How work will heal the world
The world is out of balance. Wildfires, storms, floods, pandemic, economic recession, global warming, depletion of natural resources, hunger, poverty and much more. The widening gap in health, prosperity, and opportunities for the billions threatens to destroy the existing world order in the years ahead unless action is taken to change development.
We are out of balance. The inner world, our brain and mind, is challenged to the extent that depression, burnout, and stress-related illnesses have become epidemic. Some of us have too much to do, others too little. We are restless and feel we should do more, or we are helpless and believe we can do nothing. The mood is more fearful than hopeful. Dreams are more often forgotten or abandoned than fulfilled.
Now is the time. As a species, for the first time in history we are in a situation where we have the means to create a better, more peaceful and balanced world. Exactly now — in the aftershocks of the pandemic and before the climate crisis escalates to something irreversible — is the time to join forces to release the full human potential.
Beneath the surface of imbalance and suffering, something is taking shape that has the potential to establish a sustainable relationship between cultural and natural systems. Ironically, what has caused most of our problems — the work of generations — will also be our path to recovery.
Work is changing. The concept of work has changed dramatically over the years. From its distant roots in coercion and slavery, work came to mean the way out of poverty. People went to work to earn enough to pay for food, rent and what else they needed. The reason for working was survival.
Gradually, work changed from manual to mental, from machine maintenance to customer service, from focusing on specification to focusing on experience. The workers changed too. Each generation became smarter, leaner and richer. Work became a way to express yourself. It gave identity and added purpose to life. The reason for working was — and for many still is — personal success.
The future of work could be different. It may have more to offer than purpose, pay and promotion. Perhaps it can be even more meaningful and fulfilling. Perhaps we could work for other reasons and in other ways. As business becomes more conscious we realize work could be a way to heal the world. Changing work could actually change the world to the better. The reason for working would then be to contribute to a global recovery.
To initiate a transformative movement, we need a new paradigm to refer to and a new platform from which to evolve. We need a new language to help us form the future from elements we don’t know yet. This article introduces such a platform called the New Work Paradigm. For a start I will share my view on the new reality and the new agenda.
The new reality
At first glance, the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis, unemployment and insecurity have merely added a new layer of suffering. And it has, and still does, but it also gives us the opportunity to take a closer look at what we are doing to ourselves and the planet. Hopefully, the restrictions and lockdowns have created fertile ground for new reflections and dialogues about how to move forward.
In the ruling paradigm the recipe for success is strategic thinking, social influencing and hard work. The question is whether this formula will suffice when the perspective is global, the stakes are higher and the consequences more dramatic? Can we rely on the established business structure and culture when it comes to responsibility and sustainability?
Life at large depends on life at work. We spend most of our waking hours working and rely on the outcome to survive and succeed. Work can be larger than life when you and your team solve a problem or win an order. And it can be less than zero if you are fired or not get the promotion. We take for granted that work gives us security, satisfaction and identity. The only thing we have to do is work smarter, harder and longer than the others. Keep working and your time will come. What a lie it has been for most of the work force.
Massive changes are taking place which will enable a genuine revolution in human life and work. Four of them are especially significant.
The fragmentation — from physical to virtual
Accelerated by the pandemic, digital transformation has spread everywhere. Remote working has become not only a distant opportunity, but a full-blown necessity — and the new normal for many of us.
The workplace has been transformed from a bio-physical setting to an IT-technical frame. The workspace has changed from a 3D full-body room to a 2D face-only screen. The environment has moved from wet and warm to dry and cold, so to speak.
The changes have brought some benefits. Apparently, the productivity is increasing — likely due to more flexibility and less travel. But the shift has also led to increasing fragmentation of work and isolation of the individual. There are many foggy brains and lonely hearts out there. Even declared introverts miss the social incentives in the office. Defragmentation is sorely needed.
