Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychologist, in his most seminal work, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ originally published in 1946, wrote:
Frankl was a holocaust survivor and spent over 3 years in various Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. During this time his parents, brother and wife all died in the concentration camps.
In response to the things he experienced, Frankl would go on to develop Logotherapy, a form of existential analysis and therapy through which he became a renowned source of inspiration for humanistic psychology. His experience as an inmate in the concentration camps provided him an incredible insight into what keeps us going, even through the darkest and most brutal of times. He paraphrased the philosopher Nietzsche and believed ‘As long as you have a why you will always find a how.’
Frankl’s experience and subsequent work became pioneering in what we understand as emotional agility today. Emotional agility is the process that allows you to be in the moment, changing or maintaining your behaviours so that you can live in ways that align with your intentions and values.
The futurist, Patrick Dixon, in his book, ‘The Future Of Almost Everything’, asks what one thing has driven all human history, and will determine the direction of humankind for the next 10,000 years. His answer? If you wish to explore the future, we need to look at how people are likely to FEEL as well as what they will THINK. The single word that will drive the future is EMOTION.
Human emotions are a physiological reaction which enable a behavioural response. In other words, our emotions are an information system that come from the body, which inform our brain which then determines our behaviour. At any time, all human behaviour is determined by our emotional state.
There is a magnificent part of our brain called the hypothalamus, which ensures an equilibrium in our bodies called homeostasis. This enables our neuroendocrine system to provide us with the relevant hormones to deal with the challenges of everyday life.
When we are in a negative emotional state we are in a catabolic state, or a state of breakdown. In this state our physiology produces the hormone cortisol to deal with the stress and anxiety. This is fine if the emotional state is fleeting and temporary but, when it persists, the constant production of cortisol takes resource from our immune system.
The longer we stay in a negative emotional state, the more likely we are to be susceptible to illness – which is why, in industries where stress and pressure are high, so are sickness and absenteeism.
Conversely, when we are in a positive emotional state, we are in an anabolic state – or a state of build-up. In this state our physiology produces the hormone DHEA, which produces testosterone in men and oestrogen in women. This enables us to perform, to imagine and to be creative.
Our emotional state has a direct effect on our performance. A positive emotional state is conducive to great performance because it enables our ability to think, be creative, grow and develop. A negative emotional state pushes us into survival mode, which inhibits our ability to think and perform. Emotional agility is the ability to prevent yourself from getting into that negative state and the ability to recognise when you are in a negative state and guide yourself from it back to a positive emotional state.
So, what does this all have to do with our ability to learn?
The world is going through exponential and inexorable change – it’s getting faster, and it can’t be stopped. Technological growth is resulting in exponential change in the tools and environments of work. Technological growth is also enabling disruption in every industry and sector. The new kids on the block are changing traditional product delivery channels, and they are offering it cheaper and quicker.
Change is exponential, but human adaptability is linear, which means we’ve got a problem. How can we stay aligned to exponential change when, as humans, we can only adapt in a linear way?
Which brings me to ask the question – what is it the disruptors are doing better than the established industries they are overtaking?
They are simply learning better – and they are learning to learn better.
They understand the difference between growth and fixed mindset and understand the learning behaviours required to keep up with the exponential change.
The majority of the world’s education systems are still based on the European 18th century principles of compliance, uniformity, standardisation and accreditation. Our education system is still operated on the principle of exclusivity. You stay part of it until you fail, and then you are excluded. It is entirely based on a fixed mindset, not a growth one. From the age of 5 to 16 we are forced to sit down, be still and look forward.
As babies, could we have learnt to walk by being forced to sit down and watch power point slides and videos of how other babies walk? Of course not! We learn how to walk by trial and error. We learn through constantly failing and repeating, retrying, getting back up.
Children who have done well in current education systems are those who have been compliant to those systems. They have sit still, not disrupted class and passed the tests set for them. But suddenly we are asking for a different way to learning in the work place. We now want our employees to ‘fail fast and fail low’. We want them to embrace philosophy of the Irish playwright and poet Samuel Beckett’s twelve words:
The environment of exponential change we currently find ourselves in is creating a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. A world where traditional industries are being picked off by disrupters who are more agile and more creative than the competition they are replacing. This dynamic is creating a learning paradox. The greater the pressure this VUCA world is creating, the harder and longer we find ourselves working just to survive.
This pushes our physiology into survival mode – and into a negative emotional state – to which we react by working longer, working harder – thus extending our time in this negative emotional state, further increasing the gap.
What we don’t do is make time to learn new knowledge, skills and behaviours to change our approach and reframe our perspectives and to work smarter.
The challenge for leaders now is this: how do you create the environment in your organisations which empowers a culture of learning when you are under greater pressure than ever to survive. How do you ensure that, as an established organisation, you can think and act like disruptors?
The greater the embedded tradition and culture of learning in an organisation, the harder it is to change the attitude and behaviour to learning. Organisations need to learn how to learn all over again, and leaders need to create an environment which is creative and allows ideation.
For the majority of organisations in the world today, this ability to adapt will be the difference between survival or failure.
To learn how I can help you with this process of adaption, with re-learning how to learn, how to overcome the pressures of a negative mindset, and increase emotional agility throughout your organisation, call today and let’s put our heads together to improve your tomorrow.
We offer end to end consultancy, understanding and defining your business need. Our consultants work with organisations across the world to embed learning in cultural and behavioural change and bring about quantifiable, improved outcomes.
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