Category Archives: human development

996 Work Culture: A pseudo-scientific examination

996 Work Culture

996 Work Culture

Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group (a Chinese multinational conglomerate) recently defended the 996 Work Culture at Alibaba. What is it? A 996 Work Culture means working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, or a 72 hour work week! He says working a 996 is a huge blessing. Talking about success, Ma asked his employees, “If you don’t put out more time and energy than others, how can you achieve the success you want?” Does success only have a linear relationship with time and energy?

Pythagoras – The Person and Legend

Most of us learned about Pythagoras in Geometry class. In addition to Pythagorean Theory,  this ancient Greek philosopher (c. 570 BC to c. 495 BC) is credited with mathematical and scientific discoveries. He was also an astrologer, musician, and spiritual Guru. By all accounts, Pythagoras’ life teeters on fact and fiction, along with the claim that he is the father of Western Numerology.

Numerology Can Provide Insight

Our reliance on figures, data, valuations, quantities, statistics, and percentages grows daily. Our interpretation of numbers can be misleading. Is success only possible by expending more time and energy? This blog uses numerology as a pseudo-scientific attempt to draw contradictory numerical inferences about the 996 Work Culture.  It is meant to have fun while addressing important organizational issues such as abuse of workers, work-life imbalance, burnout, and in extreme cases self-harm due to work-related stress.

Jack Ma on Education

Human development arises from both reason and creative expression. Even Jack Ma agrees. In his 2018 video on education, Ma says that workplaces should have a good environment to make employees more positive. And education should teach us things that make us different from machines, amongst other things: art, sports, music, painting, and caring for others.

Ma’s Discrepancy Between Education and 996

When does one living a 996 find the time and energy to be successful in developing the “human” skills he deems imperative for the future? Aren’t machines designed to work 996 and longer so humans can spend more time and energy on being human? Coincidentally, 996 in numerology refers to material attachment. It advises to detach oneself from possessions needed to boost one’s self-esteem and/or ego. The result will be an improvement in your spiritual health as well as your devotion to your loved ones. Altruism, kindheartedness, and light work are also associated with 996. How ironic!

Number 9 – Worldly Sophistication

What do the individual numbers have to say? The number 9 in 996 has a double influence since it is repeated. Number 9 represents humanity and global consciousness, offering sympathy and compassion to everyone. Does a 996 Work Culture show compassion?

Number 6 – Loving and Caring

Properly nicknamed the motherhood number, the number 6 is associated with sacrificing, healing, caring, protecting, and teaching others. 6 is the glue that keeps families and communities together by living a balanced and harmonious life. How are families living in balance when a parent works 72 hours a week? The 996 Work Culture threatens the basic social fabric of society: families and communities. So what’s the numerical solution?

A Solution: The 954 Work Culture

A 954 Work Culture means working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 4 days a week. A 32 hour work week makes a clear distinction between work and family/social life. This balanced separation results in improved time management and energy efficiency. Some companies, like one in New Zealand, are experimenting with a 32 hour work week. A recent blog by David Heinemeier Hansson titled “Work harder or the communists will win” also discusses the absurdity of working employees to exhaustion.

954 Makes Numerological & Rational Sense

A 32 hour work week truly shows compassion. 9 = 5 + 4. The number 5 represents adventure seeking and risk-taking. 5 also represents flexibility and adaptability. These qualities are needed in today’s VUCA world. 4 represents dependability and productivity, two highly sought after qualities in prospective hires. 9 + 5 + 4 = 18. The numerology meaning of 18  is keen on building something of lasting benefit. It is future-oriented. 18 turns vision into reality.

The Pseudo-Scientific Skinny on 966 Work Cultures

The 996 Work Culture numerologically and logically do not add up even when promoted by a reliable source. Numbers can be misleading. Have a closer look at what they really mean. As important is to have fun with numbers. Doing so can help you find creative solutions to complex organizational problems!

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

VUCA: How companies can reap the rewards

VUCA

Rediscovering VUCA

VUCA is an acronym that most in the business world have become familiar with. It is the result of an ever-increasing flow of data and information in conjunction with increasing distrust of data and information.  This duality not only impacts economies and politics. It fundamentally affects how we interact and treat each other. I recently learned of the VUCA acronym at a presentation by Google’s Country Manager Adriatic Region, Joško Mrndže.  Here is the irony. The acronym was unfamiliar to me, however, as Mrndže continued talking about VUCA, the hairs on my arms straightened. As he spoke I was transported back to the almost two decades I had dedicated transforming extreme manifestations of VUCA.

Clarifying VUCA

vuca
(source: knowledgehut.com)

Volatility – the quality or state of being like to change suddenly, especially by becoming worse.

Uncertainty – a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known or certain.

Complexity – the state of having many parts and being difficult to understand or find an answer to.

Ambiguity – the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.

