I recently was introduced to the phrase “the moon is always full.” It comes from a story that is included in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.

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. Even the crescent moon is a full moon, since, as it is, it is perfect as the crescent moon. 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, whether we can see it or not, whether we call it new moon, half-moon or crescent moon, the moon is full—ALWAYS!

This story and the philosophy behind it can teach us to notice the fullness of what is seen and unseen. When the moon is a crescent, we see the quarter moon and what is unseen is the rest of the moon. It caused me to reflect on what is unseen in our organizations and what do we focus on instead because it is lit up, like the moon in its phases of waxing and waning forms.

Activity and Relationships

One organizational pattern I have observed over time is the perceived value and importance of activity. We often count the number of things we have going or are doing as a measure of our productivity. When we focus only on activity, we miss other dynamics that are unseen, but may have more power to influence our results.

One of the areas that often go unseen is the quality of relationships that exist within our organization and between the organization and its external environment. I have found that:

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

This means that our relationships are very important. And yet, their power is often unseen. They exist, but like the waxing moon, the activities are the shiny objects we pay attention to. The phrase “the moon is always full” helps us respect and search for the unseen.

The nature of relationships

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 and therefore, would ignore 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. We have learned to drive into the dark to the right of the car (Driving on the right side of the road in the US and opposite for other countries). It is by driving where we aren’t blinded by oncoming traffic that our safety relies. If we can learn to do this driving a car, then we can learn to look where the light isn’t in our organization.

I would suggest we start by noticing connections and relationships. Our organizations are networked. They may also be hierarchical, but underneath they are filled with relationships. Practice on seeing relationships and their impact on attracting talent, adaptive capacity, learning, and change. Learn to let go of just seeing actions and activities. They only tell part of the story. Remember, the moon is always full!

Suzuki, Shunryu (1970). Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Weatherhill: New York and Tokyo.

Dr. Kathleen E. Allen is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (2019) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. She writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based in lessons from nature and living systems at www.kathleenallen.net