Deeper Personal Challenges in Being able to Attend to Needs

A question in my feed at Quora triggered me to write an answer about some of the challenges that we confront when we attempt to attend to needs–both our own and those of others. Organizations have their very own issues with the shift from exploitation to need fulfillment as a business value proposition. But business cultures are also what emerges from the sum total of the people who staff the organization, and from the quality of their interactions. What we bring to the organization personally contributes to the overall culture of the organization, so that change must also begin with each individual.

Attending to needs is something which the whole of modern society has been struggling with for hundreds of years, as we make the transition from authoritarian patriarchies to genuine democracies which is still ongoing today. What we have learned at home and in society we bring with us into our organizations, and we will need to reevaluate many of the strategies we have learned at home in terms of their usefulness and productivity for our role in organizations focussed on fulfilling needs as a value proposition.

It may seem from a business perspective like a step too far to think about needs on such a personal level when considering what makes for business success. Inevitably, however, when we understand that it is our ability to connect with our employees and customers on a needs level that marks success in today’s markets, we have to think about how we can develop the capacity for connection individually as people as well.

Here is the post from Quora: Adult emotional health depends at its root on our internal capacity to attend to our core needs.  “Connection,” “attunement,” “trust,” “autonomy” and “love-sexuality” belong to the core needs whose fulfillment is essential to well-being. As the primary care-givers who attend to an infant’s needs, parents play a huge role in the development of emotional and neurological capacity for “self-regulation.” If our care-givers connected with us well, were attuned, and trustworthy, then we likely developed a neurological and emotional capacity for the same.

When core needs are not met, especially at an early formative stage of infancy, we show psychological and physiological symptoms of compromised self-regulation, sense of self and self-esteem. Typically, we develop predictable survival strategies to compensate for the early trauma of unmet core needs. An adaptive survival style is a set of physical states, feelings and thoughts we develop when the core need behind the survival style has not been met. For example:

– In a connection survival style we disconnect from our physical and emotional self, and have difficulty in relating to others

– In an attunement survival style we find it difficult to know what we need, and feel that our needs do not deserve to be met

– In a trust survival style we feel that we cannot depend on anyone but ourselves, and feel we always have to be in control

– In an autonomy survival style we feel burdened and pressured, and have difficulty setting limits and saying no directly

– In a love-sexuality survival style we have difficulty integrating heart and sexuality, and self-esteem tends to be based on looks and performance

The survival strategies the brain develops to adapt to developmental trauma come with a high price: we survive, but at a much diminished capacity for happiness, fulfillment, relationships, health and productivity.

The good news is that it is never too late to attend to our core needs. Good friends and family can provide deep support. However, the survival strategies are their own barrier when it comes to meeting the needs they were developed to compensate, and family and friends are rarely trained to understand the relational dynamics which can be the result.

To compensate for unmet needs, we develop shame and pride-based identifications which fortify the survival strategy and make it resilient to change. For example, in the connection survival style we tend to feel shame for existing, and feel like we don’t belong. To deal with the shame, we will often feel pride at being a loner, in not needing others, and at not being emotional. A friend who responds to a perceived need for connection may be rebuffed, as his response challenges our identification as a loner, and so the identifications stand in the way of the fulfillment of exactly the core need they compensate for.

To heal the trauma of early failure to attend to core needs as an adult takes a little help in understanding our needs and strategies, and a lot of time to gain new experiences to address our core needs. We know we are doing this successfully when we experience an increase in our capacity for connection and aliveness in our relations with ourselves and others, and the better physiological and neurological health that comes with good self-regulation.

I can recommend the book of one of my training supervisors, Dr. Laurence Heller, a behavioral  psychologist specialized in developmental trauma, for a deeper explanation:

Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship: Laurence Heller Ph.D., Aline Lapierre Psy.D.: 9781583944899: Amazon.com: Books

Understanding Business as a Way of Attending to People’s Needs

One of the biggest challenges of modern organizations trying to make the transition from command and control hierarchies to agile bottom-up innovation organizations is to learn how to connect with people.

Where many organizations think they are connecting with people, they in fact produce the opposite effect of alienating and pushing people away. The operational mode of classical organizations is work in terms of rules and processes, where employees are resources and the purpose of customers is to be exploited to fulfill a profit motive.

