September 25, 2014

Guest blog post: People first – build community based on resilience, excitement and trust

People – not technology – are in the center of every digital transformation. To take action, the very first thing you need to do is change your business culture habit-by-habit. For instance, in the media industry, “turning around” is not needed. This change is more like metamorphosis.

This is the fourth blog post to our blog challenge. You can read the first post here, second post here and third post here.

Metamorphosis is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal's body structure through cell growth and differentiation. References to "metamorphosis" in mammals are imprecise and only colloquial, but historically idealist ideas of transformation and monadology, as in Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants, influenced the development of ideas of evolution. (Wikipedia)

The human ability to engage in metamorphosis is greatly affected by a character trait called resilience. Resilience is the ability to withstand setbacks and find new paths when old ways are blocked. It’s also a central ingredient of enthusiasm. No amount of excitement is a sure-fire way to success or profits. Only a fraction of excitement can be measured as profitable results. It resembles the experience of happiness: it’s an important factor in our lives, but it cannot be forced into a mold or viewed as a requirement for profit. Top innovations require years of trial and error – and this requires resilience.

Without passion and enthusiasm for oneself and one’s actions, we wouldn’t have seen the invention of the wheel

Carl Rogers, the developer of customer-oriented psychotherapy, claimed to be a pessimist in terms of the world but an optimist when it came to the individual. Rogers thought that people are naturally good and healthy creatures. According to him, each person holds the key to a good life, and this key only has to be found. Rogers said that a good life is more like a continual personal process rather than a terminal stop that’s reached once we’ve learned everything.

Even as adults, we have a genetically programmed characteristic: the ability to get excited. Excitement requires courage, because at school – and in subsequent student and working life – we have learned that it is not advisable to get too excited in public. We don’t want to be classified as “too happy” or, in other words, mad. That’s why, during our evolution, we Finns have avoided such disclosure to the bitter end. The result of this, arguably, is that we are able to experience immense joy or sadness without anyone noticing.

This suppression of our emotions is hard on the body and the mind

Instead of moping around, flattening others’ spirits and suppressing emotions, we need to develop excitement as a new civic skill for both public health and financial reasons. If we do not guide our own enthusiasm, someone else will. When we are awake, each one of us is the target of constant marketing and manipulation.

Our company aims to unveil how this targeting can be identified and how we can take charge of our own excited feelings. We also want to model how we can be enthusiastic in the midst of our daily emotional storms.

Compliments heard through acquaintances are inspiring. We think that manipulating someone insidiously is bad, but having an open and compassionate influence on your own and others’ minds is good. Quite provocatively, we call the latter favourable manipulation. Even though Finnish customs consider public enthusiasm odd in many respects, it does not mean that the excitement is not there. You just have to expose it, activate it, and put it to use more consciously. Excitement should be nurtured like a campfire – after all, some basic heat smoldering at the bottom makes igniting the fire easier.

Recent affective neuroscience has showed that we mammals are guided by more than just fear and terror. The core emotional processes and structures in our brains are largely based on positive emotions. These positive emotional dynamos are interest, play/joy, affection/nurture, and desire/lust. Natural selection also sees to the fact that we are aware of signals that threaten our well-being and the related emotions such as fear, anger and distress. In safe environments, our bodies are naturally interested in pleasant experiences. Research into positive emotions has recently revealed that regularly getting excited is vital for our bodies’ ability to function and our general feelings of well-being. Experiencing positive emotions, such as excitement and trust, is not selfish after all, but is essential for our physical, psychological and social good.

According to Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways, there are a few things to consider if you’re aiming to build a culture where people are empowered to do great work:

1) Bet on people

Allow people a chance to prove they can take on more responsibility. A leader who encourages others to grow – knowing they may stumble – exhibits a level of trust that generally inspires the best in people and can ignite sparks of trust in an otherwise mistrustful environment. Identifying and empowering the most competent, highest-integrity team members is a great way to start.

2) Take action

Stanford’s Design School teaches a "bias towards action.” That means having a preference for trying out ideas, rather than sitting around planning and analyzing. In short, when people are actually doing things, iterating and refining as they go, they tend to get the best results. Empowering teams to act means missteps are less expensive and people learn faster.

3) Forget the past

Many organizations do things because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.” Institutional knowledge and process can be a valuable source of wisdom; but it may also represent deeply entrenched inertia. An organization’s “best practices” are often just organizational scar-tissue, the codification of long-forgotten mistakes that are no longer relevant in the current world. High-trust organizations don't rely blindly on old rules. Instead, they trust their teams to figure out the new ones.

4) Expect foul-ups

Granting trust doesn't guarantee perfect results. In fact, the more latitude you give people, the more you may find that they miss the mark as they grow into their responsibilities. Part of trusting team members with power is understanding that even the best efforts can, and do, falter. When it happens, the team should examine the reasons for the misstep, distill some lessons, and move forward with renewed vigor.

5) Avoid the paraphernalia of paranoia

If trust-based organizations focus on empowering people to do their best, mistrustful ones fixate on preventing people from doing their worst. Trust-poor enterprises often assuage their fear of disaster with policy manuals, compliance committees, overactive legal departments, and even rewards for turning others in. These practices give rise to an anxious, worst-case mindset that can squelch confidence and creativity.

For some leaders, the idea of sharing power feels risky. They have not realized that giving up power is a great way to generate more power. This is unfortunate because, in many organizations, those with the best information work on the front lines rather than at their headquarters. Organizations that don't trust anyone outside the inner circle are destined to disappoint and stumble, while their high-trust counterparts experience talent from deep within the ranks.

When you are enthusiastic, you lose track of time and place. By thinking about something pleasant or focusing on your favourite pastime, you can get carried away by excitement. This state of mind is sometimes called “flow.” Enthusiasm is contagious – consciously and unconsciously. Emotions originally evolved as tools for quick communication for ourselves and for others. An emotional experience can be transmitted from a person in just a few hundredths of a second, but we only become aware of our feelings in one second’s time. Because many of our actions are unconscious, it is difficult – but not impossible – to consciously direct the emotions we project. If you want to change an action, you must affect the emotion and other information received. This is because we act based on the joint effect of emotions and the information we have received and interpreted.

Here’s a good everyday example. It only takes one person to stop in the street and start looking up at the sky for more enthusiastic observers to join them. Each person interprets the situation based on his or her own semantic system. If your emotion is one of concern, you will look for possible signs of danger when you look up. If you’re expecting to see something interesting and exciting, you will probably find something inspiring. Your body language is very different depending on what emotional state you are allowing yourself to be in.

Spontaneous situations in crowds often lead to similar operational models.

Pauli Aalto-Setälä, Executive MBA, CEO of Aller, Journalist, author of “Enthusiasm- how to manipulate your mind”  (Talentum)

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