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THE ORGANISATIONAL CYCLE

Suhas K. Mehra & Beloo Mehra


Pondicherry

This paper was published in Sraddha, Vol. 6 (3), pp. 96-112


***
In his social philosophy Sri Aurobindo emphasizes the need to examine the profound
psychological factors behind the economic motives and causes of social and historical
development. As per his framework, both an individual as well as a society progress through
distinct psychological stages symbolic, typal, conventional, individualistic/rational, and
subjective. He also explains the inner meaning of these successive phases, the necessity of
their succession and their purpose.
This paper is an attempt to apply this psychological-sociological framework to understand the
evolutionary process of an organization. The analysis presented here is introductory and
opens up a new approach to understand the cyclical processes through which organizations
may go through in their growth journeys. Relevant examples have been used from a case
study of one particular business organizationi, Aravind Eye Hospital, and in a few instances,
personal work experiences of the first author are also included to illustrate the point.

I: THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE ORGANISATION


A close reading of Sri Aurobindos social thought suggests a strong parallel or similarity
between the individual and the collective. An organisation or corporation is a collective,
which like the individual has a body (outer appearance), an organic life, a moral and aesthetic
temperament, a developing mind, and an invisible inner core or being, soul. The difference is
that a collective or an organisation is much more complex because it has a greater number of
individuals each with their own physical, emotional and mental parts and their respective
development, each pushing and pulling the group in different directions, resulting in the
group soul taking a very crude outer form. It is only through an evolutionary process that the

organisation, like the individual, becomes more self-conscious of its various parts and their
interconnection and role in expressing its deeper purpose, its deeper spirit.
Oxford dictionary defines organisation as a group of people with a particular purpose. The
word corporation, as per the US law, suggests corporate personhood implying that a
corporation may be recognized as an individual in the eyes of the law. This legal equivalence
between a corporation and an individual also expresses itself in our everyday level of general
perception of some big-name corporations that have a close association with our day-to-day
needs and demands such as food, clothing, fashion, entertainment, travel etc. If we were to
pick some of these organisations or corporations and describe how we perceive them in as
few words as possible, we might use human characteristics to describe them such as cool,
fashionable, greedy, manipulative, caring for the environment, loyal, trustworthy, thieves,
arrogant, etc. And if one were to continue further, one can even assign these corporations a
human face based upon these characteristics. This idea was well communicated in the 2003
documentary titled, The Corporation.
The parallel between the individual and the collective organisation does not end here. It
extends further to the purpose of their existence. The primal law and purpose of individual
life is to seek its own self-development. Consciously or half-consciously or with an obscure
unconscious groping it strives always and rightly strives at self-formulation, to find itself,
to discover within itself the law and power of its own being and to fulfill it. (Sri Aurobindo,
CWSA, Volume 25, p. 37). The reason for this ongoing quest of self-discovery and selfformulation is because an individual is not merely an ephemeral physical creature with
growing mind and body that eventually dissolve, but is an ever-evolving spirit with a living
eternal truth manifesting itself through the outer form of mind and body and their
development. An organisation, like the individual, has the same purpose of existence,
namely, its constant self-formulation through its self-discovery and self-development.
In practical terms this implies that as individuals we keep on re-figuring and redefining not
only our self-fulfilment objectives but also our actions to fulfil them. This continual, evolving
and iterative process of introspection and the resulting redefinition of self-discovery and selfformulation is similar both for an individual and an organisation. We often observe that an
organisation, either by the pressures or dictates of external factors (market changes) or
through an internal process of re-evaluation (core beliefs), strives to become more aware of
the reason for its existence and the greater purpose it must serve. It may accomplish this
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through brainstorming sessions, introspection, and discussions. As with the individual, for an
organisation also the process of self-understanding remains primarily at the mental level, and
therefore, subject to many unknowns and mistakes. Hence, the need for an ongoing and
hopefully an evolving process incorporating further introspection followed by action plan and
implementation.
A couple of quick examples may help bring out more clearly an organisations process of
discovering its raison detre. Established in 1868 by Jamshedji Tata, Tata Group of Industries
started as a trading company. At present it has operations in more than 80 countries across six
continents, with over 100 independently operating companiesii. It may be suggested that a
possible reason for why this corporation continued to not only exist but grow and flourish
could be because of its continual process of discovering its purpose and fulfilling its role for
the communities in which they operate. This kind of growth may also be attributed to the
corporation staying constantly aware of the changes in the market scenarios and
opportunities, and consciously adapting itself in order to rediscover its role and purpose.
During its 125 years of history, the company must have consciously gone through many
cycles of self-discovery and self-fulfilment.
Eastman Kodak Company could present another example. During most of the 20th century it
held a dominant position in photographic film industry, and in 1976 had a 90% market share
of photographic film sales in the United States. It began to struggle financially in the late
1990s as a result of the decline in sales of photographic film and its slowness in transitioning
to digital photography, despite having invented the core technology used in current digital
cameras. In January 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Several external reasons can be
provided to explain its downfall. However, from the perspective of deeper social psychology
that is being discussed here, it may be suggested that Kodak had not been able to rediscover
its purpose of existence in the changed scenario and hence slowly ceased to exist.