What the VUCA is going on

Left unchecked VUCA can wreak havoc on any community, organization, team, or individual. For most of my years in social work, I was responsible for managing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in the lives of hundreds of young men in conflict with the law. Our job was to transform VUCA into positive energy and outcomes. We were tasked with ensuring that its devastating impact did not harm anyone, overrun the program’s culture, or spill into the neighboring community. One can imagine how the life of a young person coming from a home of domestic violence, abuse, and/or neglect can result in VUCA. Add to that any of the following pre-existing conditions: trauma, alcohol/drug addiction, gangs, learning disabilities, truancy, emotional dysregulation, poverty, and psychiatric illness.

Psychological safety transforms VUCA

Mrndže continued to highlight the importance of psychological safety in companies as a coping mechanism for VUCA. This is a top priority for leaders.  Work environments are psychologically safe when:

A code of conduct exists and is practiced
Physical/Environmental safety is assured
Employees are entrusted to do their job
Systems and procedures  promote fair treatment
A mentoring culture exists
Employees are supported in times of need
Good work is recognized
An open feedback culture exists
Personal and professional development is encouraged
Employees feel a sense of belonging

As the director of a group home, I could not control what was happening outside the walls of my program. My energy went to influencing the staff and residents inside by fostering a trusting and caring environment. A safe haven in a sea of uncertainty allows people to harness VUCA’s creative and innovative potential.

Living la Vida VUCA

Vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are not always unwanted conditions. Moreover, they can never be fully eradicated. When a safe haven to deal with such incalculable conditions exists, VUCA promotes creativity and innovation. Some of the most out of the box thinkers I have met were the young men under my care.  Living a VUCA life creates an agile mind. People comfortable with instability are flexible and adaptable. As VUCA increases in a digital world so does the need for societies and organizations to create conditions for humans to effectively and efficiently deal with it. Ensuring psychological safety permits people to have the peace of mind to learn and grow from incalculable and unknown variables.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Creating an Observer Culture: From harmful hearsay to an open feedback culture

Observer
Courtesy Prawney @ Morguefile

Leaders need observers

In a world of information overload, a leader’s ability to be the sole key observer in keeping an organization abreast of trends, innovations, and market changes is diminishing. There is an ever-increasing multiplicity of social, economic, technological, environmental, and political factors impacting business. Leaders depend on the keen observation of others. How can a leader maximize the benefit of what is being observed?

The observer obsession

According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, the verb observe is to notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. Do what employees deem significant match what management deems to be? Collective opinions matter. To add some perspective, on just one day there are on average 500 million tweets and 95 million pictures and videos shared on Instagram. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. (Source: The Social Skinny).  What do these mindblowing numbers mean for leaders?

Observer bias

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an observer as a person who watches what happens but has no active part in it. Are observers always able to remain objective and/or independent of what is being observed? Take a brief moment to look at comments on any social media site; division and divisiveness appear to be on the rise. At any level of an organization, including the executive, individuals are both subjective and objective observers. Leaders encouraging objective observation focus on organization-oriented outcomes as opposed to those that are driven by special interest. A leader’s job is to not only be aware of his or her own observer bias but also that of others.

Forget water cooler chat

According to a two-year-old Pew Research poll, 86% of US adults aged 18-29 are social media users. With every new young hire comes a prospective employee who is used to regularly sharing observations on various social platforms.  Employees want to share their observations. And organizations can profit. How can leaders improve the quality of employee observations?

 The idle mind is the devil’s playground

Unfocused observers can go rogue, using information for selfish gain and harming others, creating a toxic gossip-filled work environment. Social networking policies are restrictive and punitive in nature. Their sole use to deter unproductive social media chitchat promotes a secretive and covertly defiant workforce. What is the point of observing if not to share with your followers? Organizations need to address the root of the problem. Is there a better way to reel in the idle mind?

Focus the observer

Give your employees something you want them to observe! This also tests their mindset to see if they are in line with the organization’s mission and purpose. When employee attention is focused observations become more targeted. This is how organizations reap the rewards from an ever-growing observer workforce. Focus the observer’s attention on a specific goal, service, or product. Always have employee attention clearly directed toward developing the organization and enhancing its performance and purpose. Are your employees currently focused on improving desired organizational outcomes? If not then how can you shift their focus?

Focused observers create an open feedback culture

When management seeks clear observations from its employees, deleterious chitchat wanes. Innate pro-social behaviors kick in. Believe it or not, people want to work together. Everyone benefits from a culture that promotes pro-social interactions. A group of focused observers creates a peer culture that derives constructive feedback and not harbor toxic rumors. Safety to verbally contribute increases. Speaking up is now associated with sharing an innovate idea or an improvement of some kind. Making your voice heard now brings the organization forward and not a colleague under. Feedback becomes solution-oriented. Possibilities become the focus and not what is not possible. An open feedback culture with focused observers creates an atmosphere of collaboration and collective wisdom sharing. Which organization doesn’t want that?

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Intergenerational learning ensures viability & innovation

Intergenerational Learning
Intergenerational learning is optimized when all generations are acknowledged and valued for their contribution.