The dissolution — from hierarchy to holacracy
In society and in business strong forces are pulling antiquated structures apart. What looks like anarchy at first glance is the end of hierarchy and the beginning of something we could call holacracy. What’s the difference? In a hierarchy, people are ranked by importance or status, and the decision power is centered at the top. In a holacracy, people are equal actors and the power is distributed — often to self-organizing teams.
Instead of playing the finite game of following the leader and fighting to win another competition, the new generation of free agents and digital nomads are challenging institutions, traditions and illusions. They want more out of life than to climb the carrier ladder. They view themselves as more than performers in a corporate theater. They are ready to tear down the walls.
The equalization — from dominance to resonance
Just as no human being has the inherited right to dominate other people, so the human species has no authority to dominate other forms of life. This may be a controversial and uncomfortable truth for many, but it opens the door to ending the mental oppression, emotional dictatorship, and physical abuse imposed on fellow human beings and other sentient beings.
The message is clear: stop dominating, start resonating. What can be resolved in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation is more sustainable than what has been dictated or implemented by force. On a broader scale, satisfying human needs should not cause unnecessary suffering to other living beings. You don’t have to be a vegan to share this view.
The unification — from exclusive to inclusive
The logic of today’s business is to engage with customer needs and create some sort of temporary monopoly in which experiences on demand can be paid for. Some reminiscences from the industrial age are still to be observed, however. Here, it is logical to create exclusivity by inventing, acquiring and protecting intellectual property.
In both cases there is a strong focus on competition. The thinking is linear and the aspiration is to stay ahead of the others to win the race. No matter the cost. The drive is predominantly selfish and the idea is to find a way to create something valuable from which to earn a living. “Me” and “us” come before “them”. Habitual, personal and tribal needs before global and universal.
That’s how it is now, but look around. Can you spot a trend? Gradually the scope of mind is expanding and the drive is changing from ego to eco. More people realize that sustainable solutions cannot be exclusive but have to be inclusive. Competition is not the killer app anymore — collaboration and partnering is. Instead of keeping others away from our value creating circles, we invite them in. The dream deal moves from win-win to full circle.
Fragmentation, dissolution, equalization and unification is paving the way for a new agenda focused on balanced living and conscious business.
The new agenda
The time for a paradigm shift is now. For obvious reasons. Without a substantial change in behavior, modern man will go down in history as the mindless destroyer of life, not as the mindful creator. To accelerate and guide this shift, a new agenda is needed.
For a start, the new agenda must stress that we are part of a learning universe. We are here to serve a purpose: bring consciousness to experience. It does not matter whether you consider the universe as a complex adaptive system, subscribe to a story of gods and goddesses or have not decided yet. You can contribute to the new agenda by simply being sensitive to what is happening around you and respond to it.
Governments and law makers are expected to deliver the framing and funding to drive the new agenda. In a circular and sustainable economy, companies will be bound to higher standards. But can they — and will they — deliver? We don’t know. If they need some inspiration on how to drive the agenda, I offer four high level agenda points here.
1. Reconnect across borders and networks
The first step towards a more sustainable human civilization is to reconnect in new ways. To stay in the game as species we need to learn, create and work together across all borders and networks, regardless of history, nationality, ethnicity, culture or other discriminators and dividers.
This implies an expansion of the concept of learning. It is much more than picking up a language or getting to grips with numbers. In a broader sense, learning is the process of bringing new information to life and creating new connections — in the brain, between people and in the greater system.
For learning to happen, there must be a space for the exchange of energy and information. The space can be physical or virtual, open or closed, temporary or permanent. The flow can be in neuro code, social code or techno code, but it must make sense to the agents involved. Most important is the ability to obtain new information, contain the process, and sustain the formation of new connections.
Life is a dance of energy in ever-changing patterns. Disruption is the norm; stability is an illusion. The idea of solid entities interacting in a deterministic world has been replaced by the concept of energy and information flowing within and between us in a relative and complex world. When everything changes constantly, the speed of learning and the quality of each connection become crucial.
