SHIFT: A book review by Bob Morris

SHIFTSHIFT: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change
Glenn Geffcken
Open Book Editions/A Berrett-Koehler Partner (2014)

How and why “now is the time for being, feeling, and living with meaning and purpose”

As Glenn Geffcken carefully explains in this volume, there are valuable lessons to be learned from indigenous cultures, lessons that will help leaders in almost any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) to avoid or overcome resistance to change initiatives. I agree with the title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Indeed, I would add that whatever got you here won’t even keep you “here,” whatever and wherever that may be. Organizations must not become hostage to what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

However, that said, traditions and the wisdom on which they are based must be respected. This is what Geffcken has in mind when expressing his admiration of “cultures that are rooted in a strong connection to Mother Earth, that are tribal in nature, and that have some degree of connection to the traditions of their ancestors that stretches back for more than a thousand years.”

These are among the lessons and values Geffcken discusses that are of greatest interest to me:

o Connect with the Earth: Cherish the natural world and its resources.
o Commit your life to the betterment of your family, community, and nation.
o Create a purpose that guides and informs your behavior, especially your decisions.
o This purpose must be appropriate to all human initiatives (“four directions’) and all “seasons.”
o Everything is connected and interdependent.
o Appreciate the wisdom of elders.
o “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
o Strong vision flows from clear intention.
o To be at peace with the natural world, you must first be at peace with yourself.
o The more you realize what you don’t know, the more humble you will become.
o “Your time is now” to live with meaning and purpose.

I have selected a passage in Chapter four to serve as a conclusion to this review. Why? Because Glenn Geffcken explains why he wrote this book and what he hopes his readers will “get,” if nothing else: Indigenous people have struggled to adapt to the so-called “modern” world because “it is alien to them, upside down to them, which is precisely the point of this book. Adopting indigenous principles does not require that we cast aside our technology and creature comforts, don the leather and fringe, and ride a horse bareback into the sunset. It may, however, require that we make lifestyle changes, as Al Qoyawayma stated in the quote at the beginning of this chapter that ‘Indian values teach the holistic approach to the use of technology for mankind’s good.'”

Long ago, in one of the letters that comprise I Corinthians, St. Paul affirmed that “we are many parts, one body.” I am among those who believe that is true. The challenge is to live it, every day and indeed live it every moment.

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