he great Persian poet and mystic Rumi suggested this 800 years ago. But without Meaning, this task becomes impossible. Instead everybody clings to the transactional tools of measurability and accountability, which provide the illusion of certainty for people feeling uncertain and ungrounded without Meaning. That is the best our current mechanistic model of the world can supply: Return on Investment, measured by KPIs, regression to a logic-based belief system of human decision-making that ignores Meaning as a guiding principle.
But without Meaning, there is no WHY. The WHAT is outsourced to transactional managers. Those managers find themselves incapable of reenergizing this dying belief system with innovation and transformation. They allow themselves to think and act only within the paradigm and parameters of the system that created the problem in the first place.
With a dissociated WHY, quantitative growth becomes the sole measure of success. And financial success alone becomes the new god, demanding human sacrifices of transactional behavior in ever-increasing quantities. We no longer ask the question: how much is truly enough? Like the preta in Buddhist thought, a ghost always hungry but never satisfied, like the dopamine coursing through our bloodstreams, always seeking the momentary rush, we are addicted to the pursuit of more – quantity instead of quality.
This is where I found myself when I turned 40. I was at the peak of my business success, a billionaire on paper (until the infamous Lehman autumn of 2008 when this paper value vanished), but unable to answer the simple question: WHY was I trying to achieve so much? I was highly trained in the execution of WHAT, but clueless about the reason for my being, detached from the authentic me. At a dinner with Tony Robbins, he asked me this simple question and I realized that truth: I was successful, but not fulfilled. And even more telling: I could not even tell the difference between the two.
As a result, I lost connection with my inner self, my “soul.” Consequently, every wrong decision I made in my life, every person I disappointed, starting with my family, every enemy I made, was due to this ever-widening gap between the real and the projected me. I had become inauthentic. I wasn’t the proactive author of my life, I was merely reacting to its shadow.
What life, and the spiral-dynamic development of human nature, have taught me since, is that it’s not just in me. It’s in most driven entrepreneurs and leaders. It is in most families. Most business dynasties. Most organizations. Even most nations. It is part of our system. The negative spiral of detachment from the sources of meaning and vitality continues until the last bit of the values and principles that once built the WHY – and the individual’s or family’s or company’s or country’s fortune – vanish forever. Yet every investment decision that led to this outcome was, at the time it was made, based on the logical conclusion of the supposed absolute truth of its underlying facts and numbers.
Everyone I knew, myself included, followed that paradigm on the WHAT level. Experts were involved every step of the way. Everyone followed their analytic opinions, each claiming to represent absolute and unassailable truths. Yet, no one realized in this long, slow process that, no matter WHAT expertise was assembled, on the WHY level it was the blind leading the lame. We were all frogs in the same pot of water being slowly heated to the boiling point, too complacent and comfortable to jump out.
The constant compromise and sacrifice of quality for quantity created first a detachment from others and then a severing of ourselves from whom we truly are and from being fully alive. We got stuck to the false belief that the only remedy was a quantitative, fast-paced WHAT lifestyle pursuing success and material attainment at any price. All this to escape the loneliness and forlornness we felt inside, detached and alienated from the conversation about the obscured WHY within us. “When our humanness becomes the casualty,” as Ambassador Holladay, Founder of PathNorth, says,“bad things happen.” Then we recognize too late, quoting Robbins, that “success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.”