I wonder how this view of learning as the creation of human connection will affect practice in education and business?
2. Redefine value, growth and work
We need to know what is valuable to us before we start defining what growth and work should be. Up to now in history, survival has been the crucial factor. First it was about food and shelter, then came housing, jobs, education, influence, reputation, stability, entertainment, self-development and so on. Validated, understandable, and perfectly acceptable reasons for going to work and creating value and growth.
Behind this, however, lies a deeper desire for peace, love and freedom. In all of us. When asked why we do what we do and what we want from life, we end up talking about these qualities as something valuable to aspire to. If so, we could consider defining growth as a means to get it.
Why not design work in such a way that value-creating behavior is linked to value-giving experience?
3. Release the human potential in everyone
The term human resources, introduced in 1883, was originally used to promote the idea that human beings are of value. By the early 1950s, however, the meaning had changed to describe people as a means to achieve the goal of business. Today, the term refers to either the entire workforce or the department that manages it. The focus is on maintaining a high employee engagement and on developing talent.
Treating people as interchangeable resources never became popular outside the finance and economics departments. Treating people as talents won more hearts, but still the focus was mainly on capability, performance and achievement. Unfolding the nearly endless human potential in a work force never was a success criterion of human resource management.
What would happen if the time spent on planning human resources development was replaced by framing the release of human potential?
4. Reconfigure the human belief system
Belief systems are the stories we tell ourselves to define and validate our perceived reality. They are the patterns our brain expects the world to conform to. Belief systems help us explain how everything is related and predict what will happen. This is how we make sense of the world.
As humans, we are capable of constructing all sorts of beliefs. Once formed, they tend to become absolutes that cannot be questioned without controversy. Confirmation bias blinds us and we become insensitive to reality. Implicitly or explicitly, belief systems define what is good or valuable. Conflict between two groups, including war, may be defined as a battle between belief systems.
To end this dysfunctional behavior we must become aware of it and address it directly. Belief, reason and experience are interlinked and interdependent. Experience needs belief and reason to be acknowledged, reason needs experience and belief to be formed, and belief needs experience and reason to be confirmed. The way to change our beliefs would be to change the context we are in and the learned concepts we refer to.
If we could reboot and reconfigure the human belief system, what would be the most life supporting and hope giving context to embed in?
The New Work Paradigm
The New Work Paradigm is a conceptual platform created to inspire those open to more sustainable working and business practices. The New Work Paradigm includes five concepts which, when applied, will guide life at work in a more fulfilling and sustainable direction: energy consciousness, human connection, conscious innervation, unlimited experiment, and leading light.
Energy consciousness allows us to balance the flow of life and work from the understanding that all is energy and everything is connected. You and I, all of us, are part of a greater whole whether we are aware of it or not. Studies of complex systems have demonstrated the interdependency in dramatic ways. No one is alone in the world. No action is without consequences for others.
Energy is forming and flowing in interconnected circles. The personal energy is more or less under your control, at least it is your responsibility to manage it. The social energy is the one you share with others and is under your direct influence. The global energy that you share with all existing is also affected by your actions, albeit weaker and more indirect.
Personal energy. The energy defines you. Everything you are, do and become in life depends on how you manage your energy. It’s all interconnected. What happens in the physical dimension is transformed to the psychological dimensions and vice versa. The energy follows your focus, giving you some control over your experience and behavior.
The quantity of energy in the physical dimension is influenced by sleep, diet and exercise. The quality of energy in the emotional dimension is associated with either positive or negative feelings. The focus of energy in the mental dimension is linked to giving appropriate attention to the task at hand. The force of energy in the spiritual dimension points to how meaningful and purposeful life is to you.
Social energy. Personal energies merge into the social atmosphere. Have you ever entered a room low in energy? Or high? It just feels different. To work together, we must take care of the energy we share, because the energy we share makes us care and dare. Energy grows when we recognize the other person, give space, stand side by side and help each other.