Connecting with people, on the other hand, means attending to their needs, to create an experience of employee and customer intimacy which provides the genuine value that ultimately is the reason employees are engaged, and that customers are interested, loyal und want to finance our livelihood.

Bob Marshall @flowchainsensei has developed a framework he calls the Antimatter Principle, applying Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication to software development by showing how the objective categories of business management can be understood in terms of needs.

Identifying business areas of action as needs fulfillment issues is a first huge step in shifting business away from its classical exploitative mode of operations to a sustainable value creation mode. Once the intellectual framework has been articulated, however, people still need to learn how to connect with people on a professional level that organizations are by their very nature as functional hierarchies of power very bad at, because it involves letting go of most of the things that businesses have identified with in the past. Hierarchies give way to networks, top-down initiatives give way to bottom-up innovation, profit gives way to value creation (an oblique approach to making money which works much better!), reporting up the hierarchy for control purposes gives way to transparency based on metrics that teams use to regulate their activities themselves. Most importantly, employees and customers become partners in the search for ways to fulfill needs, which becomes the ultimate purpose of the organization.

Businesses can start making the transition to genuine value creation through human connection by practicing a combination of agile organizational culture, supported by methodologies like Kanban or Scrum, through servant leaders who enable the self-organizing dynamics of their people, and by helping people to develop the personal skills of connecting to others on a needs level.

Making need fulfillment the subject of business activity is what provides the context  for genuine innovation and growth, as nothing drives human activity as productively as the striving to have our needs met, or the joy we experience meeting others’ needs and having our needs met in return.

The Soul of Talent Management

In our daily work, we often forget that management is a tool, not an end in itself, and so we miss the reality of what it is we are managing. In the case of “talent,” we want to support the growth of people, and to this end management can be at odds with the needs of talent.

The goal of talent management is to find good people to hire, motivate them to join us and give the best of themselves, and support them in seeing their strengths and weaknesses and developing themselves in the time they spend with us. From the organizational side, it wants to understand the needs of the managers looking for talent, bring the right people together for the right functions, and enable the succession process which ensures that the best people will succeed the current managers in steering the fate of the company.

Management systems can do none of this by themselves, only people can. There is no replacement for personal contact and interaction, where experience and insight enable us to exercise good judgment about who we can and want to work with. Many companies have understood that they are in the “people business.” But very few seem to have grasped what it means to live with people as people, not functions, on a professional basis.

As always, grasping the soul of something is complex. At a first level, talent management is about relationship abilities.

At a talk over coffee this week, a friend who does global talent management and I reflected on some of the leaders she supports. What I enjoyed from the start was the absence of manager-speak. The way she talks about people is based in complex perceptions about, e.g. their ability to connect with their staffs (or not), how they are able to see interrelationships and relate details to big pictures (or not), and of combinations of great skills with breathtaking blindspots and how those go together in personalities with a history she knows and reflects upon as the context of her understanding. Her complex understanding lets her describe developmental paths that the personalities behind the functions could take to realize their potential, and the ways she could provide the environment and the resources they would need. If I were in their place, I would feel seen und supported in ways the management systems by their very nature cannot do.

When we focus on people like this, solutions are often quite simple. Difficult is managing the emergence of insight into the nature of the problem. How many talent management teams devote their time to emergent insight into the potential of their people?

At a second level, understanding the essence of a task takes a philosophical bent of mind. Thinking, as one of my philosophy teachers used to say, has little to do with logic and much more with the presuppositions which inform our reasoning. For example, if we believe that business is about making money, and people are but resources to be used to that end, then we can spare ourselves the effort of talent management from the start and reduce HR to the transactional processes of contracts and compensation. In a shareholder value environment, talent management is a waste of time. It is much more efficient to focus on performance through outcomes than to invest heart and soul into developing people.

But if the company embodies a philosophy of customer intimacy, great and innovative product development, or service to customers and society, not to mention the internal success factors of creating value through knowledge or design, talent management will be the company’s most important success factor (incidentally creating more shareholder value obliquely than the direct approach).

