The Menu Versus the Meal: Confusing Talk About Consciousness with the Walk

August 2013

I’m hearing a lot of excited talk these days about conscious leadership, improving our consciousness at work and conscious capitalism. I cannot help but wonder how much of this excitement is over the conversation about consciousness, the talk, versus becoming more conscious, the walk.

I saw lots of this in the 1980s when so many people were excited about bringing forth a new paradigm in business. A course about new paradigm business was introduced at Stanford’s Business School and books were published on the subject, including some of my own. Yet not much has changed in corporate cultures since then.

As I was talking with a colleague the other day about conscious leadership, he mentioned he was witnessing a “hunger to go deeper” amongst executives whom he coached. I was reminded of an adage from the 1970s – confusing the “menu” with the “meal.”

The Meal


Let me elaborate on this. One can thoroughly enjoy looking over the menu of a fine dining establishment, almost tasting the dishes as one reads about them. One can even work up an appetite reading about them and looking at pictures. But that is not the same a experiencing the dishes listed on the menu – their taste, aroma and texture, even presentation! Try eating the menu and you’ll see what I mean!

Executives talking about going deeper, being more mindful, and reading about mindfulness and conscious capitalism is not the same as becoming more mindful, more conscious, in our daily lives.

I wonder if flirting with the idea of the experience is being confused with the actual experience itself. As long as one merely engages the concept without having the actual experience, one avoids having to go through any sort of change. It remains an intellectual concept, in the head.

In a related conversation with another colleague a few weeks ago about marketing resistance to a consciousness-raising product I am offering, he suggested that when people say things like “that really sounds terrific!” or “conscious leadership is really important these days” or “I would really like to experience that” or “great idea…we need this in the world” and then add “but I can’t do it right now,” they might be saying “that scares the hell out of me and I’m not ready to do this.”

Why do people find the idea of transcendence so attractive as long as it remains an idea? They say they want to be become more conscious yet they have this list of reasons why they cannot commit to it.

From my own experience, whenever I notice I am resisting something it usually turns out to be some level of fear – fear of having to change, fear of disturbing the status quo, fear of the unknown, etc. Yet experience tells me that every time I have pushed through the denial and resistance I am delighted with the new “me” – the fear has never been warranted but the pattern exists anyway. I’m reminded here of the acronym for F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real).

So executives may be “hungry to go deeper” but will they commit to something that will take them there or will they settle for the aspiration, an aspiration with which they are familiar and comfortable.

In a more recent conversation with a third colleague, another provider of conscious leadership services, it occurred to us that we might be doing these people a disservice by accepting their reasons and not pushing them to look deeper into themselves. Might we be giving them a “pass” on their rationale? If we buy their reasons as authentic without challenging them to dive deeper for what might really be going on, we become co-conspirators with them on the deception they might be feeding themselves. Instead of supporting them in their growth as people we could be complicit in their deception.

This same colleague shared a conversation she had with a coaching client who told her he knew what he needed and when he was resisting. “Because I am the CEO I can say almost anything and it will pass. But what I NEED is for someone to push and challenge me – no matter how reasonable I sound.” This man is committed to his continuous growth as he climbs Maslow’s ladder toward self-transcendence. He is not committed to keeping things as they are, maintaining a cool image or protecting himself. He is willing to take a risk for the chance to grow.

Next time I hear a friend or colleague say something that suggests they are infatuated with the idea of becoming more conscious but might be avoiding the experience, I may ask them if what they are telling themselves or me is really true. I will invite them to look more closely at their convictions, leaving them to go away and consider what becoming more conscious might mean for them. And leaving myself wondering whether they will actually follow through on it.


Posted in

John Renesch

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

Mini Keynote Archives