We are shaping ourselves, each other and the world through the exchange of energy. When we interact, we influence the inner state of being, affecting both short-term brain configuration and long-term brain development. The interplay between the learned concepts we bring with us and the context we encounter forms our life and destiny.
Global energy. Energy affects life on all levels, from electromagnetic energy in sunlight that triggers photosynthesis to chemical energy released from food during metabolism. Our mind, brain and body are participatory elements of an enormous ongoing energy circulation.
We live in a nested reality of complex systems where the life of each agent unfolds in a series of finely interwoven events. A minor incident in one end of this web can have a major impact in the other. A phenomenon known as the butterfly effect.
This dependence on the initial conditions becomes all the more evident the more virtual, instantaneous and remote our interactions on the Internet become. We are linked together in ways that make even the smallest choices, potentially game changing. A fact that we must include in our choice-making.
How each of us manages our energy will determine the future of the human species. We need to focus more on the human connection and develop a broader understanding of learning. To learn in this sense means to adapt to change. Learning is the ongoing process of bringing new information to life by integrating what resonates. Each learning event creates new connections on a personal, social or global level.
Personal learning is the process of forming neural connections. During the learning process, new energy and information flows are generated and channeled into physiological and psychological networks. Simultaneously, the brain is reconfigured and the mind is reset.
Social learning is the process of forming contextual connections. This allows the flow of energy and information to manifest as a shared reality and co-created movement. Learning is anchored in the artifacts and is reflected to varying degrees in personal learning.
Global learning is the process of forming systemic connections. This often includes influencing the energy- and information flow of complex adaptive systems, be it structural, cultural or natural. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are included in this definition.
To innervate is to create from a new mind, shaping the world from inside-out. Conscious innervation is the mindful and brain-friendly approach to realize what you want by connecting the brain and setting the mind. The focus is to improve the way we have ideas, make choices, and take actions. The mindful approach helps you become fully aware of what you want. The brain-friendly approach makes it happen in the best possible way.
Connecting the brain is done by using innervative powers like imagination, intuition, and empathy. This gives access to the emerging possibilities and creative potential of the unknown. Setting the mind is done by applying innervative practices like spacing, framing, and staging. This makes it possible to create the ideal conditions to manifest the desired experience and behavior.
Realize what you want. The verb “to realize” has two meanings; to become fully aware of and to make it happen. The idea here is to create the best possible conditions for wanted experience and behavior to manifest.
In many ways it is opposite to the classic strategy process. You start by leaving reality and waking up your dreams. It’s often the challenging part as you have to let go of your assumptions and beliefs. You must break free of conventional patterns and say goodbye to comfortable arrangements. If you can do that and focus on what you want, the strategy will emerge naturally as a growing list of choices to make and actions to take.
The first part of realizing what you want is the mindful approach focused on making it bright, wide and clear. The second part of the process is the brain-friendly approach focused on making it easy, fun, and rewarding. Combined, they make sure you get all the way around and all the way out.
Make it bright, wide and clear. To be mindful is to be present and aware, focusing with intent and accepting what is observed. It takes deliberate practice to be mindful for a longer time, but everybody can learn it. Working mindfully, you need more inner light to observe closer and see clearer. A higher level of consciousness and more focused awareness is the difference between having a dull and a bright mind.
Light on the inner stage is essential. Another important factor is the size of the stage or your scope of mind. It can be tiny or almost infinite. It can lay in darkness or it can be fully illuminated. The smaller the scope of mind, the more we are occupied with the habitual and familiar. The larger the scope of mind, the more we have access to the infinite potential.
The combination of a higher level of consciousness and an expanded scope of mind makes it natural for us to choose responsible and sustainable behavior. The more people anchor their wants in a larger scope of mind, the closer we get to live in a balanced world where nobody has too little or too much.
Make it easy, fun and rewarding. The mindful approach is half the way to realizing what you want. The second half is the brain-friendly approach. The trick is to lure the brain to engage in the endeavor by making each step as brain-friendly as possible.
