Category Archives: Complex systems

What Business Can Learn from the Hidden Wholeness of Autumn


photo credit: Kathryn Connelly

There is in all visible things….a hidden wholeness.” – Thomas Merton

I’ve always thought of autumn as kind of a bardo state – that in-between or shoulder season between the two opposite seasons of summer and winter. It’s also been my favorite time of year when cool crisp breezes bring a refreshing break from energy-sapping heat and humidity, and shades of green morph into a riot of red and orange.

For businesses, fall usually coincides with that time of year when performance vs. budget is more closely scrutinized as the end of year looms larger on the financial horizon. Next year’s strategy and budget are being developed based on assumptions divined from a mix of historical performance and projections.

But this is usually done within climate-controlled offices where Autumn is just a pretty scene on a screen saver or a view on the other side of the window. This separation can reinforce a subtle but powerful delusion of being exempt from the very natural cycles upon which all life (and businesses) depend.

Parker Palmer, in Let Your Life Speak, offers a wise and lyrical perspective on how to listen and connect with the deeper cycles that are beyond the intellect’s grasp:

In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of “hidden wholeness.” In paradox, opposites do not negate each other – they cohere in mysterious unity at the heart of reality.


And yet, within our illusion of control and obsession with endless growth, our strategies and budgets often reflect the tacit belief that new innovations will largely be incremental to established core businesses fueling a linear upward growth curve. Spring leads to an endless summer with fall and winter being bypassed altogether.

But if we take the time to get out of the office, quiet the mind and closely observe what we’re in the midst of, we have the opportunity to see that it reflects what is happening within us, and within the organizations and industries that we create as well. As once green leaves change colors, fall back to earth and begin to decay, new seeds are also being dispersed and nourished by the humus of what came before.

Palmer offers us the benefit of what his observations have taught him about a universal truth:

Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life. If I try to “make” a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well. But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole”

It takes both clarity and integrity to take up the teachings of autumn in our work or business.  To look closely at our deepest held assumptions and views, and those structures, processes and products that have been optimized for sets of conditions that are impermanent.

It takes creativity and courage to adapt, innovate and take chances on fresh approaches and ideas that may or may not work out – like with products and ways of doing business that are more in accord with nature and its cycles.  Realizing that in the long-run, we’ll enjoy more sustainable levels of prosperity by learning from, and working with the laws of nature than trying to defy them.

Strategies and budgets don’t have to devolve into being a lifeless, calculating routine of wishful thinking. Instead, they can become wholehearted practices that reflect the “endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living” that includes all of us and our creations whether we realize it or not.

This autumn looks different to me – not just a transitional stage between summer and winter, but a season that is complete in itself. A season that offers a unique teaching of coherence that encompasses both extremes of letting go and sowing new seeds.


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