II: EVOLUTIONARY STAGES OF AN ORGANISATION


In its continual and evolving process of discovering and rediscovering its purpose and need
for existence, an organisation/ corporation requires some framework to chart its progress.
This is often done by tracking the various indicators such as market share, shareholder value,
customer satisfaction, market ratings, employee engagement, financial health, etc. All these
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tangible measures, though important in their own right, provide only a surface level analysis.
Furthermore, these measures present the results of the decisions and actions taken by the
corporation in the past. An organisation also requires a broad framework to visualise its
onward march, especially in areas which are non-tangible such as creating its brand value,
relation to the larger community, commitment toward societys wellbeing, employee
motivation, human resource development, overall worker morale etc. Such things are often
not measurable. To gain a better appreciation of how these aspects contribute to the overall
health and progress of an organisation it becomes necessary to understand the different
evolutionary stages through which an individual and an organisation pass in their path to selfdiscovery. Here again, the parallel between an individual and organisation is reinforced.
Sri Aurobindo provides one such universally applicable framework based on his keen insight
into the psychological stages of evolution relevant both for an individual and a society/
collective. These stages are 1. Symbolic
2. Typal
3. Conventional
4. Rational/Individualistic
5. Subjective
It must be noted here that in the latter part of his book, The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo uses
a different terminology to indicate these stages Infra-rational, Rational and Supra-rational.
It may be suggested that the first three, Symbolic, Typal and Conventional are considered
together as Infra-rational stages of social evolution, while Subjective (and Spiritual, which is
beyond the scope of this present analysis) is part of the Supra-rational stages. It should also
be noted that the term infra-rational doesnt necessarily suggest something negative, it is
simply a stage in the evolutionary process. Instinct, impulse, feeling, imagination may all be
infra-rational tendencies, just as or sometimes even more useful to the growth process than
rationality or intellectual reason.
For this introductory analysis, it seems to make more sense to use the earlier terminology
symbolic, typal, conventional, rational, and subjective because we believe this allows us to
go a bit deeper into the psychological workings of the individual and/or collective mind
which is instrumental in the earlier stages of an organizations development. It also helps us

to identify the different types of infra-rational tendencies that may be at work in an