The brain doesn’t know what it wants. It’s just a bunch of nerve cells firing and wiring together. But certainly, the brain will deliver what you want if you ask in a friendly way and offer it the proper working conditions. Framing and staging will help turn intentions into actions. Leading from the desired future by working with concept and context.
In the brain-friendly approach, easiness is about tapping into what is already there and making the wanted behavior the default. Fun comes from following the energy and doing things together. The rewarding part comes when a challenge is voluntarily turned into a genuine learning process.
The unlimited experiment is on the edge of conscious business, where new information is obtained and strange attractors manifest. The mindset and framework of the unlimited experiment ensure that only life-sustaining ideas are developed and implemented.
To grow ideas and business beyond imagination we need awareness, space and time to receive new information from the infinite potential. Once ideas emerge, they must be protected from the existing world and hidden from the defense mechanism of the established. Like seeds, promising ideas must be cultivated before they are brought into the open fields.
The framework of unlimited experimentation is designed to grow and protect ideas while preparing the world to welcome and integrate them. The most important task is to prevent the untimely death of wild ideas; the second is to build tolerance for seemingly dangerous ideas into the system. Three zones constitutes the unlimited framework.
The reception zone gives access to ideas we never believed possible. The courageous question is: what emerges? The conception zone opens to ideas that at first challenge our values, but then start to resonate with us. The compassionate question is: what works? The perception zone welcomes ideas that are considered logical, reasonable and relevant. The curious question is: what is true?
We can shape life the way we want by carefully selecting our focus. Putting light on what we want. All behavior is unconscious until we become aware of it. All experience is conscious until we change our focus to something else. Between nothing and nothing lies everything, the creative source of life, the unified field of infinite potential we can access at any given time.
Light is energy. Leading light is to energize and realize the human potential. It is intentionally to shape the energy flow within and between us from a state of presence. Instead of managing resources or leading people, leading light offers an open and holistic approach. You lead from the future as it emerges, accepting the present moment and connecting “what is” with “what comes”. Which calls for all the curiosity, compassion and courage you can muster.
Connect source and surface. The source is the infinite potential or implicate order. The surface is what we can experience with our senses. Connecting to the source means becoming aware of our being. When we are aware we can make considered choices. The higher the level of consciousness, the more holistic and balanced choices we can make.
Between source and surface is the unconsciousness; the realm of our learned concepts and habitual behaviors, the home of the stories, beliefs and attitudes that form our personality and define our reality. They are merely recurring energy patterns, which are important only as long as we maintain the illusion of them. Leading light brings limiting beliefs and outdated behavior to the surface, so they can be removed or reprogrammed.
Balance frame and freedom. In his 2018 book “Alive at Work”, London Business School Professor Daniel M. Cable suggests organizations figure out how to balance the frame and the freedom — finding the space where workers can contribute, experiment, express themselves, and play to their strength in the benefit of the whole organization.
In general, we need frames to set the direction and guide the idea generation, choice-making and action taking. The framing process links the philosophy and strategy with design and action, translating global ambitions into local conditions. By giving space within a frame, top-down intervention can become bottom-up experimentation, and outside-in inspiration can ignite inside-out learning and creation.
Individual brains have different needs and drivers. Without a shared social reality and collective intentionality, no significant change will happen. Together we can create the conditions for change initiatives to be integrated. Not by force, but by free will. The space for choice making and action taking created by the frames define us.
Grow circles of love. Life is full of opportunities; the potential is infinite. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we were brave enough to be it, as the young poet Amand Gorman formulates it.
We are in unknown territory, our survival is not guaranteed, on the contrary: as individuals we have to die and as a species we will one day be wiped out. But until then we could aim higher. The ideas we have, the choices we make, and the actions we take could be more life-supporting and hope-generating.
We could become not only the adapters and creators of human life but the integrators of all life on this planet. Let’s once for all be one for all.