in context
  • An iterative process of knowing based upon experience and reflection
  • Attention being given to both the head and the heart of organisational life.

This means however that there can be no certainty, that of the ‘magic bullet’, or the perfect ‘model’. Such an approach would be a contradiction, meaning that we would not have to do the very task demanded of us – to think, pay attention and to act with awareness into the moment.

Nonaka, I., & Zhu, Z. (2012). Pragmatic Strategy – Eastern Wisdom, Global Success. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.