organizations developmental process.
It is also an opportune moment to clarify that none of these stages are perfectly sequential. In
a way, most or all of them may be co-existing together at any given point of time. These are
also to be seen more as the psychological tendencies at work rather than concrete material
phases.
Symbolic Stage
Most of us will agree that the electric light bulb we use in our homes is considered as one of
the most significant inventions of the 20th century. One of the key challenges faced by the
inventor was to find the appropriate material for the filament, that little wire inside the light
bulb. Edison had filled more than 40,000 pages with detailed notes on 1600 possible
alternative materials for the filament before he was able to come up with a bulb that
withstood a 40-hour test in his laboratoryiii. Probably this experience might have inspired him
to commentGenius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Makes one wonder what was Edisons inspiration, for which he was willing to perspire for so
long. Could it be that for this inventor, an electric bulb symbolised light, vision? Or was it his
deep yearning to create something new? Or was it simply an inventors pride? This is
something he only would truly know.
For our purposes what this example suggests is that at the very beginning of any new project
or venture, an individual is guided by something symbolic whose full force and significance
she/ he may not fully grasp on the mental level. This is the stage well before any business
model has been put in place, this is a time when the individual is inspired and motivated by
an idea or merely its symbolic representation. Novel innovations are conceived during this
stage.
This, as per Sri Aurobindo, is the symbolic stage. During this stage the individual/
organisation is strongly motivated by an abstract idea symbolising something very potent and
powerful. Sri Aurobindo defines symbol as having a form on one plane that represents a
truth of another (CWSA, Volume 30, p. 137). Furthermore, a symbol is something which
man feels to be present behind himself and his life and his activities (CWSA, Volume 25, p.
7). It must be emphasized that a symbol may take a form on any plane from most material
to most subtle. A few examples may explain further.
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During the Kargil war, after the fierce battle resulting in re-capturing of Tiger Hill the
jubilant Indian soldiers hoisted the Indian national flag. This was a highly symbolic act
because the national flag is a representation of the idea of Nation, the idea of India. The force
of this symbol is such that it continually inspires countless soldiers to sacrifice their lives for
the nation.
Or lets consider the example of currency. While physically being merely a piece of paper in
its symbolic function it represents a force or a power that moves the entire economic activity
in the society.
Several scientists and inventors have spoken of the significance of such symbolism in their
works. Twice awarded with Nobel Prize, Marie Curie once commented, A scientist in his
laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that
impress him as though they were fairy tales.iv She was fascinated by the mystery of the
unknown which to her seemed like fairy tales.
Emphasizing the infra-rational characteristic of the symbolic beginnings of an innovation,
Nikola Tesla, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current
electricity supply system, remarked, [I]nstinct is something which transcends knowledge.
We have, undoubtedly, certain finer fibers that enable us to perceive truths when logical
deduction, or any other willful effort of the brain, is futile.v
One of the most powerful examples indicating the significance of this symbolic stage in the
overall journey of an organisation comes from the worlds largest eye care facility. Aravind
Eye Care System was started by Padmashree Dr. G. Venkataswamy (fondly known as Dr. V)
in the temple city of Madurai, India. Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy in their wellresearched book Infinite Vision: How Aravind became the Worlds greatest business case for
compassion provide an excellent glimpse into the inspiration that motivated and guided Dr. V
throughout his career as an eye surgeon and his life as the Founder-Director of Aravind Eye
Care. Readers may benefit by a small introduction to Dr. Vs life.
Dr. V. was born in 1918 to a well-respected farming family in a small village in South India.
During his childhood he witnessed several child delivery deaths in the village and out of
compassion and love he resolved to become an obstetrician. He received his medical degree
from the Stanley Medical College in Chennai and joined the Indian Army Medical Corps to
practice as an obstetrician. Soon after joining the army Dr. V. faced a major tragedy when
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rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative disease attacked his hands. Due to this condition he had
to give up obstetrics and seek retirement from the army. He was bed-ridden for about two
years. After which he began studying ophthalmology and had instruments specially designed
for his arthritic hands each one custom-made to fill a specific need. These instruments
enabled him to perform as many as 100 cataract surgeries a day. He quickly became the most
admired cataract surgeon in India. After retirement he founded Aravind Eye Hospital. Since
then it has grown into a network of eye hospitals that have seen a total of nearly 32 million
patients in 36 years and performed nearly 4 million eye surgeries, the majority of them done
at subsidised rates or even free of cost. It must be noted that the organisation has remained
self-reliant with regard to its finances. The model of Aravind has been applauded all over the
world and has become a subject for numerous case studiesvi.
Dr. Vs innate sense of compassion for his fellow human beings was heightened and
deepened by his love and devotion for his spiritual gurus, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In
several journals he maintained throughout his life he wrote candidly about being guided by
something intangible, almost symbolic of an idea he would later implement at Aravind. Some
examples of such entries include:
Last night there was a revelation ...
I had a dream or vision of ...
Today an idea came to me ...
I had a feeling or experience that...
All my actions are not based on reason. I have been guided mysteriously all my life.
(p. 141)
In another entry Dr. V elaborated upon his deepest inspiration. In the words quoted below we
find a compelling argument for the necessity of having an ideal as a starting point for all
meaningful work. This ideal symbolises something much higher and deeper than individual
personal ambition for success. He wrote:
Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must also be the joy of doing
something beautiful. Being of service to God and humanity means going well beyond
the sophistication of the best technology, to the humble demonstration of courtesy and
compassion to each patient.vii
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Dr. Vs inspiration and vision have been so deeply embedded in the organisation he created
that they continue to resonate with and inspire many members of his family and others
associated with Aravind. In words of Dr. Thulsi (brother-in-law of Dr. V):
Most organisations exist for a purpose but operationally chasing a bottom line that is
different from that purpose ... One big lesson we have learned is that you must chase
your purpose. Make that the core of your energy, and build your systems to be
sustainable from all dimensions. Then the line takes care of itself (Mehta & Shenoy, p.
50).
Many others in the medical community worldwide continue to find inspiration in the life and
work of Dr. V. Such is the impact of an individual and an organisation when they are guided
by a higher purpose. Having said this, it still remains be explored whether the same higher
purpose which may act as a symbolic beginning for an organisations founder continues to
inspire and motivate other members of the organisation as it begins to grow.
Typal Stage
The second stage, which we may call the typal, is predominantly psychological and
ethicalThis typal stage creates the great social ideals which remain impressed upon
the human mind even when the stage itself is passed (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume
25, p. 11)
In its formative years Dr. V was able to recruit several talented doctors and other
professionals from his own immediate and extended family by presenting to them a higher
ethical ideal that they will be pursuing as part of their work at the hospital. The book Infinite
Vision provides several quotes to illustrate the kind of ethical ideal that motivated many of
Dr. Vs family members and associates at Aravind. A small sample follows:
He (Dr. V) was like a father to me, and there was more respect for him than a real
understanding of his intentions Dr. Natchiar, Dr. Vs sister (Mehta & Shenoy, p. 68).
He told us we should serve the poor rather than work in a corporate setting.To tell
the truth, we didnt have time to think on our own, we only had time to do what we
were told. And we believed what he told was the right thing. Dr. Viji (Dr Natchiars
sister-in-law). (p. 68)
For majority of us, the system becomes your dharma Dr. Aravind (p. 116)
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I realise that at basic level, what they [his colleagues working in corporate settings]
and pretty much all of us really want out of life is to make a difference. And we can do
that either by creating something like Aravind or by supporting something like
Aravind. Being here its easy to make a difference Dr. Shukla, retina specialist (p.
111).
The above statements clearly indicate that the force of symbolism that moved Dr. V served
well to become a guiding ideal inspiring many key persons involved in the organisations
early years of growth and development. While Dr. V was moved by something unseen, his
close associates were actually moved by the governing ideal that Dr. Vs vision provided
them, the sense of being a part of something beyond themselves, something beyond their
personal ambition or professional growth.
Typal also means serving as a type; or relating to a type. We see many examples of this in a
business setting, such as existing hierarchical organisational structures (Board of directors,
executive directors, top managers, mid-managers, workers, etc.), functional departments
(accounting, finance, trading, production, marketing, research and development, etc.). This is
done to effectively manage the organisation as it grows. This entails delineation of duties and
responsibilities, as well as standards of performance for each of its departments and type of
professionals. From psychological point of view, this is akin to facilitating the gradual
learning of an individual to function as per the highest standard (ethical ideal) appropriate
for his/ her type.
As an organisation Aravind has also been able to efficiently and effectively formulate and
organise each and every aspect of its operations. Clear guidelines exist for all tasks including
tiered pricing structure for various medical services, recruitment and training of nurses,
doctors and other medical staff, procurement of medical equipment, maintenance of building
and equipment, setup of operation theatres, quality of care and assistance to patients, etc.
These guidelines are created keeping in full consideration the highest ideal of guiding the
organisation, namely a compassionate, caring and affordable eye-care for all. One clear
example of this is seen in the way extreme care is taken to select medical staff based upon
close match of values, rather their existing technical expertise which can be easily enhanced
by training. In words of A. R. Jeeva, assistant nursing superintendent:

