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Connecting The Business And The Spiritual Journeys Through Design Thinking

Dennis Hambeukers
Jun 23 · 5 min read

Yesterday, I learned a couple of interesting things. Actually, one big interesting thing.

Yesterday, I delivered one of the keynote speeches at the This Is Not A Design Conference (you can find a transcript of my talk here). That was cool. I forced me to collect my thoughts and boil them down to a 20-minute keynote. I’ve been playing with a new narrative around design and crafting a keynote is an excellent way to crystallize those thoughts. It also gave me an opportunity to test my story with an audience. I got some nice feedback, both positive and negative, which is always good.

The keynote speech as a platform for learning from other journeys

My best learnings from the conference experience came from the interaction with the other speakers. This started at the speaker dinner but carried on throughout the whole conference up until the drinks afterward. My learnings center around the idea of “Universal Truths”. The theme of the conference was the relationship between humans and nature. I did a talk about human problem-solving capacity and how this could be boosted by learning from how designers work and think. What struck me was that two other speakers that came from totally different starting points and were on totally different journeys, we basically talking about the same things. One was a permaculture designer/forest garden specialist (Rakesh Rootsman-Rak) and the other a yogic nun (Didi Ananda Devapriya).

Universal Truths

Apparently, there are some universal truths underlying all attempts to lift human problem-solving capacity. It turned out that the elements I was addressing in my talk from the perspective of design thinking, connected to the topics of other speakers that came from a more spiritual background and were on a totally different journey. We were all talking about things like:

  1. Seeing objectively: seeing reality without assumptions and preconceptions. We all had different ways, different exercises to arrive at this point but we had the same goal. Seeing objectively is both a thing in design and in the spiritual world.
  2. Co-creation: connecting people works wonders both in design projects and in spiritual development. The ways in which we connect people is different but also with the same goal.
  3. Systems thinking: seeing the big picture and the connections between things are good for solving complex problems and for developing a spiritual connection with the world around us.
  4. Contact between humans and the things around them: designers learn from their interaction with the matter they are creating but it’s also fundamental for developing spiritual maturity.
  5. Learning ability: open-mindedness allows us to learn. This is not only necessary for complex problem solving but also for spiritual development. Both are driven by learning each day. Both climb a similar mountain of which the top only can be reached by learning each day.

Climbing the same mountain

In a previous essay I already identified the fact that Design Thinking is all about learning:

And learning is also central to spiritual development. There is a strong connection there. Also the elements of learning, the “Universal Truths” I described above are very similar. Rakesh described this effect of finding out we are all on different paths but on a journey towards the same goal by describing our journeys as having the same mountain as our goal. We all driven by a desire to reach the top but it is the same top of the same mountain. We all come from a different place and reach the mountain by a different path but after some time we all arrive at the same mountain. In my talk, I spoke about the story of the Tower Of Babel in which God sabotages human problem-solving capacity by giving all people different languages. God knew that in order for people to accomplish great goals, they would need to speak the same language. Rakesh told us that, once we are on the mountain, the higher we get, the more our language becomes the same again. That was exactly what I experienced at the conference.

The spiritual and the business

I see the same words like systems thinking, learning ability, open-mindedness, and co-creation being used by people on totally different journeys. I experienced this not only at this conference but also in the projects I do. All the projects around agility, user-centeredness, digital transformation, lean are all about the same things. They are all about learning, connecting and they all require the same skills. It doesn’t really matter if you are on a business journey or a journey of spiritual development. That is the thing that became crystal clear to me at this conference.

“They are all about learning, connecting and they all require the same skills. It doesn’t really matter if you are on a business journey or a journey of spiritual development. That is the thing that became crystal clear to me at this conference.”

Meditation and creativity

Didi opened my eyes to the effects of meditation on creativity. Amongst other things, meditation is an exercise in opening up your mind to universal creativity. According to her, the flow state of creativity can be easier to summon if you practice meditation regularly. I experienced that myself. I did not make the connecting between more control of the flow state and meditation but now that she mentioned it, it seems perfectly logical. In hindsight, I now see that when I started meditation practice I was able to access the creative flow state much easier than before. I see meditation practice becoming more and more common with business leaders. It was even part of a business leadership MOOC I followed from the Technical University Delft.

The road ahead

I see there is even more potential for the worlds of business and the spiritual development world to come together. It turns out that the skills you need to develop for complex problem-solving are the same that are needed to develop a higher level of spiritual consciousness. In startups like MindValley, you see this taking concrete form and these developments are really exciting. I really enjoyed the meeting of these two worlds yesterday under the banner of the relationship between humans and nature and the role design can play in that. The triad design-human-nature was just the right frame for these elevating meetings!

Thinking about design thinking is just like thinking about spiritual development.

The skills that drive design thinking are the same that drive spiritual development.


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or talk to my bot at dennishambeukers.com :)

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

Dennis Hambeukers

Written by

Design Thinker Thinking About Design — Strategic Design Consultant @zuiderlicht. https://www.zuiderlicht.nl/

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

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