Photo by Hartwig HDK. Available at Flickr.com.
World class organizations learn like people learn. In particular, they learn in three areas: what, why, and how. They develop a clear mental understanding of what they’re trying to do (what), acquire a clear understanding of the purpose (why), and obtain the skills needed to be successful (how). These three areas of learning and development are somewhat parallel to the Greek words: Nous, Pneuma, and Soma.
- Nous is the word for mind; it refers to having a clear intellectual grasp of what you’re doing. Educators refer to this as the cognitive dimension of learning. Unfortunately, when we talk about learning, this is often the only dimension people think about. Learning only at the level of the Nous will not bring about change or guarantee organizational success, but it’s a good start.
- Pneuma is the word for spirit; it refers to motivation emerging from within, what is often referred to as intrinsic motivation. Pneuma flows from truly grasping the why of what we do. You will never tap into the Pneuma if all you know is what you do. If, on the other hand, you understand why — and that why resonates with some core value or aspiration within you — then you will have Pneuma: motivation, commitment, passion.
- Soma is the Greek word for body. I’m using this word to represent what we normally call skills, because skills are more than intellectual knowledge; they require bodily capabilities as well. You can’t learn to play a piano by reading books. You practice because through practice you acquire the agility and mind-to-body coordination required to actually play the piano.
Readiness happens when an organization has achieved these three learning objectives well enough to accomplish the mission. The opposite is also true; the degree to which an organization has not grown in these areas is the degree to which the organization is not ready to accomplish its mission.
Notice what happens when you overlay these dimensions on top of one another. You get the potential for achieving your objectives when you connect Nous with Soma. You could — but if the Pneuma is lacking — you will achieve less than what you’re capable of achieving.
This is why — as an organizational leader — you must become an expert at communicating the core values of the organization. Not only this, but you must also become an expert at helping people discover their own core values and making the connection between their values and those of the organization. If you depend solely on telling people what to do, and you never tap into their Pneuma (spirit), then your organization will always perform below its potential.
You end up with possibility when you overlay Pneuma on top of Soma. Something might happen, but it would be by accident. Why? Because you lack the mental understanding of what needs to be done. So, people are able and willing to do it, but they don’t understand what is expected of them.
Organizations are ready once they have developed all three dimensions. When you overlay all three — Nous, Pneuma, and Soma — you not only demonstrate potential or possibility, you demonstrate performance. You achieve the mission of the organization.
So, as you lead your organization, think about these three dimensions. Use them as a lens for seeing areas that need reinforcement. Set specific objectives for raising your organizational readiness on all three dimensions. How can you help your people to discover their inner passion (Pneuma)? How can you help them acquire the knowledge they need (Nous). How can you help them develop the skills to achieve the organization’s purpose (soma)?
What do you think? Does this model clarify or confuse? Have you had an experience that might illustrate these connections? Please share your ideas in the comments section below. If your organization would like to learn more about organizational learning, contact me at DrGregWaddell[at]LeadStrategic.com.