Organisations do not exist—a Buddhist perspective

One of Cyndi's slides

One of Cyndi’s slides.

Yesterday Cyndi Laurin presented at the World Business Capability Conference about The Four Pillars of Organizational Greatness. One analogy presented by Cyndi used stuck in my mind as it took me back to my days as a philosophy student.

Cyndi asked which part of a car is the most essential. The audience mentioned several options, and then it dawned on me that this analogy is much like a famous line of reasoning in Buddhist philosophy about the self, which I will use to show that there is no such thing as an organisation.

the idea of the firm

The Buddhist view of the firm would be that there is no such entity, illustrated by a debate between King Milinda and the Buddhist monk Nagasena.1 Following the analogy used by the monk, we can compare a firm with a chariot, or in more modern terms a car. None of the individual parts of the car (the wheels, the engine, the radio and so on), are the car. Nor can you say that the combination of the parts is the car. We can not discover a firm at all, only the word that denotes the idea of the business. A business consists of its parts, just like a car does. None of the parts of the firm, however, are the firm. No part is less important than the other—although followers of the Lean philosophy will disagree on this one.

The Buddhist argument extends to management in that a firm is not about its constitute parts, but a firm is a cycle of cause and effect, or in Buddhist terms, Karma. A firm is not about its CEO, the share price, employees, customers or fancy headquarters. A company, just like a person, is defined by the actions it takes and their results.

Following the Buddhist view to its conclusion, there is only one pillar of organisational greatness: the actions taken by the organisation.

  1. Edward Conze, Buddhist Scriptures (London: Penguin Books, 1959), pp. 147–149. 

2 thoughts on “Organisations do not exist—a Buddhist perspective

  1. Just came across this again, Peter….a year and a half later…. 🙂 Yes, indeed, the interplay of the four pillars IS experienced as the results of the actions taken by all of those parts and pieces that contribute to the organization……kind of heavy stuff, but I enjoy it. Wish there were more people interested in talking about the depth of organizational life…..maybe we’d advance a bit more in those actions taken by the “organization”! I trust you’re doing well!!! 🙂

    • Hi Cyndi, thanks for your kind words. I started this blog to do just that – infuse business theory with critical thinking based on methods of philosophy. Too mant people take the next new thing, expressed in a nice diagram, for granted. My focus at the moment is to complete my dissertation, so not much time for writing other things.

Leave a Reply