The contrast between these two philosophical world-views could not be more fundamental. In a rip-roaring blogpost on the consequences of the transactional model of management for employee engagement, James Altucher (@jaltucher) explains to the downtrodden and disengaged masses of workers 10 Reasons Why You Have to Quit Your Job This Year (e.g. reason 3: Corporations don’t like you). I suspect that one of the reasons many corporations with a shareholder value philosophy still survive in the face of the way they manage their talent down to its lowest possible denominator (viz. Dilbert), is that their people haven’t yet grasped the more dignified alternatives. Had they enjoyed a talent manager like my friend, they would have had no choice but to leave, which is another serious argument for not investing in talent management worthy of the name for classical corporations. It just creates a mismatch between people’s expectations and company vision which harms the bottom line.

A third level is strategic and concerns how we understand work. In “Race Against the Machine,” economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that one of the root causes of unemployment is not a slowdown in the pace of innovation, but quite the opposite. Technological innovation is accelerating, so that tasks can increasingly be automated which only a short time ago were considered to belong to an inviolably human domain. Google is bringing the driverless car close to the breakthrough point for production and public use; Philips is insourcing shaver assembly to Holland, not to flee rising costs in China and produce jobs at home, but because robots have reached the point where they can do fine mechanical assembly without many people; and the Singularity Hub reports on Philip M. Parker, Professor of Marketing at INSEAD Business School who has over 100,000 books to his name and 700,000 books listed to his company at Amazon.com, each written in about 20 minutes by a robot (a computer system which can write technical books, and whose cousins are working on doing novels). Automation is reaching the sphere of literary production!

In a video post on the book, Rethinking Race against the Machine, John Hagel recognizes how automation makes many jobs vulnerable to elimination, but questions the framing of the fact as a technical challenge. The strategy of corporations has been to define work in ways which make it a perfect target for outsourcing and automation, by striving to define standardized, highly scripted work. But in the current environment of uncertainty, where black swans define our reality more than stability, such work provides little value and is in fact best done by machines. Hagel calls on managers to innovate our institutions and work practices to allow us to race with the machine, rather than compete with it. By inventing work which deals with complexity, our human capacity for pattern recognition and creativity once again comes into its own, and the machine can support us rather than replace us. The lazy dependence of companies and managers on the mechanical paradigm of work is creating a world in which work is an increasingly rare commodity–a paradoxical situation in a world crying out for innovative solutions to complex and systemic problems whose implementation will give everyone more than enough to do.

It is in such an environment of human and complexity-centred innovation that talent management, in the deeper sense of profound interest in the development of human beings to deal with complex problems, comes into its own.

Change, Trauma and Business

Last week I started taking a three-year professional development programme in Somatic Experiencing, a trauma treatment process based on the work of Peter Levine. Though I am not a therapist, my coaching work in change processes brings me into situations regularly in which trauma plays a role, and I had become aware of the need to inform myself better about what I was looking at and how I could support dealing with it productively.

According to Levine, many of the problems people face in their daily lives are expressions not so much of psychological imbalances as of neurological stuck states. When we are confronted with highly emotional situations, our bodies will either go into fight or flight mode to cope. Both reflexes, if successful, help our nervous system to shake off adrenalin and cortisol and so to regulate itself into a renewed state of balance and health. When these reflexes are blocked, for example because the emotion is too sudden or intense or it is not possible to fight or flee, the nervous system will freeze, locking in the emotional charge and with it a state of shock for which the nervous system will try to find compensating patterns that end up as dysfunctions. The focus of trauma therapy is to bring the frozen state of the nervous system back into a “pendalating” process of moving between trauma and resources, so that it can once again regulate itself and integrate the experience now that it could not cope with earlier.

Levine has worked with war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome successfully with the method, and its applications range from integrating physical shocks from accidents to pre- and post-natal problems, to adult psychological issues. For example, one Vietnam veteran, who was the lone survivor of a bombing raid on troops having a barbeque on the last day before evacuation, would freeze in panic at a barbeque at a friend’s place when a Cessna flew overhead. Good friends would help him to become aware that he was here and safe, and not in the war situation. In treatment, Levine found that the freezing response, with all its associations, could be brought into pendalating movement, so that the nervous system could integrate the experience and develop alternative responses in the present.