Intergenerational learning is a top priority

Intergenerational learning is needed more now than ever before. Labor markets are struggling to meet rising human resource demands and simultaneously remain innovative. In a blog titled, Leveraging Europe’s Ageing Workforce, the author reports on how a declining pool of potential EU workers in a growing job market is resulting in the frenetic search for qualified and engaged young workers. In the US, the economic situation does not fair better.

A perfect storm is brewing. The combination of a decreasing labor force participation rate, baby boomers retiring, an expanding wage gap between high school and college graduates, and the skyrocketing costs of higher education are well documented. This harsh reality is set against the backdrop of a spiraling national debt that has surpassed $21,000,000,000,000. Let us not forget the ominous and bitter consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis. A corrective course of action is needed to avert a similar or worse fate.

What can we learn from older generations?

Companies need older workers! That is potentially good news for older workers seeking employment, as long as employers see the value in hiring them. By 2024, one in four U.S. workers will be 55 or older, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. How should older workers be regarded in a digital age? How can the labor market incorporate their experience and wisdom? Older employees are typically seen as expensive and replaceable by younger and less expensive counterparts. But is this entirely true? 

Older employees have established networks. They have experience overcoming organizational challenges and achieving lofty goals. Their know-how and connections optimally position them to offer guidance and support. Their trained soft skills can help younger colleagues refine theirs. By sharing their stories and listening to younger generations, senior employees are a source of inspiration. Solely viewing them as a financial burden is not only short-sited but also detrimental to an organization’s future in today’s market. Regarding them as a vital asset inspires new purpose and fresh meaning in their work life, boosting their morale and productivity.

What can we learn from younger generations?

“Age shows wisdom, but wisdom shows no age” – Unknown author

As born digital natives, young employees today may lack in work experience and social competencies, but their ability to navigate in a digital world is unprecedented. In my parenting book What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth, I outline the EPIC Model, a learning framework embodied by those most adept at learning: young people. The Model consists of four components: exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. Using this framework optimizes intergenerational learning.

Regardless of age, we all have the capacity to learn. Young people can help older ones reignite the innate ability to explore, play, inspire, and connect. Subscribing to such a philosophy allows one to remain open to new possibilities. Organizations adopting such a philosophy remain viable and innovative. Creating an open learning culture improves both employee and organizational performance.

Generational labels impede intergenerational learning

Once GenX, GenY, and GenZ are mentioned, a debate ensues to determine the beginning and end years of each. As if a birth year reveals everything you need to know about a person. A heated discussion then follows to agree upon several descriptors applicable to hundreds of millions of people. Anyone who can memorize some random dates and a few adjectives becomes an immediate generation expert. If it were only so simple!

Labeling people usually leads to stereotypes. Stereotypes usually lead to some form of discrimination. Here are some warning signs of age discrimination. How does this domino effect ameliorate an aging and shrinking workforce? It doesn’t. It does the opposite. It perpetuates the current situation. What happens when organizations place more emphasis on reciprocal intergenerational learning?  How would intergenerational learning impact workplace culture, productivity, and creativity in your organization?

Intergenerational learning in action

Intergenerational learning requires commitment and time. Who has time for that? Time taken now to create new possibilities, improve collaboration, and ignite productivity saves time in the long-run. Processes, where information and conversations that matter most can be discussed from all perspectives, are vital. When all stakeholders participate then all members can take ownership and responsibility for the outcome. 

For technical learning, apprenticeship programs and continuous training keep all stakeholders up-to-date with current trends. Mentoring and reverse mentoring also help young employees with on-boarding. Storytelling or various circle methods can be extremely helpful in creating space for reciprocal know-how sharing and open feedback.  Excursions and celebrations build social bonds and create a sense of achievement and belonging. A neutral facilitator may also be preferable when starting out or dealing with more serious issues.  There are numerous ways organizations can fully embrace the benefits of intergenerational learning other than simply creating multigenerational teams and hoping for the best.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection.

IoT and how it reflects interconnectedness in nature

IoT
Symbiotic relationship (Pinterest)

IoT – What is the internet of things?

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over a network. IoT does not require direct human involvement to function. Chips implanted in devices or machinery combine operational technology (OT) with information systems (IT). Real-time data exchange through IoT allows for interoperability, enhancing efficiency and performance of a device,  product, or service.

IoT in the workplace and beyond

In 2016, the top three industries in IoT spending were manufacturing, transportation, and utilities. Global spending on IoT is projected to reach $1.3 Trillion in 2020 (IDC). According to Statista.com, a leading provider of market and consumer data,  the number of connected devices will increase six-fold from 15 billion devices in 2015 to 75 billion in 2025.

Not only will IoT be the standard in the workplace, but it will also be pervasive in our private lives, from personal belongings to inside our bodies. According to a 2018 article from Business Insider, thousands of Swedes are having microchips implanted in their bodies, no longer requiring them to carry keys or IDs. A simple wave of the hand unlocks the house door or identifies who you are.

