How to Live and Work with Grace in a Modern World – 3 Lessons from Balinese Culture
Travel offers a great opportunity to view life from another perspective. A recent trip to Bali sparked new insights on how Indonesia’s – and more specifically, Bali’s – distinctive culture has found ways to live with grace in the modern world.
Here are some lessons we learned from the Balinese people.
1. Business design can be beautiful, not just efficient.
In the 21st century, time is a precious resource, so efficiency is essential. But does efficient design have to result in flat, industrial sameness that’s rapidly replicated? Not in Bali. Function and beauty coexist in harmony. Buildings are rich with ornamental details; walls are draped with creepers and flowering plants; uniformed workers wear colorful corporate batik shirts.
How can we design our workplaces and products, keeping beauty, character, sustainability, and ingenuity in mind even as we pursue efficiency? Steve Jobs understood this when he made sure the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and MacBooks were as stylish and aesthetically pleasing as they were functional. By touching customers on a deeper, more emotional level, Apple products became premium products instead of the commodity items of their competitors.
2. Live and work with mindfulness.
Passion, purpose, energy, and meaning are expressions of the sacred in daily life. In the US, the pace of daily activity encourages us to focus on the mundane, and we operate much of the time on autopilot, pushing aside deeper purpose and meaning in what we do. Not so in Bali. People in Bali seem to have discovered that the divine lives in small details. Doorways and car dashboards everywhere in Bali are adorned with small baskets filled with fresh flowers and fruit as offerings. Rather than an abundance of grand temples, in Bali we saw the divine brought into ordinary spaces everywhere.
How can we regain a sense of our noble purpose, be it the family, personal mission, or organizational goals that underlie why we go to work? A ritualized daily invocation of what matters most can be a way of beginning every day with a sense of purpose and bringing into our offices and homes a living presence of meaning. On an organizational level, wise leadership that’s in tune with purpose is becoming an opportunity for organizations to transform themselves from the inside out. Rather than promote efficiency at every turn, there is a focus on promoting positive energy that infuses action and drives outcomes. We see this in the path that some corporations such as Google, Genentech, and General Mills are taking in paying more attention to their employees’ well-being. They are creating mindfulness programs that allow employees to stay centered through meditation practice and encouraging employees to find purpose and meaning at work.
3. Learn from the past to create the future.
Today, change is happening so rapidly that we focus on the future and cherish what’s new. The past is often seen as obsolete and irrelevant. In Bali, the past enlivens and enriches everything current. Traffic circles feature soaring sculptures of scenes from ancient mythological stories. Doorways to houses and restaurants welcome visitors with large stone figures of demons and deities. At a school, a modern flat-screen TV houses an elaborate hand-chiseled enclosure. The famed Balinese kecak drama, which blends traditional chant and dance and retells the Ramayana epic, has become an iconic tradition on the island. The Balinese have integrated the new with the old and recontextualized ancient wisdom for modern times.
How can we retain grand traditions and renew them for a new age? We see glimpses of this with visionaries such as Ford Motor Company’s CEO, Alan Mulally, who revived the classic Mustang and Taurus by retaining the ethos and freshening the look and features.
All too often, in our modern life we work to exhaustion in soulless environments and look for special occasions to escape somewhere else for a short spell. Bali shows us ways to elevate ordinary human existence, make regular life a daily celebration, and breathe the old into the new. Wisdom teachings tell us now is all we have. Bali can inspire all of us to make the most of the moment and find ways to live our everyday lives with beauty, dignity, and grace.
What can you take away from Bali in order to live with grace and wisdom in your life/organization/city? How can you use these practices to shape a more livable future?
This article was cowritten with Lyndon Rego, Global Director of Leadership Beyond Boundaries. Rego’s work focuses on extending leadership development to new populations and through new platforms, business models, and partnerships.
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