I’ve been walking this parallel road of one foot in business and one foot in North American Indigenous religion and ceremony for some time now. In the summer of 2002 I was in a ceremony in New Mexico and felt a clear guidance that my path with the Native traditions is to follow them as closely as I can, without alteration and without watering them down.
I’ve been true to that guidance ever since and do not intend to waiver in my commitment to the traditions, and with each passing year I continue to experience the wisdom of this path more deeply and more clearly.
We live in a world in which the sands beneath our feet are constantly shifting. The technology of today will be outmoded in six months to a year. Behemoth industries are falling away one by one. Our methods of communicating are being transformed by hand-held technology—shortened and abbreviated—and we are speeding up.
Having worked in one of those industries that was dying a slow death year by year and observing so many well meaning leaders trying desperately to change, but without any real sense of how to change, was painful to observe. Indeed, so many of us struggle each day to keep our footing in a rapidly changing world.
From my Indigenous teachings I’ve learned an important irony related to traditions and the importance of adhering to them, and that is that our commitment to traditions can actually show us the way to adaptability and innovation. By holding to our traditions—to what’s important to us—we become firmly rooted in a value system that gives us a sense of place and purpose. The traditions lead us to a deepening value system, which in turn gives us a firm footing in the world, which in turn enables adaptability and innovation to flow more easily.
Roy Disney once wrote, “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” It’s with the firm footing of having a clear value system that we become liberated to experiment, to adapt, and to innovate with seeming reckless abandon, because we know who we are and why we are here.
The Indigenous elders teach us that by practicing the old ways we will be delivered to balance and harmony. Many people struggle with the concept of traditions as they feel they are ridged and dogmatic. If the traditions are presented to us dogmatically, which is to say that we’ve had them pounded into us, then yes, they are dogmatic and ridged. But if they are given with love and understanding then we have the opportunity to choose if we will follow them or not. When the elders speak of the old ways and the traditions, they speak with a softness of voice and a conviction of having lived a long lifetime of adhering to them.
The good news is it’s not too late to look back to the value systems of the Indigenous elders, to follow their example, and to deepening our value systems … and then to become liberated to innovate.
PS, My first book, Shift: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change, is largely about an integration of traditional Indigenous values into business. I hope you will consider reading Shift and extracting for yourself a deeper value system and an enhanced culture of adaptability and innovation.