IoLT – The interconnectedness of living things

The interconnectedness of living things is the interdependence of all organisms. For millions of years, the animal and plant kingdom has been developing and evolving a complex and intricate system of interdependency that benefits all species. Humans are becoming more cognizant of the need to care for the natural resources that all living organisms, humans included, are dependent upon.

Nature’s interconnectedness is as astonishing and complex of a system as there is. Nonetheless, it works rather effectively and efficiently through the use of six varying symbiotic relationships. Interdependence requires each stakeholder to uphold a degree of responsibility regardless of status or position. A system overcomes challenges and effectively deals with setbacks when all stakeholders fulfill their role. A breakdown at any point impacts the entire system. It is not a coincidence that the IoLT and IoT diagrams share similar patterns. What can we learn from nature as human interconnectedness and complexity increases as a result of IoT?

IoT
The interconnectedness of living things (Science Bob)

IoT
Internet of Things

The importance of IoLT

Just as industry and technology sectors see the value of the internet of things, so too are we becoming more aware of the importance of the interconnectedness of all things living. IoLT has the answers to cope with the potential threats of IoT. It is imperative we look after nature. How we care for nature will reflect how we cope with digitalization. Maintaining the quality of air, soil, and water, and minimizing our ecological footprint is more noticeable with the increase in air pollution, water contamination, deforestation, and global warming. What societal changes are we noticing from digitalization?

Nature not only ensures our survival, but it also helps us solve complex human problems. Studying photosynthesis to improve solar energy. Using snake venom to help find cures for cancer and diabetes. Kingfisher bird anatomy inspiring the design of bullet trains. These are but a few examples of biomimetics or biomimicry. Naturally occurring elements and structures greatly help us in taking the next evolutionary step. We still have more to learn.

Remaining human for the sake of posterity

As IoT results in the continued digitalization of work and home, interactions with technological devices are on the rise. Practicing pro-social skills and maintaining human connectedness will be paramount in adhering to a moral and ethical framework as digitalization becomes more predominant in everyday life. It should come to no surprise that political, economic, and social divisiveness becomes even more hazardous to our overall safety and security in a digitalized world. The use of IoT for ill intention or for the sake of taking advantage of certain stakeholders is a real and existing threat.

Empathy, compassion, listening, and understanding are all vital human traits that require continuous practice. A machine needs only to be programmed once to learn a task. In contrast, humans need to continuously train skills in order to maintain proficiency. If we don’t, we risk losing the ability to remain human in a world that becomes more capable of widespread harm with each passing day.

 Trust and transparency in a digital world

The breadth of challenges posed by IoT seems to span as wide as the potential benefits. What data is being collected? For what purpose is it being collected? Who has access to the data?  What impact does IoT have on security and personal privacy? These are just a few of the crucial and complex moral questions arising from data collection and use arising from the internet of things.

Creative cooperation and information sharing can lead to the survival and prosperity for all. IoT must be used with the common good of all in mind to reap large-scale rewards and avoid large-scale catastrophe. Similar to the delicate relationship between the plover enjoying a free meal and the crocodile a dental cleaning, trust, intention, collaboration, and transparency are paramount when dealing with complexity.  In a millisecond, a quick snap of the jaws is all that is needed to end the mutual benefits of this symbiotic relationship. The 200 million-year-old wise crocodile knows better. Do we?

IoT
The symbiotic relationship between a crocodile and plover for the benefit of both species (smallscience.hbcse.tief.res.in)

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. Learn more at www.epiconsulting.org

Youth leadership cannot wait until the future. It is needed today.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” -Malala Jousafzai

Youth Leadership
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018. Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP

The right for youth to speak about injustice

On October 9,  2012, at the age of 15, Malala Jousafzai and two other girls were riding in a bus when a Taliban hitman came on board. After asking Malala to identify herself or everyone would be shot, she did so. Although making a full recovery, with one bullet she was shot through the head, neck, and shoulder. Malala’s assassination attempt was in retaliation for her activism. Her crime. Malala wanted an education.

What had Malala remained fearful and silent?  What had she not told her story? And what had she not advocated for female rights to an education? Who if not Malala would speak up and act? Six years later and halfway across the world, high school students in Florida would be asking themselves the same question.

On February 14, 2018, 17 students and faculty of Parkland High School were maliciously gunned down during school hours. This had not been the first mass school shooting in recent US history, but it was the first time students, young people, like Malala, had had enough of condolences and empty promises. Like with previous school shootings, adults with the authority to take action paid mostly lip service to an, unfortunately, more common phenomenon in American society. Enough was enough.

Youth leadership in action

Similar to Malala’s courage to advocate in the face of harm, the Parkland student-led rally in Washington D.C. is a mind-blowing example of how youth leadership can influence current social and political conditions.  In the past, a young social or political activist had hurdles to climb regarding accessibility to media, funding, and networking. Today, it may very well be advantageous to be young and an activist.  Through the use of social media, the media, a GoFundMe account, and with the help of private donations from well-connected sympathizers, Parkland students raised $5.5 Million, of which $1.7 Million was raised in just three days.

