The long-standing tension between my Economic Self and my Essential Self culminated in my decision to leave Oracle in January, 2016. Recently, I shared the story of my departure from Oracle. This was no spur of the moment decision. Here's the back-story.
My Economic Self
I've enjoyed a 30+ year career in the software industry as a developer, technical lead, architect, development manager and director for both business applications and platform products. In the 1980's, I was the Technical Lead for Distributed Database Development at Burrough's Advanced Systems Group and later VP of Engineering for an object-oriented database company.
In the 1990's, I helped U S WEST (now Qwest / CenturyLink) articulate an enterprise-wide IT strategy termed the Vertical to Horizontal Transformation. It was aimed at transforming its application portfolio of 1,000+ vertically-siloed systems into what we would refer to today as a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA). I spent the next ten years helping to implement that strategy: architecting a distributed computing platform, re-working development methodologies and processes to better fit a services-based model and ultimately leading the development of a large-scale integration project that leveraged the platform, methodology and processes.
In 1999, I joined Sun Microsystems as the Development Manager for their nascent Online Support Center (OSC). At the time, 100% of their customer service requests were coming via the phone. I shepherded this effort from a pilot that offered two features to selected customers in the United States to a globally deployed application presenting 12 generally available features in more than 40 countries and localized into more than 12 languages. In just over 2 years, more than 20% of all service cases globally were submitted via the OSC. In 2008, I formed and led an Integrated Solution Design (ISD) team for Sun's IBIS project -- believed to be one of the largest implementations of the Oracle eBusiness Suite (EBS) ever attempted (CRM/ERP). The ISD team resolved more than 125 of the toughest, most complex, cross-functional design gaps identified by the IBIS deployment teams.
As the Director of Support Delivery Architecture at Oracle Corporation from 2010 to 2015, I managed the evolution of the functional, technical and deployment architecture for a portfolio of award-winning internally developed applications supporting Oracle’s $18B Services business.
All along the way, I had the opportunity to collaborate with some wonderful, creative, talented and dedicated people. I earned a good living and was able to put shelter overhead, food on the table, provide for my family, and help my son through undergraduate and graduate school.
And yet... as I became increasingly aware of the magnitude and the deep systemic crises that the current engine of commerce was wreaking on the planet, my heart was breaking.
My Essential Self
Before and throughout my professional career, I lived a parallel path. Raised as a Christian Scientist, I had a spontaneous healing experience in my early teens. While earning a BA in Philosophy, I studied various spiritual traditions, as well as western analytical philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism, symbolic logic, etc. In 1975, I had a profound direct experience of Oneness that left me awestruck at the deep interconnection and liveness of everything both manifest and unmanifest. While in this state, I found that I could move the center of my awareness around to inhabit what felt like first-person experiences of other beings -- including plants, animals and even rocks. From that point forward, I knew we lived in a conscious loving universe. Over the years, I continued to be informed and influenced by many spiritual teachings and experiences, as well personal practices -- from meditation and Tai Chi to the profound wisdom of the steps and traditions of Twelve Step Groups.
Beacons such as Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Marianne Williamson, Ken Wilber, Elisabet Sahtouris, Peter Senge, Charles Eisenstein, Bruce Lipton, David Whyte, Michael Dowd, William McDonough and Michael Beckwith (and many others!), as well as Dean Radin and the amazing scientists at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) illuminated my path. Among other things, what these shining lights revealed was the stark reality of our emerging evolutionary crises. Not just the facts of it -- climate change, ocean acidification, the 6th Mass Extinction, extreme polarization of wealth and its concomitant social injustice, degradation of top-soil and grasslands, depleted fish stocks, the huge pelagic plastic gyre in the Pacific -- but also the deep, systemic, inter-related causes for these crises. They also revealed that, as has always been the case with evolutionary crises, responses are emerging spontaneously all around the planet. Though generally under the radar of media conglomerates with a vested stake in the current system, the number of people around the globe who are generating new ideas, new models, and new practices aimed at shifting civilization is remarkable.
