Part 1: Working in The Business World 1968 – 1988
My First Real Job: Western Electric
I never entertained any delusions that—coming right out of seminary—I might be able to land a job in the business world. That seemed out of the question. But I learned of an opening for a management trainer with Western Electric near Princeton, New Jersey. I figured I had nothing to lose so I fired off a resume, fully expecting to be rejected. Much to my surprise they granted me an interview.
This will be good practice, I thought. I was relaxed and loose during the interview and we laughed a lot. And I received the expected letter of rejection. Elizabeth had now finished her teaching job and we set about getting ready to drive out to California. And then Western Electric called. Their first choice for the job had reneged. I was their second choice. Was I still interested in the job? I just stood there in shock. But I was able to say “yes”.
Western Electric, which was the manufacturing arm of the old (ATT) Bell System, was one of a small group of major corporations that were shifting their approach to management training. The old approach was didactic; lectures from experts and case studies. The new approach was experiential learning.
With experiential learning, we put participants through a series of structured exercises (e.g. individual and group problem-solving tasks, communication exercises, business simulations). These exercises enabled us to measure the results of their efforts. Participants would assess their results and then reflect on how they went about their task. We encouraged participants to give feedback to one another. In particular we wanted them to look at the relationship between their own behavior and the results they achieved, with an eye to seeing how they could improve.
My father was deeply disappointed in my choice of a career. He explained that, in his company, the training department was where they sent the people who had failed at everything else. A training job was for losers. I understood his disappointment. I also knew it did not apply to my situation.
Our programs were designed to help participants 1) gain insights from their own life experience and 2) use these insights to become more effective at what they do. We wanted participants to recognize that their most valuable learning was back on the job where it really mattered most.
Experiential learning is still the most common approach to organization training today. This approach offers the possibility that participants might—if they are truly open to it—receive life changing insights.
At Western Electric I was completely focused on developing my training skills. This was not only a new job for me, it was a whole new field for the training industry. I was having a lot of fun. But after two years of conducting workshops three weeks out of four, I was burnt out. I had loved this job. It had given me my ten thousand hours of experience and the basic skills to excel in my field. But I was exhausted and I needed a change of pace.
One of our outside speakers offered me a job in Boston. But there was one little problem, they didn’t have any money to pay the people he had hired. The lack of money created chaos and conflict in our small 5-person consulting group. Once again, I seized up in reaction to conflict and had become ineffectual. I found myself in Boston with a wife, a one- year old child and no job. It was time for us to head on out west to California.
Elizabeth and I and our son ended up living in subsidized housing just north of Berkeley. The trauma of my Boston experience hung over me like a shadow. I was bottled up and needed some freedom to act out my repressed anger. It took a little over a year before I was ready to settle down and find another job.
Second Job: Training Officer, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
In 1972 I was hired as the Training Officer for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore California. The Lab had recently laid-off its training department only to realize that it still needed one. I was hired to re-build the department and to make the training more viable. My boss, a wonderful man named Jack Brewer, confessed he was not sure he fully understood my approach, but he said he would leave that to me. He described his job as keeping my feet out of the “bear traps”. He was true to his words. He knew the lab politics and where the bodies were buried. He saved me on many an occasion. When I left 6 years later, the department had a training function. a career planning function and an organization development function. All told we had a staff of nine people.
Third Job: University of California San Francisco
After two successful jobs I was riding high. But it was not to last. At my new job I reported to the Vice-Chancellor of Administration at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. He was also new and had no clue about organization politics. And he had no interest in supervising me. I was on my own. I discovered the hard way that I was terrible at office politics. Very little seemed to get done by the university administration but a lot of time was spent jockeying around protecting one’s turf or trying to poach someone else’s turf. Once again, my aversion to conflict undermined my effectiveness. Before long I had two feet in the bear traps and no viable future at the medical center.
Fourth Job: Shugart Associates
My fourth job was in Silicon Valley at the company that made the very first floppy disc drives. Silicon Valley was a different world. Everything moved very fast. There was less time for office politics. My boss was an ex-therapist who had conducted substance abuse training programs. She seemed to know little about experiential training or group facilitation. An external consultant we hired pulled me aside to warn me that I was threatening her and exposing (not intentionally) her limited skills. The company was losing business to new start-ups, lay-offs began and —not to my surprise—I was gone. Three months later the whole company was gone. But it had been a fascinating adventure into the world of high-tech start-ups.
Fifth Job: Syntex
From 1982 to 1988 I worked for Syntex Pharmaceuticals (which no longer exists). In my first job I worked at the corporate level for a manager who closely supervised me and was good at office politics. This job gave me many opportunities to hone both my consulting and my facilitation skills. Here I came fully into come into my own as a skilled OD consultant.
Shortly after the mens’ retreat experience, I was hired by the United States division to be an internal consultant to that division. My new boss, the vice president of human resources, gave me free reign to do whatever I felt was needed.
I was now free to explore the relationship between consciousness and organization behavior.
Part 2: Independent Consultant 1988 – 2003
The year 1988 was the 20th anniversary of my career in training and organization development. It was also the beginning of my period of time working as an independent consultant. Throughout these twenty years the common thread in everything I did was
My very first job taught me about experiential learning and it became the core process in all the workshops I designed and led. There was a limitation to this approach to learning that I did not see for a long time: experiential learning focuses on outer behavior. We worked with public behavior that everyone could see and hear. How others react to this behavior determines whether the behavior is effective or not.