As impressive, on March 24th, 2018, a mere five weeks after the devasting Parkland high school shooting, roughly 1.2 Million people marched world-wide for gun control. It was the biggest youth protest since the Vietnam War. Both times young Americans organized to this extent was to protest the senseless deaths of young people from weapons and from policymakers doing very little to advocate for their safety and lives.

What accounted for the swift actions of young people who before Parkland were neither fundraisers, event organizers, nor political and social activists? Led not by lobbyists and special interests this youth leadership operated on intention, social media savvy, networking, and everything fundamentally meant to be human. The clarity and precision of their actions rivaled anything any political organization or event planner could execute.

The role basic needs play in mobilizing youth leadership

Regardless of the system (family, organization, or community), harmful patterns can repeat themselves until the system collapses or the cycle is broken. Subsequent reoccurrences can increase in intensity until one of two things occurs. Either one accepts the dysfunction as normal or one takes a stand to change it. Malala and students at Parkland High School both chose the later.

All behavior is for the sake of fulfilling at least one of the basic needs (Survival, Belonging, Freedom, Fun, and Power). The more needs being fulfilled through a behavior, the more significant that behavior becomes. One basic need that mobilizes action regardless of age, gender, race, or religion, is the need for survival. Fight or flight. Sadly, the threat to safety and security in schools is a palatable one felt by too many communities across the United States. In addition to survival, the needs for power (feeling worthwhile to self and others), belonging, freedom, and fun were also jeopardized by the shootings. The response from Parkland High School students (see picture below) is a clear example of how the threat to all five basic needs, mobilized young people to take swift and historic action.

Organizers of the March For Our Lives fulfilled the need for power, satiating a strong desire to not remain a victim. They took meaningful action to improve not only their community but the nation as a whole. The need to belong to a group i.e., the school, was triggered by the shootings. Their community came under attack and the need to protect it and those of students across the US  gave clear purpose for the organizers. Like Malala, students everywhere want to have the freedom to an education and have fun in the process without having to worry about losing their lives.

What can we learn from youth leadership today?

Young people are more informed and engaged than any other previous generation.  When students no longer feel safe in school and adults are seen as doing too little to significantly address the most basic of basic needs, is it really a surprise to see articulate, well-intended, and technologically savvy young people taking matters into their own hands?  As a result, they are shaping public opinion through their response to events. This trend will likely continue.

The deleterious impact of social, corporate, political, and environmental irresponsibility currently transpiring is not a future young people desire. Why wait to do something about it? Young people, with the help of technology and social media, have leveled the playing field in their ability to take action, speak up, organize, and most importantly influence social, political, and environmental change. Young people are more transparent, capturing events in picture or video and broadcasting them globally through social media.

Youth leadership skills are currently needed. Young people are listening, showing empathy, and actively responding to injustices and policies affecting them and their future. Authoritative and dictatorial leadership caters to self-interest and special interest rather than to the common good. Forms of leadership embraced by young people place emphasis on purpose, authenticity, community, and the environment. They are replacing the idiom ‘the end justifies the means’ with ‘the means need to justify the end.’

Youth Leadership
Jacqueline Coren, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, and Alex Wind. Photo: YouTube / Face The Nation

 

The numerous benefits of barefoot running – How the rewards outweigh the risks

Barefoot running
Half Marathon Barefoot run

Barefoot running background

Barefoot running occurs naturally as a child. As an adult, it usually begins once you have read “Born to Run”, by Christopher McDougall. At least it did for me. One late summer day in 2010, while reading McDougall’s book about the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon in Mexico, I decided to do something I had yet to even consider. 

Overcoming the anxiety of what the neighbors would think, I jogged about 100 meters barefoot up the road and quickly went inside. The sensation I felt connecting with the pavement was amazing. I was no longer running. Every step was one of sensation. Like electricity running through my body, what I felt with every step–through the over 200,000 nerve endings in the soles of my feet–was instantaneously felt throughout my body to the ends of the hairs on my head.

After this unforgettable experience, there was no turning back to running shoes. Barefoot running gave the movement a whole new meaning. It became fun and not a chore. It became a want and not a must. Running became explorative and not exercise. For the next several months I slowly and impatiently transitioned from shod to bare, using my running shoes as hand weights when not in use.

Can you get injured from barefoot running?

Running injuries occur with or without shoes. Other factors to consider are previous injury history, overtraining, fatigue, technique, etc. Most of my injuries resulted from simply overdoing it. I enjoyed it too much. Eventually, my body forced me to listen. Blood blisters, calf strains, and the worst was a hairline fracture in my left fibula sustained during a 10K race. I still managed to hobble across the finish line.