What I experience in change processes is that business initiatives are often massive triggers for trauma states in the people we are working with. To improve a plant competitively, or even save it through restructuring from demise, means to redefine the the roles and responsibilities, the structures and processes in which the people working there earn their living and feed their families. Like the soldier, whose freeze response and panic were triggered by the Cessna, so the sense of loss of a boy whose parents split nastily when he was eight and cost him his home can be triggered in the engineer he has become when the department he has worked and been at home in for the last ten years is dissolved in conflict and he must find his place in the new organization.

Even more critically, new roles and responsibilities require new behaviours and self-understanding from people to fulfil them. Old style managers often show a shocking contempt for needs and the fears of the people involved in the change, and so add new traumas to those which people bring with them to work, threatening them with exactly the things their systems are not able to cope with in the tragic belief that they will get productive results that way. (Watching managers in authoritarian mode, I often can’t help but see the trauma in their own lives that they are playing out in their behaviours.)

But even socially competent leaders, who involve their people in understanding and defining the change, are often overwhelmed by the drama which change can push up to the surface of the organisation. New and useful behaviours cannot be learned by nervous systems in freeze states. The dramas which ensue in the dysfunctional struggle to cope can cost a company its existence.

Today, being a great leader or consultant for innovation will increasingly involve understanding what we trigger in the nervous systems of the people we do business with, and knowing how to respond to the reactions that we get. Understanding how to help someone come out of a stuck state is often rewarded not only with deep thankfulness, but frees up the resources of the person to successfully do fulfilling, creative work. Thinking is embodied, so that the route to good thinking often is achieved by good work on physiology.

The professional development programme I am in will teach us how to work with trauma with individual clients. What I suspect I will do over the course of the three years is to translate the principles and process into work with groups and systems for business.

I will report periodically.

The Value of Culture

Part of the big shift which is taking place in business and society derives from a fundamental breakdown in what one could call a piecemeal or single issue approach to life. One of the most common responses of politicians, businesses, but also everyday people to the increasing complexity of life is to focus on the one facet of their reality which they think they understand, and then to push for changes for the better. Single issue strategies are vulnerable to compensating feedback, however, and are never productive in complex systems for the system as a whole. But they are downright dangerous when they are raised to the level of a social ideology. It is, for example, one of the central tenets of market fundamentalism that the striving of individuals to optimize their personal gain results in greater wealth for everyone. Within a properly regulated market system, this is often true. But when the strategy individuals use to lever up their personal gain is to export the costs of their strivings to the system by trashing regulation, everyone becomes poorer, as the system becomes corrupt and collapses from misuse.

In my early days as a consultant, I remember doing sales projects in which managers pushed for improvements in revenues or margins, ignoring the effects on customer relationships or employee motivation. One pharma sales representative told me the story of how, when her managers tried to increase sales by mandating higher doctor visit ratios, one doctor’s receptionist blocked her by claiming he wasn’t in. She saw patients going in and out of his office, but when ignoring the receptionist she stormed in to see him, she found the doctor climbing out of the ground floor window of his office to go to lunch so that he wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of sales reps stalking him in the waiting room.

Just learning the ropes, I never failed to be surprised at the surprise of managers about the unintended consequences of their piecemeal actions. Later, I learned to be unsurprised at the subsequent blame game and reframing of the facts to explain why things had gone wrong. What never happened, however, was that someone stopped to reflect on the big picture. That was not how they thought, or were incentivised.

What I learned through this and many other experiences was that a single issue focus in a complex world is a recipe for disaster.

As individuals, we easily fall prey to a combination of baser instincts (fear, greed, power, envy…), and simple-mindedness (magical thinking, immediate gratification, results obsession, fundamentalism…), which mixed together lead to disaster. Only cultures–for certain historical periods and for a time in some companies–are able to ameliorate the effects of our baser individual tendencies, by providing the framework of social norms and formal rules, common vision and shared experiences, which help to focus our minds towards, and make our individual behaviours productive of, some healthy common purpose.

