“The moon is always full” is a phrase that comes from a story in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I was reminded of this story when writing about softness within organizations last week, and I felt it was valuable to revisit Suzuki’s ideas once again after writing about this a couple of years ago.

Master Baso said, … Every day the moon becomes larger and larger and on the fifteenth day, it becomes full. This is one aspect of reality, and let us call it “the reality of progress.” However, the moon is always full, whether we can see it or not. Let’s call this “the reality of as-it-is-ness.” Nothing is lacking, nothing is superfluous. Since only a part of the moon can be seen from earth, we are deluded into thinking that it increases and decreases in size. But the plain fact is that whether we can see it or not, or whether we call it new moon, half-moon, or crescent moon, the moon is full—ALWAYS!

This story and the philosophy behind it teach us to notice the fullness of what is seen and also unseen. It gives us pause to reflect on what is unseen in our organizations. Are we only focusing on what’s lit up? Do we need to think instead about the part of our organization that remains unseen?

Activity and Relationships

One organizational pattern to think about is the perceived value and importance of activity. We often count the number of things we’re doing as a measure of our productivity. But when we focus on activity only, we miss other dynamics that may be unseen but could have a lot of power to influence our results.

One area that often goes unseen is the quality of relationships that exist within our organization and between the organization and its external environment. In my work, I’ve found that:

  • Change flows through the lines of relationships.
  • Learning flows through the lines of relationships.
  • Creativity flows through the lines of relationships.
  • Adaptation and evolution flow through the information that comes from relationships.

Our relationships are very important, perhaps even more important than our activity. Yet their power is often unseen. Like the waning moon, they exist in the unseen. When we accept that the moon is always full, we can look for and value things like relationships (and interdependence) that may not be as obvious but provide great power to our organizations.

What is the nature of a good relationship?

Nature is designed as an interdependent network. Nature is filled with relationships that define the dynamics, possibilities, and constraints of the ecosystem. In nature, we understand the system through the lens of relationships. If we just looked at individual plants or trees, we would miss how they are connected we wouldn’t be able to value the unseen. This would drastically diminish our understanding of an ecosystem.

How do we learn to see what is unseen?

When we drive a car at night, we often have a car coming from the opposite direction. If we drive toward the lights of the oncoming car, we will run into each other. Here in the U.S., we have learned to drive into the dark to the right of the car. Our safety relies in driving this way. If we can learn to do this by driving a car, we can learn to look where the light isn’t in our organization as well.

Let’s start by noticing connections and relationships. Our organizations are networked. While they may still be hierarchical, underneath they are still filled with powerful relationships. Practice seeing relationships and their impact on attracting talent, adaptive capacity, learning, and change. Learn to let go of only seeing actions and activities, as they only tell us a small part of the story. Remember that the moon is always full, and find the power of the unseen.

Where have you tapped into the power of relationships in your organization, and what has been the result?

An earlier version of this article appeared on KathleenAllen.net here.