The most frequently asked questions are ‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ and ’Don’t your feet get cold?’ The answer to both is rarely. Occasionally I step on something sharp. However, after seven years and 2,000 miles of barefoot running, only three small objects penetrated my skin and all were removed with tweezers–a must have. Unlike shoes whose soles wear down over time, the soles of your feet thicken with use, making objects more difficult to penetrate.

Regarding cold weather, as long as my feet are warm from the start, they usually stay warm. It can become a game of mind over matter and where I focus my mental energy. I use my “heat to feet” mantra and actively think about transferring the heat from my upper torso to my lower extremities when running in cold weather. Your body also adapts over time.

Physical benefits of barefoot running

Toenail fungus and runner’s toe are not an issue for me. There are more sweat glands in your feet per square inch than in any other part of your body: 250,000 glands per foot! Barefooting naturally allows your feet to breathe, sweat, and air dry while running. It helps get rid of sock tan lines! Splashing in puddles is also great for cooling off and having fun too.

Barefoot running has built-in anti-injury mechanisms. First, I run shorter distances as it is more physically and mentally demanding. The longest races I have run are half marathons. Second, my pads generally need a day to repair, so I rarely run back to back days. Third, the more I listen to my body, the more I am able to slow down and stop before an injury happens. Fourth, is the benefit of earthing, also known as grounding.

Finally, barefoot running lessens the impact on your knees and hips. Leg stride is shorter and your feet naturally fall underneath your body. Cadence is quicker making foot impact lighter. The entire foot and lower leg are engaged like a shock absorber (Photos 1 & 2). The toes act as stabilizers ensuring balance (Photo 3). A heel strike impact goes directly from your heel bone to your knee and hip joints (Photo 4).

Barefoot running
Photo 1: Foot muscles, ligaments, and tendons fully engaged, absorbing shock upon impact.

barefoot running
Photo 2: Lower leg muscles, ligaments, and tendons fully engaged, absorbing shock upon impact.

Barefoot running
Photo 3: Toes splayed for balance and grip

Barefoot running
Photo 4: Heel bone directly impacting the surface. No use of foot or lower leg. Ouch!

For more information on running economy and technique, watch the short video from Dr. Mark Cucuzzella on Principles of Natural Running

Heel versus forefoot impact experiment

Heel strike: Stand barefoot on a hard surface.  Strike one foot on the floor with just your heel 10 times with some force. How did it feel? Where did you feel the impact?

Forefoot strike: Using your other foot and with the same force, strike the ball of your foot 10 times. Have your heel gently touch the floor and bounce up again. How did it feel? Where did you feel the impact?

Body and Mind Transformation

Before barefoot running, my feet had little to no arch. I have now developed an arch as my feet flex and strengthen with every step. This realignment naturally autocorrects the body from the ground up–remember the hairline fracture–impacting how I stand and walk. I even welcomed the slight gain in height due to a few millimeters with new footpad growth!

Barefoot running involves body and mind. I never run with headphones. Most of my attention goes towards running form and scanning the ground for potential hazards. It is like playing a video game. Look away for too long and…Gotcha! A 30-minute run averaging 180 steps a minute translates to about 5,400 decisions of where to place your feet. That requires some attention.

I had to learn how to run before I could walk

Watch an infant walk without shoes. What do you notice? The child is on her toes. The gait looks more like a cross between walking and running. The child leans slightly forward and she is off! In essence that is running. Watch a toddler with shoes learning to walk. What do you notice? Little Frankenstein. Stiff, awkward, and clumsy movement.  The thousands of foot nerve endings are no longer sending her brain the feedback needed for coordination. Her feet are in boxes, making it unnecessarily more complicated to learn how to maintain balance.

After four years of barefoot running, it dawned on me that I might be walking incorrectly! So one day I tried walking with a midfoot/forefoot strike. I was hooked. I call it “active walking” in comparison to “passive walking” or heel striking. With active walking, all foot and lower leg muscles, ligaments, and tendons are activated. A 40-year habit is hard to break. I still catch myself heel striking, especially when I’m in a hurry or wearing shoes with a heel.

Barefoot running is philosophy in motion

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of running bare, barefoot running has evolved into a life philosophy. Here are many lessons I am still learning!

