What can we learn from the Bhutanese people?

"One of the seven key areas of the government’s action to drive sustainable growth is fostering knowledge creation and its application as innovation.


Indeed, both government and organizations want to capitalize on the opportunities that are emerging as the global economy begins to recover by fostering creativity and innovation. But what does it really mean?"


Is it only a question of developing lateral thinking in order to come up with alternative, even quirky solutions or is it to do with creating the most conducive environment for the creative juices to flow or is it a combination of both?  People like Edward De Bono and Robert Epstein have been writing books to help us jumpstarting workplace creativity for years, stressing the importance of the practical and theoretical understanding of the creative process, and yet most organizations and individuals don’t know how to tap into their creative potential.  


I would argue that unless we really know the reasons why we should open the doors to creativity/innovation and, above all, what we need to be creative for, we will continue to fail.  Unless we know what our core values are and what values the respective organizations are pursuing, our efforts to build innovative organizations will not be successful.


The Bhutanese people may have something to teach us in this respect. They understood that we should always pursue first and foremost the simple and timeless goal of being good human beings. Their National Values Assessment, conducted by The International Center of Ethnographic Studies (ICES) in partnership with other organizations, points to the Bhutanese people holding on to The Seven Levels of Personal Consciousness and the Seven Levels of Personal and National Consciousness.


The assessment reveals that individuals and nations, do not operate from a single level of consciousness but from some or all of the following:  Survival, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Transformation, Internal Cohesion, Making a difference, Service.


All human group structures grow and develop in these seven stages. These seven needs are the main motivators in all human affairs. The job of the leaders is that of creating conditions which enable the group members to satisfy those needs. What can companies / organizations and their leaders learn from the Bhutanese?




Survival means that a nation needs to ensure that all its citizens are fed, safe and prosper. Any breakdown or dysfunction at this level my lead to unemployment, corruption, disparity between the haves and haves not. For companies this translates into making sure that the work environment is a safe and comfortable environment in which to operate, but also a space in which people feel free to express themselves and to be respected for what they do. This is linked to ensuring also people are treated in a fair manner both financially and in terms of needs satisfaction.   



When it comes to relationships, the Bhutanese place great emphasis in creating a sense of belonging of the citizens to the nation and in resolving conflicts in a peaceful way.  All this should apply also to the companies we work for. The importance of fostering good team work and aligning individual objectives to those of the organizations are of paramount importance. This, coupled with respecting and valuing diversity, enable organizations to develop good branding and loyalty. 



This is an interesting one in that for the Bhutanese self-esteem means enforcing law and order but also establishing good processes and infrastructure that ensure production and therefore wealth and prosperity. From the Bhutanese perspective companies should ensure that the processes are seamless and that the internal organizations should lead to the minimum waste of time and resources.    



This level refers to internal democracy and freedom whereby citizens are encouraged to act responsibly for the good of the nation, focusing on continuous improvement and renewal. Following the Bhutanese example, organizations should place transformation very high in their agenda by giving due importance to vision and planning but also by  encouraging employees to see the bigger picture in what they do. placing the organization within the community in which it operates. so that employees are encouraged to see the bigger picture in what they do.  



Internal cohesion is dictated by trust, resilience and transparency. I would say that perseverance is perhaps a better word for organizations…perseverance in pursuing goals and objectives, trusting that all has been done to ensure success.



This level should not be confused with differentiating oneself from the rest i.e competitors, but should be intended as looking for mutually beneficial strategic alliances with other organizations not only to create business opportunities but for increasing the awareness and initiatives to do with preserving our environment and respecting the laws that regulate it.



The seventh level builds on level 6 by expanding the breadth of cooperation internationally by supporting not only the physical and mental wellbeing of own own employees but with a concern to the workforce the world over thus growing the focus of social and environmental sustainability.


It is apparent that the current Bhutanese culture values not only personal values but also organisational-type values with key themes being access to information and knowledge,  commitment to work for a better society and intelligent use of resources as well as being guided by a common direction. The people of Bhutan use much of their energy for building their nation on openness, trust, transparency and shared values and vision.  Organizations and their leaders should follows the example by concentrating much of their efforts in renewing and developing themselves and their people, looking for efficiencies whenever and wherever possible, build the culture of organization on shared values and vision.


Article by: Gaby Marcon Clarke

Date: 25/08/2014