The clarion call? To hospice out the obsolete, self-destructive, life-destroying systems in order to minimize the suffering as they decay and collapse under their own weight, while mid-wifing in the new life-affirming, re-generative, inter-connected Whole-Earth living systems.
I felt increasingly compelled to play a role in the evolutionary shift, but remained unclear on exactly what that looked like or how to go about it. So, I asked my friend, John Thomas, for guidance. John had successfully negotiated the transition from his career as an Intel executive to (eventually) become the Director of Humanity's Team's Conscious Business Initiative. And, while he offered much wisdom, the thing he cited as the most important factor for him was his decision to just go all-in on following his heart. Once he did that, the Universe responded with opportunities, people and teachings beyond what he could have ever anticipated.
Shortly thereafter, my wife and I went to the IONS Conference where we heard Drew Dillinger share the poem I quoted in my last post. The line "what did you do once you knew?" pierced me to the core. I knew in that moment that I needed to change the direction of my life.
It took me a few months to work things out with Oracle, but by January, 2016 I was all in on my new path. And I began to discover exactly what John Thomas had been talking about. New opportunities, people and teachings began popping up serendipitously. And it was also then that I discovered the full extent of the latent internal tension I had been carrying between my Essential Self and my Economic Self. For I began to experience the palpable sensation of my separate selves coming together. And I felt myself relax into what I can only describe as a deep exhale.
As I basked in the gratitude of this sensation, I began to see how my situation was not at all unique. I saw this same split between economic imperatives and the deep callings of one's heart in artists working as house maids or bartenders and in social activists struggling to pay their rent. I saw it in the fatigued surrender of their dreams by those forced to work two unrewarding jobs just to make ends meet.
And I also saw this dynamic played out at a much larger scale in the dichotomy between the for-profit and non-profit sectors. For-profit enterprises are allowed to externalize so many environmental and social costs onto society as a whole, that NGO's are springing up at an unprecedented pace to minister to all of this externalized pain. On the one hand, this is great news. Thank heavens for their work mitigating this suffering. But NGO's are still dependent upon the engine of commerce for their trickle-down donations. And, to a certain extent, the split between the for-profit ("economic self") and non-profit ("essential self") sectors, just gives greater license to corporations to continue toxic business practices and an ever-narrower focus on profit.
I urge you to consider how this dynamic tension between the callings of your heart and the need for money has, and continues, to play out in your own life. Can you see this split? Can you allow yourself to truly feel how this is operating in your life? In my case, for a long time, I refrained from examining this tension out of what I now see was a mistaken belief that this is just how things are. I just didn't want to go there.
Something is seriously, systemically wrong here. And recognition of this fact has led many to demonize business as inherently bad. But to me, it is the current standard of business, the deep underlying assumptions on which it is based, that is the problem, rather than "business" per se. In their proper context -- that is, in service to life instead of mere financial profit, markets can be extraordinary drivers of innovation that are remarkably effective at matching those with needs with those having the capacity to meet those needs.
New questions began in insist themselves into my awareness:
At first blush, you may have concluded that I have seriously gone off the deep end here. And if it were just me asking these types of questions, I'd have to agree. But the good news, as I noted above, was that many other people have been considering similar questions and have been generating new ideas, models, principles and practices for some time:
- The study of living-systems as a source of design patterns and complex systems are providing rich examples of potential designs that recognize the inter-connected, inter-related, interdependent nature of reality.
- New models have been written about: Natural Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Sacred Economics.
- Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, profit) approaches have been elevated to legal standing in the form of Public Benefit Corporations, and increasingly manifesting in the world, as more than 2,000 organizations in 130 industries and 50 countries have been certified as B-Corps.
- International Standards have been created: ISO 26000 International Standard for Social Responsibility published in 2010
- Decentralized social and organizational architectures and novel governance models such as Holacracy have moved from theory to proven practice.
- ... and much, much more.
The more I investigated, the more feasible this crazy idea seemed. Of course, even given all of the above, there remains a great distance to travel and certainly no guarantee of success. But I couldn't imagine a more important journey on which to embark. And as the emergence of agile software development methods have demonstrated... incremental, iterative change can be preferable to massive, "big-bang" approaches.
Coming up next: Adventures Along the Path of Convergence