Way Finding: Learning from Maori Traditions

There is a woman named Chelli Spiller who focuses on the wisdom traditions of indigenous people.  She says that in the Maori culture the perspective on purpose is multidimensional.  It includes the spiritual, social, cultural, environmental and economic well being of the enterprise and leadership includes wisdom, selflessness, humility, purpose, action, awareness, and learning.

One of the things she studies is how Polynesians were able to navigate the ocean without any of the Western technologies.  She speaks of the Maori navigator as the “way finder.”  The way finder assumes that the canoe is stationary and the world is moving past.   The challenge is to be “still” and ponder the various signals in the natural context.  The island is “pulled” forward to the canoe.

These notions seem very strange. Yet they bring to mind an experience worthy of reflection.

I was doing a workshop on vision.  One of the participants said that a vision is a future state that already exists. This sentence seemed contradictory. How can the future already exist?  According to my left-brain logic, the present and future are two different categories.  The future cannot already exist.

As I wrestled with the contradiction, a retired entrepreneur spoke up and enthusiastically supported what the first man said.  “Once you see the vision, you become passionate about it and you cannot stop working on it. You become totally committed and everything changes.”

I recalled my own previous experiences working with this second man. He so believed in his vision it gave purpose to all he did. I watched him build his organization with passion.  He had extraordinary influence. When he spoke, people listened and willingly devoted themselves to the pursuit of the vision. He did not force them. He declared the vision with such confidence and selflessness that everyone seemed to be able to see it.

Once they did see it they began to extend themselves, moving forward, taking risks and learning from experience.  The learning was not hoarded. They shared and did sense making together.  As they thus moved forward, the future was being co-created in the present because the people were unified in a system of growing, collective intelligence.

In such an organization the people feel themselves moving towards spiritual, social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being.  As they do, they all become “way finders” and they collectively “pull” the future to their organizational canoe.  It all begins when one “way finder” becomes totally committed to a desired future, then everything changes.

A leader is able to imbue people with a sense of purpose.  She lights the spark of hope in those around her and helps people to “see” possibility.  I invite you to embrace the Maori notion of way finding.

(This blog is the positive passage included in my July Newsletter.  If you haven’t already subscribed, you can find it here:  http://eepurl.com/bo4dRn )

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