We want to make the trainees who come after us to do the kind of work with the same
spirit they have to enjoy the work like we did. If theres even a little bit of bitterness
or resentment about handling the load, you cant stay here as long as I have (p. 100).
Conventional Stage
At some point in their evolutionary march the individual as well as the collective organisation
begin to get attached to the outer practices resulting from the standards or ethical ideals of the
preceding typal stage. This conventional stage is marked by its emphasis on maintaining
outer form and appearance, behaving in accordance with what is generally done or accepted
as the norm. The psychological tendency in this stage is to stick with accepted convention
and maintaining the status quo. Because of its overemphasis on fixity of practices while
ignoring the truth governing them, the conventional stage generally leads the individual and
organization to the path of degeneration instead of growth.
The tendency of the conventional age of society is to fix, to arrange firmly, to
formalise, to erect a system of rigid grades and hierarchies,to bind education and
training to a traditional and unchangeable form, to subject thought to infallible
authorities, to cast a stamp of finality (Sri Aurobindo, CSWA, Volume 25, p. 13).
A brief reflection on some of the work experiences of the first author during his more than a
decade long tenure at a multinational corporation may illustrate further. The companys R&D
group of which he was a part, understood its role as to help the Business Unit (BU) meet its
production, quality, and employee engagement goals. In reality, most of the interactions
involving R&D and production included fire-fighting and working on non-productive issues.
As a result of not being able to meet its desired goals the BU was losing its competitive edge
in the market.
It soon became clear that one of the main reasons for such abysmal performance was that
over a period of time most of the practices and operating procedures had become fixed and
obsolete. There was hardly any questioning of norms and procedures, and groups worked in
silos without any communication. Even when one did try to question any particular
procedure, pat came the response that this was how things have been done for several years.
In a way, at least the companys BU had regressed into a conventional stage.
One of the possible reasons for this regression was that complacency had set in after having
experienced glorious years of huge profits and steadily growing market share. However, with
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time the competing corporations had also grown and become more efficient and
technologically advanced.
The senior management did initiate various possible solutions to take care of the problem.
However, all these solutions resulted in only temporary fixes, because the root cause was not
being addressed. The root of the problem was a diminished creative thinking to question the
conventional practices. This resulted in employees working in panic mode to save their jobs,
leading to further deterioration.
The conventional stage has been described by Sri Aurobindo as one in which the form
prevails and the spirit recedes and diminishes (CSWA, Volume 25, p. 13). He further adds
that because of strong fixity of mind that is the key psychological tendency of this age, even
for a new form to emerge it becomes necessary that the old truths shall have been lost in the
soul and practice of the race and that even the conventions which ape and replace them shall
have become devoid of real sense and intelligence; stripped of all practical justification, they
exist only mechanically by fixed idea, by the force of custom, by attachment to the form. (p.
15). In a way, this helps explain some of what was witnessed at this company when it was
stuck in its conventional stage.
A somewhat different example is provided by Aravind Eye Hospital. One of the main reasons
for their success has been the effective practice of their operational principle, namely, high
volume and maximum efficiency. Extreme care has been taken to create operating procedures
for every task being performed there, and enormous amount of data is collected and analysed.
Rigorous data-analysis is used to further improvise the system and correct any shortcomings.
Another aspect that has helped them is their open and transparent system. But the primary
reason for their success is their strong sense of commitment to the work at Aravind, either
because of what the hospital symbolised for its founder or the strong sense of dharma for
many other family and non-family personnel working at the institution. It may be argued that
all these factors might have so far prevented this organisation from getting into a
conventional mindset, where the outer practices become more important than the truth behind
them. However, with the changing Indian economic scenario and entry of several large-scale
eye-care providers in the market, it remains to be seen how Aravind will adapt and continue
to evolve its operational principle as well as its working procedures without falling in a
conventional rut.