  1. You always have a choice. No matter how difficult the terrain looks ahead while running or in life, there is always a next step you can make, even if it isn’t the direction you expected to go in.
  2. Trust your instincts in a difficult situation. Barefoot running is instinctive running. Humans have been running much longer without shoes than with shoes. When in doubt, trust your gut.
  3. Listen to your body. Valuable health information is not always transmitted through words.
  4. You can handle more than you think. I run barefoot on gravel, snow and in temperatures just below freezing. Overcome your fears through practice.
  5. Be mindful. Running barefoot requires your full attention most of the time. Be present. Act with intention. Be mindful of your form and your conduct.
  6. Silence is golden. When running bare I am silent and can listen to the environment. I have startled shod runners and animals alike. Learn to listen with all of your senses.
  7. Take responsibility for your actions. If I step on a stone I cannot blame it. We choose what and how we respond to life. No one or no thing makes us do anything. It is always your choice.
  8. Transform hurtful energy. When I step on an object I allow the unpleasant energy to run through my body and transfer it to briefly run faster. Convert as much energy into self-improvement.
  9. You need less than you think. Rid yourself of clutter. Become a minimalist with how you conceptualize and interact with the world. Less helps you appreciate more.
  10. Be light in temperament. You are physically lighter barefoot. Holding grudges leaves no space to hold something that gives you power and energy. Forgive. Let go and move on.
  11. Be non-judgmental. I received looks and was made fun of when I started. Now people are curious and ask questions. Be open to new possibilities. Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  12. Use both body and mind simultaneously. Barefoot running incorporates both. We tend to use one at a time. A more holistic experience results when engaging both simultaneously. 
  13. Have fun. There is a playful quality to barefoot running. Try something new. Laugh with others and at yourself! Life is too short to take yourself too seriously!
  14. Be adaptable. Running bare requires you to adapt your approach and movement according to changing conditions. Train your mind and body to be flexible. 
  15. Live in the moment. Running bare demands that you be present in the here and now. Scan ahead but know your next step.
  16. Stay alert. Barefoot running doesn’t allow you to be inattentive for too long. Stay on your toes and don’t get caught flat-footed!
  17. Connect with nature and discharge negative energy. When barefoot running I reap the health benefits of grounding (see link above). Interact and connect with nature.
  18. Be true to yourself. No matter what you do, say, or if you wear shoes or not, there will always be critics. Do what is in your best interest as long as it doesn’t prevent others from doing so as well.

Go ahead. Kick off your shoes. Let your feet breath and reconnect with the Earth! Your mind, body, and soles will thank you!

The mistrust of leadership, the rise of self organization, and the need for facilitation

Facilitation

The mistrust of leadership

In a time of increasing mistrust in leadership, the need to use facilitation is on the rise. Corruption comes in many shapes and colors. Nepotism, deceit, secrecy, abuse of power, finger-pointing, data manipulation, bribery, blackmail, lack of transparency, intimidation, bullying, and all forms of discrimination are many of the behaviors used to artificially control a system. These self-serving tactics cause undo harm and distracts individuals, groups, departments, organizations, or even a country from fulfilling its mission, achieving its goals, and developing. The result is a squandering of valuable resources to plan, implement, monitor, and sustain a culture of chaos and deceit.

Prolonged and unchecked abusive behaviors are destructive in many ways. First, they erode trust in the leader. Second, people begin to lose faith in systems and institutions afflicted with leaders who act with apparent impunity. Third, unethical tactics used to perpetuate an unjust system are usually illegal and/or violate human rights. Fourth, a culture of abuse becomes the norm. Finally, on-going dysfunction takes an enormous physical, emotional, financial, and psychological toll on human resources.

Look at the news headlines. Be it in the financial, government, industry, or social sector, the unmasking of criminal and scandalous behaviors at high levels of organization is rising as is the mistrust of leaders promising to champion constituent interests. In today’s world of technology and visibility, it is easier to manipulate information and take advantage of others. It is also easier to be revealed as a fraud or perpetrator. Leaders are being called to show their authenticity, be transparent about their intention, and be accountable to the collective. And so it should be.

The rise of self organization

As faith in leadership diminishes, self organization is taking hold of management structures. Although processes and tools of flat and decentralized forms of management are useful, they are not the panacea to all management and leadership woes. Hierarchy alone is not inherently unhealthy. Incompetence and abuse in hierarchical structures are.

Human interactions and processes determine outcomes. Abandoning structures without examining root causes of its failure and adopting self organization can lead to similar problems. Self organization naturally results even in hierarchical settings when trust, clear intention, and transparency are apparent and space is given for people to be authentic. Although self organization can be triggered by poor leadership, it is not the only reason.

People use their profession to fully realize their potential. More popularly referred to as self actualization, I refer to this need as power, or feeling worthwhile to self and others. Authenticity, purpose, and posterity are becoming more important with each subsequent generation.  Collectively we are realizing there is more to life than working to survive and counting down the days to retirement. People are actively taking steps to fulfill the need for power in professional settings and proper facilitation in self organized structures is a sustainable means to that end. 

The need for facilitation

Human systems include both hierarchical and flat structures. Both usually occur simultaneously and both include the human element. We are social animals. Our first introduction to human systems and the most influential is our family of origin. We are literally born into it, no voting, no interview, no choice. Your relationship to your parents and elders is one of hierarchy. Your relationship to your siblings and cousins is flat. Another important system in the formative years is the educational system. There too exists the dual organizational structures. A student’s relationship to her teachers and administration is hierarchical and that to her peers is flat.

Self organization is what should occur under true leadership. True leaders create environments of exchange and learning where departments and teams can make decisions and act interdependently with other counterparts. Facilitation is successful when individuals feel safe and can share their ideas. Facilitators create a culture where disagreements are not seen as personal attacks and feedback is not taken as negative criticism.

