Application to collaboration challenges in work teams and business organisations

In 2007, HR magazine highlighted the fact that the 21st century is likely to be the age of collaboration because many of today's problems are complex, often demanding cross-disciplinary expertise. Leveraging Knowledge Blog states further that because knowledge is the most important asset today, this century has become the age of collaboration as a direct consequence of the knowledge economy that we live in. Strategic partnerships may optimise project management, enhance innovation, and ensure sustainable change. Despite these clear advantages, collaboration does not come easy for organisations and very few companies know how to collaborate internally and externally according to David Smith of Accenture.

In this paper we will discuss how Advaita Vedanta — a Hindu philosophy of non-dualism — and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali can provide meaningful perspectives on collaboration and how they can be applied to teams and organisations. In addition, we will describe how these perspectives are grounded in brain science, and how combining the insights from brain science and Advaita Vedanta and Yoga Sutras provides unique strategies for collaboration.


How can a non-dualistic perspective be applied to increase ROI on collaboration?

What are the brain mechanisms that support a non-dualistic perspective?

How can this brain state of collaboration be achieved by managers?

What is the relevance of this to the overall consciousness of the business?

Core Concept

Advaita Vedanta is the non-dualistic system of Vedanta expounded primarily by an 8th century Indian philosopher named Sankara. This philosophy rests on the tenet that non-duality does not mean the non-existence of a second thing, but its non-existence as other than yourself. In the collaboration context, this would imply the importance of being aware of the unifying principles underlying two parties coming together.

Brain science and psychology research teach us that there are several lines of evidence that support the idea of non-duality. The notion of a shared self is exemplified in the phenomenon of mirror neurons which are neural systems that represent the point of view of another person automatically. Thus, there is evidence that we automatically represent the actions, intentions and emotions of others in our brains. In addition, recent studies have demonstrated that when actions are performed jointly, there is an automatic formation of a new agentic identity (a ‘we' identity) that alters the prior sense of agency.

The neural substrates for self and other agency are remarkably different and we discuss the implications of this, including such facts as the evidence that meditation can reduce activation in the self, space and time processing brain regions. In fact, automatic self-transcending and pure consciousness show distinct neural patterns on EEG.

Furthermore, research on joint attention shows us that people are more likely to be allocentric than egocentric under such conditions. This may be because reciprocity, cooperativeness, and social rewards activate reward processing areas with strong dopaminergic input, such as the ventral striatum in the human brain. Joint attention activates the brain's mentalising ability as well.

Unique contributions of Advaita Vedanta (AV)

The old view would purport that collaboration involves two separate intelligences working together. The AV view would suggest that the two intelligences give rise to a new intelligence that can be leveraged differently. The older view would suggest that people work independently in collaborations. The AV view combined with brain science suggests that collaborations would benefit from mirroring in certain instances and counter-mirroring in others.

The old view would suggest that it is important to focus on coordination whereas the AV view would suggest that internal coherence is as important as coordination and that without internal coherence, the result of collaboration does not benefit either entity and the time and effort put into collaboration leads to delays and frustration instead of co-creation.


Expressed as an equation, 1 + 1 = 11 is the desired result of collaboration and by applying lessons from Advaita Vedanta and brain science, we believe organisations and teams can achieve this result.

(Abstract from a paper presented at the IIMK conclave. Srinivasan S. Pillay is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and CEO, NeuroBusiness Group; Prasad Kaipa is CEO Coach and Advisor, Kaipa Group, California. Both authors are associated with Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change, ISB, Hyderabad.)

Read related article alongside.


India's Decade of Collaboration, Radjou N, Prabhu J, Kaipa, P and Ahuja S. - Harvard Business Review

The New Arithmetic of Collaboration. Radjou N, Prabhu J, Kaipa, P and Ahuja S. - Harvard Business Review

(This article was published on January 15, 2012)
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