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It should also be mentioned that often times an organisation may end up making a decision
based upon some of prevailing conventional norms in the larger society. For example, at
Aravind when the time came to select Dr. Vs successor, a more competent woman candidate
was superseded and her husband was selected as Director. This suggests that even an
organisation deeply rooted in higher and progressive ideals can also become a victim of
conventional way of thinking.
Rational/Individualist/The Age of Reason
[T]here arrives a period when the gulf between the convention and the truth becomes
intolerable and the men of intellectual power arise, the great swallowers of formulas,
who, rejecting robustly or ercely or with the calm light of reason symbol and type and
convention, strike at the walls of the prison-house and seek by the individual reason,
moral sense or emotional desire the Truth that society has lost or buried in its whited
sepulchres (Sri Aurobindo, CSWA, Volume 25, p. 14).
One sure way to come out of the conventional trap, for an individual as well as an
organisation, is to begin questioning the established and conventional norms and ways of
doing things. This questioning is a process of rediscovering the truth with the aid of analytical
reason as the leading faculty. All those conventional practices and methods that the
individuals reason is unable to comprehend and accept are discarded and a search for new
and rationally valid ways and means begins.
Continuing with the first authors experience as narrated in the previous section, in time it
became clear to the senior management that old practices had become obsolete and a major
overhaul was required. Instead of updating the old standards it was decided to apply fresh
innovative thinking to develop new standards and procedures.
A detailed and carefully thought out action plan was put in place to rationally analyse and
rethink each step of the production process. As a result of this meticulously reasoned exercise
new guidelines and standard procedures were developed. Appropriate training was also
provided to bring the workers up to date with the new guidelines and procedures.
While the R&D provided the necessary intellectual and scientific temperament to investigate,
conduct experiments, observe and analyse the data, the production side came in with the