The power of experiential learning is to focus on discrepancies between how you expect other people will react and how they actually do react to you. Experiential learning zeroes in on this gap to discover if the behavior or not.
I had come to realize that experiential training has some limitations. In some of our training programs, I had observed people who really wanted to change some specific behavior but were unable to do so. They knew the old behavior they wanted to remove. They knew the new behavior they wanted to replace it with. Mentally they were ready to make the change. And yet, they could not pull it off.
It had now become apparent to me that more had to be done in experiential learning than just working with the mind and outer observations. Our behavior is rooted in personal beliefs about oneself and one’s world. Our outer behaviors will not change until there is a fundamental shift in the beliefs which anchor those behaviors. My own experience with conflict taught me this to be true.
I became convinced that we had to develop greater understanding of how the inner world works. We needed a way to help participants identify inner beliefs and emotions that enhance or limit our outer behavior.
The key to change, I came to realize, is to understand better the nature of our own consciousness. I was not sure how well the business community would take to programs about consciousness, so I chose a word that I thought might be more suitable: I talked about mindsets and how these get reflected in our job performance.
I developed a training program called MindSet Mastery. This program helped people identify 4 different universal MindSets. It enabled participants to experience directly how each of the 4 MindSet effects their work on the job.
I came up with a conceptual model that illustrates the relationship between an individual’s mindset and the group mindset of the people around them. This model helps demonstrate the relationship between our individual consciousness and the organization’s cultural climate—which is actually the collective consciousness of the group.
My MindSet Mastery training gave people the ability to:
- recognize 4 universal mindsets,
- recognize how each mindset impacts their job performance and
- learn how to change from one mindset to another.
This workshop showed the extent to which, when groups managed the group mindset, they can create dynamic and productive work climates. I worked with work groups, project teams and even whole divisions to realize how much power they had to bring about positive organization change.
My clients were intact work groups. project teams, departments and divisions. One client was the president of a 300-person company. He wanted his whole company to go through the training program. All regular employees attended a one-day session of MindSet Mastery. The first groups were unhappy about having to attend this required training. This soon shifted as word about the program got out; later groups arrived much more enthusiastic about taking the training.
Next, the top executives went through a 3-hour overview session. They were interest to learn about how the employees responded to the training. The culmination was a 2-day workshop for middle managers that featured a simulation of a manufacturing environment. This revealed a conflict that was sabotaging the company’s overall performance.
The overall impact of all these programs was an organization environment that was primed to take on major change. The President planned to lead that himself.
One day I got a call from a young man who was a Phd. candidate at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology in Menlo Park. He said that, as part of his program, he was required to do an internship in his field of interest. His interest was Transpersonal Psychology in the business world.
He had inquired around to find an unpaid internship in some company and he had been told there was only one person in the Bay Area who is doing what he was interested in. That person was me. He asked if he could come over to my office and explore a possible internship with me. I told him I did not know what he might do but I was willing to talk about it.
I was curious to learn who had given him my name. I was surprised that none of the people he mentioned were familiar to me. Apparently, awareness of my work with MindSet Mastery was getting around the Bay Area.
I agreed to take him on as an intern. He would go through my workshop and then he would conduct interviews with past participants to evaluate the long-term benefit of the training. His final report back to me confirmed the lasting benefits of the training.
Despite my growing recognition locally, I was never able to get my conference proposals accepted by the national Organization Development Network. Every year would be the same: the OD Network office would send out a request for proposal emphasizing their desire for truly new and different ideas! Every year I would send them reams of information about what I was doing and the results I was getting. Every year I was rejected. And when I looked at the programs that were eventually offered at the convention, they all looked just like presentations that I had heard in the past.
I felt sad. Not for me. My work was growing and I was enjoying myself. But I recognized what was happening with my profession. Orthodoxy had set in. I was there in the early years when the Bay Area chapter of the ODN was getting started. There were so few of us that we met in each our living rooms. And it was wide open. Nothing was considered out of the bounds. Back then there were no boundaries.
Now OD had boundaries. The only change we could focus on was behavior change. It was about how people behave in organizations. This is public information. We can see these behaviors with our own eyes and hear them with our own ears. But consciousness is internal. It is private unless we choose to make it public. And apparently the OD Network had decided that our internal world was off-limits for OD work.
My training program was on the verge of taking off. But there was now tension between my professional work and my personal journey. If my training programs caught on—as appeared to be the case— the demands on my time would give me little time for my personal journey. Yet I had concrete data to support my thesis that all behavior stems from with and that personal change begins on the inside.
In 2003 I came to a fork in the road. The high-tech recession was hitting Silicon Valley hard. Half of all jobs in high tech disappeared. Work for my kind of consulting dried up like water in a desert. My professional network was gone. People were leaving in droves.
Elizabeth and I were at a crossroads. Elizabeth was working as a marriage, family and child therapist at a medical center. We could live off her salary. But her long hours of work were weighing on her. She wanted out.
We could retire, but that would mean selling our home in Menlo Park and leaving the Bay Area after 32 years of living there.
By 2004 we were living on a 20-acre ranch in central Oregon and growing hay. My professional journey had ended. MindSet Mastery was a thing of the past.
But my spiritual journey was about to go deeper.