Ending Underground Conversations

October 1, 2003

In this issue:

1. Newsbrief: John Addresses Leaders
2. Readers Respond
3. October Editorial: Ending Underground Conversations
4. More Newsbriefs: Trusteeship Institute Fellowship for John’s Projects
John Addresses Another Class of MBA Students
5. Next Month: Debunking One of the New Myths


John Addresses Leaders

John will address a group of executives and professionals from all parts of the U.S. convened by Enterprise Performance, a Northern California-based leadership advisory firm, on October 18, during their private retreat in the Bay Area; John offers a selection of ten new topics which are described at Talks.


Last month’s editorial about transcending left versus right prompted several responses. One of my more conservative readers thought it was one of the best editorials I’d written. So it would seem that I am making strides in writing so as not to polarize the great divide I see growing in this nation between conservative and liberal ideologies. Another reader felt challenged by the idea that we might possibly go beyond this well-entrenched polarity in politics, business, and religion. She was not sure how she would integrate it into her philosophy but said she appreciated the stimulation. Yet another wondered about the practicality or pragmatism in changing something so ingrained in our culture.

Thanks to everyone who responded. I welcome all comments on these editorials and am happy to keep them anonymous.


When I co-founded The Presidio Dialogues in 2000, it was clear that there were few places where working folks could engage in truly candid conversations about the negative aspects of the systems in which they were working. In recent
years, candor is even more scarce. With real or imagined pressures to keep their jobs in a ‘terror economy,’ to be politically correct for career advantage, and to avoid saying anything that might bring either ridicule or prejudice, people are keeping certain opinions to themselves, especially when those opinions go against the traditional culture of the modern day business organization or industry culture.

Few openly question the benefits to the world for what their corporation does or challenge “the way things are around here.” One may feel fortunate to have a job where there’s some sense of community, even if the company’s product is bad for the environment or feeds society’s addiction to consumerism. A few might engage in safe “underground conversations” with trusted friends and colleagues about matters they find troubling but, in large part, they remain “in the closet” about the values they would like to see honored in their workplaces.

What are these values that people are fearful of expressing publicly? What are the things they are afraid to say unless they feel very, very safe from anticipated repercussions?

Over the past few decades I have heard numerous concerns addressed, which provides a hint of the kinds of values people claim are missing in their working lives. This includes certain rules they think they need to follow in order to be successful, to fit in, or to simply keep their jobs. One young man told me that he believed he wasn’t supposed to become friends with anyone he worked with. Another felt compelled to act “sophisticated” when around business peers, using the ways others acted to model his own behavior. A common complaint is that people believe they can’t show any emotion in front of their co-workers. While many will privately complain about the enormous focus on the quarterly earnings and stock price of their publicly-held company, they will turn around and act in unison to maximize these numbers, going against the very values they claim to honor.

As I mentioned in my August, 2003 editorial, we have a case of widespread “fundamentalism” in business – a way of working and being that is based largely upon deeply-held beliefs, products of our thinking. Instead of having an experience we can work from – that provides us with a context for how and who we are – we work from a set of rules we’ve made up as a result of the fundamental beliefs we’ve accumulated during our lives – beliefs we think we need to adhere to strictly.

The culture of Western business has become one where greater numbers of people are feeling ‘conflicted’ – experiencing an inner battle between their hearts and their minds. Mental health professionals call this “double-mindedness” which results in a huge toll on physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. More and more people think they have to adapt artificial personas for the workplace, resulting in growing numbers of phonies, all acting similarly inauthentic, like actors in a play. The cosmic joke is: No one knows who wrote the play!

The model for Western business, including the multinational, publicly-held corporation which dominates our culture – our social values, our media and our politics – is in need of some “humanizing” to be sure. Using Sally Helgesen’s term “Frankenwork” – we’ve created work that is better suited for machines to perform than for people.

While thousands of consultants have their individual theories, models and techniques for transforming this condition, and each approach would probably be somewhat different, I know one thing for sure: Nothing will really change unless we get these conversations out in the open. Open, honest, inquisitive dialogue is essential if we are ever going to bring about the scope of change that will be necessary to transform the commercial culture that is so widespread and embedded around the world.

It is time to come out of the closet and talk openly with one another about things that are really important to us. The sooner we end these underground conversations, the sooner we can have “people-friendly” workplaces that provide opportunities for full self-expression of the authentic Self. Using The Seat of the Soul author Gary Zukav’s words, these new environments will support people in finding greater alignment between their souls and their personalities.

But it begins by taking the risk of talking openly, deeply and honestly. When enough people engage in this dialogue, getting very “real” about the way things are and the way they need to be, the tide will turn. This will require courage. As these dialogues become more commonplace, those with less courage will join in. Gradually, there will be greater and greater recognition that no one really scripted it that people need to act artificially to work these days. It is a myth, perpetuated by all of us who took on the beliefs that we are merely machines in the Industrial Era. It is a myth we’ve agreed to in order to fit in and perform as we think we are expected to perform. But working this way is unnatural!

We are human beings – evolving into a higher order and headed for an as yet unfulfilled destiny – and it is time that the work we do befits and enables the ultimate human experience.

Next Month’s Editorial: Debunking the New Myth


Trusteeship Institute Fellowship for John’s Projects

Massachusetts-based Trusteeship Institute, Inc. has invited John to be a Fellow of the non-profit corporation; founded by Terry Mollner, Ed.D., in 1973, TI has the stewardship of the planet and the future of humanity as a core value; Mollner is a pioneer in the field of socially responsible investing; John’s TI fellowship project revolves around his work with The Presidio Dialogues and updating his latest book for a 2004 edition.

John Addresses Another Class of MBA Students

Presidio World College, the first to offer an MBA in sustainable management, recently launched their first class and hosted John as a guest lecturer on September 20th; John talked about “conscious leadership” as a competency unique to human beings, the importance of systems thinking, and what organizations would look like if they were composed of people who demonstrated greater consciousness.

About John Renesch

Better Future NEWS is prepared monthly by John Renesch, a San Francisco writer, business futurist, and consultant/executive coach.

His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. For a list of all the SERVICES John offers, go to Services.

Join ASAW Today!

Come Join Us! The Association of Spirit at Work is a membership organization with a vision to make a difference in the world by expanding the role of businesses, groups and organizations in transforming society. Memberships start at $39/year for students; John serves on the Association’s Board of Directors; see for details and how to join.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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