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complementary component of practical formulation and application. This corresponds to the


two dominant tendencies of the human intellect, which according to Sri Aurobindo were the
primary driving force behind all of the progress of Western civilisation,
...the free curiosity of the Greek mind, its eager search for first principles and rational
laws, its delighted intellectual scrutiny of the facts of life by the force of direct
observation and individual reasoning, on the other the Romans large practicality and
his sense for the ordering of life in harmony with a robust utility and the just principles
of things. But both these tendencies were pursued with a passion, a seriousness, a moral
and almost religious ardour ... (CSWA, Volume 25, p. 19).
This entire exercise involved a thorough questioning, not only of the established norms and
practices but also of the conventional hierarchical structure of the organisation, which was
until then responsible for creating and implementing systems. Naturally, some sections in the
organisation were reluctant to accept the changes being implemented. This is not surprising
because the conventional tendencies continue to maintain their strong grip on the
psychological make-up of individuals as well as the collective in order to maintain status quo.
This makes people averse to any change resulting from a new thought. We see examples of
this all around us.
In time, as the new systems and procedures were put in place many people began to realise
and comprehend the rational justification for the changes. This made their acceptance easier
and voluntary. For those who were still reluctant to subscribe to the new changes, the external
pressure from the top management resulted in a somewhat involuntary acceptance.
Sri Aurobindo suggests that a reasoned approach to govern the outer life of a collective
necessitates the creation of rules and laws, acceptance of which becomes necessary by all for
the sake of greater efficiency. However, this also implies curbing of some individual
freedom, but thats a price individuals and the collective have to pay in order to move from
the conventional mode to a new, innovative, reason-based way of governing life. To quote Sri
Aurobindo, ... to govern the social life of humanity in conscious accordance with the
mechanism of these laws seems to lead logically to the suppression of that very individual
freedom which made the discovery and the attempt at all possible (CSWA, Volume 25, p.
21).

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In an organisational setting, it becomes necessary to balance this curbing of individual