In his new book, Boomerang, Michael Lewis explores the nature of several western cultures as mirrored in the financial crisis. Put in a dark room with the endless amounts of money provided by the credit bubble, what, he asks, did the people of various cultures want? What follows is a wonderfully vivid description of various experiences of cultural failure. The behaviour of bankers in Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and Germany all exposed shadow sides of their cultures. But Lewis seems to have used the failure of others to prepare for his insights into those at the heart of the crisis in America, as exemplified by California. What Californians wanted, he writes, was a free lunch, and they were willing to bankrupt the state they depend on though a combination of high wage demands and tax revolts to get it.

Thomas Friedman seems to pick up in his new book, That Used to be Us, where Lewis leaves off, describing the formula of social commitments and formal rules which made America great (education, infrastructure, imigration, R&D, and regulation–all government sponsored), and how it is that its downfall started when the people collectively took its eyes off the cultural ball after the fall of the Berlin Wall, becoming complacent, and enabling baser individual strivings at the expense of the common good in the magical fantasy that history had come to an end with the victory of free market economics and the American way. It is in the global South and East that people have learned the positive lesson of America’s rise. He writes that Singapore and China, for example, have become successful by focussing on culture, building a collective framework designed to channel individual striving to enable general progress.

For Friedman, it is not only the focus on culture which he hopes Americans will recover, but an understanding that the project of culture itself has changed. What is needed today to create value in the shifting landscape of production is for people to become “creative creatives” and “creative servers” (as opposed to routinized drones). Innovation is the key, and the path we find behind the door when we open it is one of continuous personal and cultural transformation. Value in the flat, IT networked world, he argues, is created through three faculties: critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, and success depends on the continuous reinvention not only of what we do, but of who we are.

To add value, it would seem, we need only foster the “Three C’s.” It is not possible to do so on any significant scale, however, in a cultural vacuum. The war of simple-minded positions in America mirrors the failure there of the social contract. Greek prolifigacy, Italian gridlock of stakeholder interests, and the Germans’ still unresolved ambivalence about political power describe just some of the cultural challenges facing the West, if it is master the shift. Nothing is more destructive of creativity than corrupt and stupid institutions, as individual creatives are of little use to a society which cannot integrate the processes and the results of their work into the fabric of its social life.

Today, creating value depends on the creativity of people. However, what is effective in developing creativity is not to train skills, but to create environments which enable people, and to support them with insight and mentoring to master the challenges they take on. That is why training and coaching only have a collective effect as a contribution to cultural development, and why it is cultural development for institutional innovation on a global scale that we need to invest in and make our contribution to.

Getting Practical (and experimental endings)

When thinking flows, I find that I often don’t know what I’m going to say or write until I listen to what I am saying or read my own texts. Writing this blog often serves that purpose, helping me in bits and bites to get ideas about what I want to do.

As ideas have emerged, a bigger picture has started to form, so that I felt inspired together with a colleague of mine to create the frame for a new company. Recently, then, the Lemniscate Institute went online, as a virtual space for knowledge workers and cultural creatives to come together to work on solving the bigger innovation challenges of our age.

Among others, we felt inspired by John Hagel, David Snowden, and Richard Florida, and we pay tribute to them on our Campus with links to some of their videos.

We are taking a purposely experimental approach to seeing if we can do a company based on complexity approaches from the start. Initially, as we started constructing the frame, my sense was that we were designing an innovation strategy consultancy. I suspect, however, that something rather different might emerge. But that is the whole point of the experimental approach to the complexity of our world–create boundaries, drop in some catalytic probes, stimulate activity, and know (at least some of) your amplification and dampening strategies for patterns which can emerge.

Much as we first know what we have written when we read it back to ourselves, we also first find out what the power of an idea is when it is given a form and communicated to others, and we experience the resonance it creates. To help us find out what Lemniscate is, we invited some very bright and creative colleagues from strategy, architecture, innovation, therapy and meditation practices to a first ideas meeting, curious to see who would be inspired and want to participate. The frame triggered interest, but also scepticism to the point of a straight out “I don’t believe it” response. I came away feeling sobered at how challenging it is to weave together disparate views and experiences at the level of abstraction at which the frame operates.

