I’m just reading Learn or Die, by Edward Hess. A dramatic title, but it’s a hugely well researched book with a bunch of great case studies that really bring to life the author’s central idea: that learning is vital to organisational success and that it can be made to happen, through a combination of leadership behaviour and thoughtful, deliberate processes.
The bit that I want to focus on here is his focus on emotions in one of the book’s early chapters. He makes the point, citing the likes of psychologists/neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang that we are not wholly, or even mainly, rational creatures.
We are driven by emotions. These are sometimes negative emotions (such as fear) and sometimes positive emotions (such as excitement). We shouldn’t just be seeking to minimise negative emotions – though they need to be acknowledged and controlled if we are not to be ‘stuck’ in current ways of thinking that are focused on short term survival, but diminish our medium and long term ability to go beyond surviving to thriving.
He goes further and talks about how we should harness and channel our positive emotions, to be in a position where we can learn more easily (because we are open and relaxed), engage better with others (because we are well-disposed to those around us) and be more productive (because we can focus on the task ahead, rather than warily looking around at potential threats).
I’m doing a lot of work at the moment on programmes for people at the start of their careers, whether graduate programmes or for those who are finding it hard to break into the world of work.
It is vital that these programmes fully acknowledge the potential dynamics that drive fear in the young people they are trying to help: fear of looking foolish, fear of those who are above them in a hierarchy and fear of letting go of their current ways of thinking.
It is also vital that these programmes look at and nurture those things that drive positive emotions: connection, feeling good about one’s base capabilities, feeling liked and valued and enjoyment of the immediate tasks in front of them.
It is not conceptually hard to manage out the negative drivers and equally not conceptually hard to encourage the positive drivers (it is neither rocket science or brain surgery). But it is vital that owners of these programmes acknowledge them and take them seriously – they are more make or break for the success of the programme than any ‘content’ that they programme might produce.
And it is vital that they design in features that will minimise the negatives and maximise the positives, as a minimum communicating far and wide their importance and role to others who play a role in the programme: mentors, line managers, trainers and others who have direct interactions with the programme participants.