freedom with compliance with the newly established procedures. An excessive repression of
individual freedom could also curtail new ways of thinking and further innovation, which are
essential for the organisations future growth. Thus, when implementing a radically different
approach the challenge is to create systems that are firm yet allow for further innovation. This
is necessary to prevent the new system regressing into conventional mode with passage of
time.
Moving on to the case of Aravind, in the book Infinite Vision the authors present several
examples when detailed studies and analyses were conducted to develop standard procedures
and address the bottlenecks that would appear from time to time. This enabled the
organisation to fulfil its mission of providing best possible eye-care at most affordable
rates/free of charge to neediest sections of the society. For example, it was only through
gathering of data that the hospital was able to determine the estimated time required to
process a typical outpatient case from time of registration to discharge. Similarly, rigorous
analysis of longitudinal data helped Aravind to determine the viable ratio of non-paying and
ultra-subsidised patients to those paying market rates so as to maintain high volumes and
stable financial health of the institution.
The question to be asked now is this - is reason alone sufficient to ensure the future growth of
an organisation as well as individuals in the organisation? Or is another stage of development
possible which may draw upon the faculties beyond reason and intellect?
Subjective Stage
[A]ll human systems have failed in the end; for they have never been anything but a
partial and confused application of reason to life. Moreover, even where they have been
most clear and rational, these systems have pretended that their ideas were the whole
truth of life and tried so to apply them. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume 25, p. 108)
There may come a time in the evolutionary march of an individual as well as the collective
when a search begins for something more perfect and more certain than the rational
intelligence. This happens when the realisation dawns that the intellect and reason can take
only up to a certain point and there are many aspects of life that continue to remain
ungoverned by the application of systems created by reason. For example, an organisation
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may discover that the perfect solution it had devised for a particular set of problems using
precise reasoning and analysis has in time led to another set of unforeseen problems,
compelling it to re-create new systems and solutions. To quote again from Sri Aurobindo,
The whole difficulty of the reason in trying to govern our existence is that because of
its own inherent limitations it is unable to deal with life in its complexity or in its
integral movements; it is compelled to break it up into parts, to make more or less
artificial classifications, to build systems with limited data which are contradicted,
upset or have to be continually modified by other data, to work out a selection of
regulated potentialities which is broken down by the bursting of a new wave of yet
unregulated potentialities (p. 110).
Once the realisation comes that rational intelligence has its own limitations, naturally the
question arises - if not mind, if not reason then what is it that can lead one to a greater and
more certain knowledge. This applies both to the individual as well as the collective. In other
words, this marks the beginning of a search for that which can take one closer to a greater
sense of ones purpose. In the case of an individual, a groping for something beyond reason
may begin either with a sense of disillusionment or with a seeking for greater self-discovery
and self-fulfilment. In Sri Aurobindos words:
The need of a deeper knowledge must then turn him to the discovery of new powers
and means within himself. He finds that he can only know himself entirely by
becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical, by more and more living
in his soul and acting out of it rather than floundering on surfaces, by putting himself
into conscious harmony with that which lies behind his superficial mentality and
psychology and by enlightening his reason and making dynamic his action through this
deeper light and power to which he thus opens. In this process the rationalistic ideal
begins to subject itself to the ideal of intuitional knowledge and a deeper selfawareness; the utilitarian standard gives way to the aspiration towards selfconsciousness and self-realisation (CSWA, Volume 25, p. 29).
For many years now, some version of this spiritual truth of turning inward has been expressed
by several of the leading management experts in the West. For example, one of the 8 habits
of highly effective people that Steven Covey speaks of is: Find your voice and inspire
others to find theirs.
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In the case of Aravind, we find an excellent example of how an individuals search for the
true inner voice, his aspiration for a greater self-realisation and his attempt to live more
perfectly in the soul and working outwardly from there resulted in an organisation that has
become a shining example of a compassionate business enterprise.
Dr. V was a practitioner of Sri Aurobindos Integral Yoga, and therefore, was a firm believer
that it is the state of consciousness from which an action is done that determines its
transformative power. For example, even the noblest deeds geared towards charity when
originating from an ego-driven consciousness will result in minimum effectiveness.
As an eye-surgeon and a spiritual aspirant, Dr. Vs idea of perfect vision had both a literal
and subjective meaning. Subjectively, it meant for him stepping back from conditional
reactions, biases, anger, irritation, jealousy, impatience, etc., all the things that are bound to
appear when one works in the real-world, especially in a business environment and with
many other individuals. For him, having a perfect vision also meant maintaining equanimity
and seeing a situation as it truly is and to determine ones action based upon a close selfexamination. We find in his dairies several entries indicating his practice of these ideas:
You want to live deep within, but you get upset by so many superficial things, or you
get elated because of some superficial achievement. How will you guide Aravind, Seva
or other service organisations. First thing to do is for you to live in your soul. Do not
allow mental prejudices to cloud your thinking. To surrender yourself to the higher
qualities in you is your constant effort. Do not limit yourself to small things. (Mehta &
Shenoy, p. 140)

Constantly your mind has got its own fixed ideas or opinions. You get strongly
attached to what you think is right and come in conflict with people who differ from
you. You are not able to step back and watch your ideas. Lots of times, these ideas are
based on impressions of the mind and not the higher consciousness. (p. 140)
These words clearly indicate Dr. Vs inward and subjective turning to discover a deeper truth,
which is more strongly highlighted in the following words:
I realise that reason is a very poor tool for finding the truth (p. 140).

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For a student of business management a key question remains: what makes any business
effective and successful for a long period of time? Is the answer to this found in the best laid
out business plan or the best management practices being followed or companys robust
financial health, or something else? In case of Aravind, this question has been answered by
the authors of Infinite Vision in these words:
Dr. V was able to tap into an intelligence that went beyond the thinking mind. Seeking
a realm of awareness tripped of ego, fear, and preconceptions often provided him with
answers, ideas, and convictions that ran counter to the rational and dominant paradigm
(p. 140)
It may be therefore suggested that a real and true subjective and inner turning has a potential
to lead an individual as well as an organisation toward greater self-fulfilment.
At this point it should also be noted that Sri Aurobindo has rightly cautioned that the path to
subjective, inward turning can often be saddled with the danger of what he calls as false
subjectivism which may actually lead to disastrous consequences both for the individual as
well as the collective. The scope of the present paper however prevents us from going further
into this line of analysis. This is a work to be taken up separately in future.

III. A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS


It is important to remember that these stages are not mutually exclusive. It is, in fact, more
than likely that an individual or an organisation may exist simultaneously in more than one,
sometimes several stages as far as their psychological tendencies are concerned. There may
be, however, one predominant tendency which will shape and influence the key motivators
for action.
To continue with our example of Aravind, it is clear by now that in the early stages of the
institution Dr. V was primarily driven by some kind of a symbolic idea. At the same time,
however, several other founding members including his immediate family were driven more
by their typal tendencies which made them follow in Dr. Vs footsteps as part of their
individual dharma.