More interesting was to experience the feedback after a couple of days, when scepticism turned to deeper interest, as colleages called back individually to talk about next steps.

We are looking forward to seeing what partners set up shop in the environment, and what steps each of us takes, both individually and in synchrony with each other, to live out the ideas involved in the “big shift.”

January 13th, 2013

To year-end I sold my part in the new company, taking over the sensemaking strategy concept and website to go independent again and continue working in the space of my network relationships, which through the experiment with the company format has grown and prospered.

Experiments are the lifeblood of entrepreneurship, and this one taught me about the importance of shared values and attitudes in doing business. It is the kind of learning you cannot get from training courses or coaching.

On the Emptiness of Thinking and the Richness of Experience

Reposted from the Cognitive Edge Guest Blog I am writing this week:

I’d like to comment on Keith’s comment about my notion in my first guest post that ideas in themselves are empty. I agree that many ideas lack substance not because they are empty in themselves, but because they have not been fully thought through. Even when they have, however, they remain just ideas. There was a nice report on research into the evolutionary function of reasoning a few months ago, which posited that thinking had developed to win arguments about decisions post factum. My sense that this is true is reinforced whenever I listen to people’s opinions (something I try to avoid as much as possible), and get caught up in the infinite progresses and regresses of reason Kant warned us about which they engender (the sound and the fury, signifying nothing, of Shakespeare and Faulkner).

What interests me is the process that takes place prior to thinking. Or, put differently, how thinking might be understood as but the superficial manifestation of physical processes on a higher level of abstraction. When I do change processes in companies, breaking down strategy into practical initiatives is infinitely more difficult (it is logically simple, but never really works) than picking up on the tacit knowledge of the people doing the work, i.e. on their lived experience, and to refine that knowledge into policy and strategy (a lot of hard work, but very fruitful). In this second approach, the priority of experience is respected, and thinking adds refinement and consciousness to what people already know (something which works well as long as it has management buy-in and support).

Thinking that sees its function as making conscious lived experience adds genuine value. It does so by introducing useful distinctions into the undifferentiated mass of experience, thereby giving us influence over what we do. On a second level, thinking allows us to test our distinctions against reality with experiments, which produce second order experience and provide additional food for further refinement through reflection in a trial and error process of conscious evolution.

A colleague of mine likes to make a distinction between “decision” and “decisiveness.” Decisions are intellectual. They are usually model-based, and are ultimately inconsequential (or, they often produce catastrophic consequences, but these are usually framed as having been unintentional, showing how irrelevant the thinking which led to them was). Decisiveness is not something we can do, but is much more something that happens to us. I experience it as coming from our tacit knowledge, and it is less something we think about than something which we know. We experience decisive action as deeply embedded in reality, such that reality moves with it of its own accord because, I suspect, our decisiveness is part of that reality. (What exposes pseudo-decisiveness is the way it seems to skip off reality and reveal itself as posturing without connection to any deeper sense of what is needed).

The first ten years of my adult life I spent at York University in Toronto, which at that time had a strong focus on the humanities. The program I was in was called Social and Political Thought, and was a collecting basin for Marxism, Feminism and Post Modernism. I was one of the few people studying classical philosophy, politics and religion, and my take on the intellectual processes around me happened from a certain distance provided by my old fashioned interests.

It was a time in which I believed in the ability of thinking to know truth (a fundamentalist arrogance I put down today to youthful folly and learning). What I took away from the decade was a deep sense of the futility of ideological battle, as it is not amenable to scientific testing and so to resolution beyond agreement on the level of opinion.

What I have come to appreciate and respect deeply is less a thinking about things than the ability to influence them. For example, many managers have theories about leadership, but only few go beyond administration and actually lead organizations to sustainable success. Many therapists talk about neuroses, but only few are genuine healers who enable their clients to change their state. Whether we look at consultants, politicians, military leaders or teachers, there are few whose thinking is so deeply rooted in ability that what they think has any positive transformational effect on what they do.

These are the kinds of people I seek out and, to the extent that I can, strive to be as well. Anyone who has had the good fortune to have a good teacher (I am lucky to have had several) knows the difference. A good teacher’s thinking changes you as you follow it.