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It is also important to note that as Dr. Vs spiritual aspiration grew in its intensity, he relied
more and more on the guidance from his deeper, inner self whenever he was faced with some
critical decision regarding Aravind. This subjective tendency, though dominant in his
character, was also accompanied by a strong sense of reason which he applied to work out
many of the details regarding the problem at hand. For example, because of being highly
impressed by the McDonalds model and its focus on efficient processes and delivery, Dr. V
was always very interested in exploring and applying all possible ways and means to improve
the efficiency of eye-care services at Aravind. He was a keen student of new technologies and
promoted their application at Aravind. He had an insatiable quest for improving efficiency
using technology not only in the field of Ophthalmology but also for communicating across
the various branches of the hospital throughout the state of Tamil Nadu, including conducting
virtual consultations in remotest parts of the state. Detailed systems were developed to
standardise procedures and thorough reviews were regularly conducted for continual
improvement. Thus we find a happy co-existence of a highly developed subjective
temperament and a finely-tuned intellectual reason.
A word of caution. In an organisational setting when the key decision-makers are at different
stages of their psychological evolution, possibilities of conflict may also exist. For example,
at Aravind when Dr. V felt strongly about a decision based on his inner guidance, he would
often not feel the need to explain why something needed to be done. Many a times this did
not go well with other members of the administrative team who needed more convincing via
intellectual reasoning. The subjective tendencies of Dr. V came in conflict with more reasonoriented tendencies of others in the institution.
The flip side of Dr. Vs ability to tap into a higher plane of consciousness and his
sense of being guided is that he often finds it hard to abandon his own point of view
and does not trust others to make independent decision (Mehta & Shenoy, p. 172).
A possible danger in such a situation could be that those members of the organisation who are
more driven by reason may feel discouraged and fall back into a conventional mindset.
Fortunately for Aravind, it appears that so far it hasnt happened, perhaps because the
remaining founder members and several others in the top management continue to be guided
by Dr. Vs and the institutions ideal of compassion and dedicated service to humanity.

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In closing, we believe that the following words of Dr. Natchiar, as cited in the book Infinite
Vision speak perfectly about the rhythm of an organisations evolution over a period of time.
There is no magic law to the way we do things here, says Natchiar briskly. Some of
its traditional; some of its modern. Some of its independent; some of its
collaboration. Some of its conservative; some of its risky. We are cautious and
conscious and a lot of different things mixed together. And as for pace? Its really not
about what you see, she says. Sometimes we move fast; sometimes we move slow.
The wisdom of that depends on whats in the heart and mind (p. 277).
A final word: This paper provides a different way of looking at an organisations
development over a period of time, using Sri Aurobindos psycho-social evolutionary
framework. However, it is an introductory study and further detailed research is required,
using case studies of different types of business organisations to deepen this line of thought.

References
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, War and SelfDetermination. The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Volume 25. Pondicherry:
Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga -III. The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA),
Volume 30. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Mehta, P. K. & Shenoy, S. (2012). Infinite Vision: How Aravind became the Worlds greatest
business case for compassion. New Delhi: Collins Business.
Notes
Infinite Vision: How Aravind became the Worlds greatest business case for compassion (Pavithra Mehta and
Suchitra Shenoy)
ii
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tata-group-history-from-jamshedji-to-ratan-tata/1907-the-tata-iron-andsteel-company-established/slideshow/8602878.cms, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tata_Group
iii
http://invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/edison/000_story_02.asp
iv
http://www.biography.com/people/marie-curie-9263538
v
http://teslabox.com/nikola-tesla/
vi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aravind_Eye_Hospital
vii
http://www.aravind.org/aboutus/genesis.aspx
i

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About the authors:


Dr. Suhas K. Mehra has a doctorate in Agricultural Engineering and an MBA from
prestigious institutions in the United States. He has extensive experience in research positions
at international organisations and multinational corporations. He presently is a consultant for
a company based in Auroville and is a student of Sri Aurobindos works on social thought.
He may be reached at suhasmehra@gmail.com

Dr. Beloo Mehra has degrees in Education and Economics. With extensive teaching
experience at school and university level in India and abroad, she has a keen interest in
educational, social and cultural thought of Sri Aurobindo. She is the author of ABCs of
Indian National Education (Standard Publishers, 2014). She may be reached at
beloome@gmail.com

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