Facilitation is more than creating an agenda and keeping time. Group facilitation requires an advanced set of social skills. True facilitation lies in the facilitator’s ability to ensure the group’s psychological well-being. They create space for all to participate and feel appreciated. Facilitators can mediate differences and help the group find common ground to move forward. Facilitators have the ability to listen to the real message. They assess group dynamics, knowing when to check in, slow down, suggest a break, or move the conversation along. Learn more about facilitation in a recent blog by Susan M. Heathfield.

One person doesn’t need to have all the answers. There are plenty of well educated and experienced people looking to join others in fulfilling their shared need for power. There needs, however, to be at least one person who can hold the space for intention, authenticity, and the collective to manifest. Facilitation skills are workplace competencies of the future. Organizations emphasizing process facilitation are wise as they will naturally produce highly functioning and innovative self organized teams.

The dangers of phony leaders and why authentic leaders are desperately needed

Phony leadership and its consequences

Phony leadership arises when those feeling neglected are used for the sake of the leader’s need to be in a position of power for self-serving reasons. Phony leaders play on fears and focus their attention on emotionally charging their fanbase. This creates a level of fanaticism, jeopardizing the cohesiveness of all compatriots. Authentic leaders play down fears and focus their attention on emotionally discharging all stakeholders. This creates a level of security and fosters cohesiveness.

Authentic leadership seeks common ground amid differences. They view differences as opportunities for creation and innovation. For the authentic leader new possibilities abound. Phony leadership in contrast views diversity as something to contend with, a threat to be defeated. A phony leader uses divisive tactics that create an “us versus them” mentality. Primitive methods using conflict and chaos are used to rule, not to serve.

The longer an unfit leader remains in power, the more likely respect for the position itself diminishes. Worse is the loss of faith in the institution for which the position is responsible. A group of people losing faith in a person is sad. A group of people losing faith in an institution vital to their livelihood is tragic. Therein lies the true danger of phony leadership.

When egos lead, phony leaders follow

Phony leadership is cowardly leadership disguised  as brave leadership mainly to protect the leader’s fragile ego. Poor leadership is visible to all, except usually to the phony leader. The ostensible reason one assumes a position of leadership is for the sake of serving others. It quickly becomes evident that the phony leader is in the role to sustain his ego.

As long as phony leaders maintain a loyal and demonstrative fanbase–even if through falsehoods and rhetoric–a cult-like following results. A phony leader creates a self-centered culture by making only a certain group believe someone is listening to just them. It is the equivalent of a parent showing extreme favoritism to one child while completely neglecting the others.

Such manipulative tactics creates a “me first” mentality, mirroring the ego driven persona of the phony leader. This dynamic creates a classic codependent relationship between the phony leader and his followers. All the while the neglected rest become disenchanted. This is the paradox of phony leadership. A phony leader rises to power by taking advantage of those who are neglected, only to do the same once in power.

The courage to step down

When transparency and truth reveal a leader’s incompetency, it is not time to denounce, deflect, and counterattack. It is time to face the truth and step down. Leaders serve all, not just their most loyal fanbase. If stepping down is how to best serve everyone, then that is the decision to make. Not doing so only confirms how unfit the person truly is. A bruised ego may result, but those being led will appreciate the leader’s respect for the position’s duties, the title itself, and the institution he represents.

When an ineffective leader steps down it is a sign that the leader went in with the right intention. The leader wanted to lead a group and not let her ego lead her. It didn’t work out. Yes, this can happen to leaders too.

Authentic leaders understand the importance of having the right person in the job. Fake it until you become it may have its place in the world, however, not in positions of leadership where the livelihoods of a community, organization, or nation is at stake. In a world that operates and responds in real time, fabrication of information, impulsive reactions, and emotional instability (just to name a few) can have a significant impact, up to and including global implications. It is in everyone’s best interest that a leader not fit for the position step down rather than continue and put others at risk.

Authentic leadership in action

Authentic leadership is without pretense. Their role is to invite, not exclude. Given the multitude of information transmitted each minute from various sources around the globe, it becomes even more critical for leaders to be able to hold the space for all truths. Authenic leaders are not only containers, but also colanders. Taking in information is just the first step. Sifting through it all to find common ground amidst the multiple voices is the second step.

Finally, it is the leader’s role to create a culture where the themes that matter most can be addressed by those affected. This is once again holding space for differing opinions and conversations to safely take place. It is like hosting a party whereby all guests feel welcomed, are focused on a purpose, and can speak openly and listen carefully.

With a focus on the prestige of being a leader and the benefits associated with it, many are interested in playing the part. How many are actually fit to fully embrace the role? Authentic leaders take pride in their title, but this is not why they assume leadership roles. Serving others and responsibly fulfilling their duties keeps the authentic leader’s ego in check. Phony leaders create a platform for themselves to be the top performer. Authentic leaders create platforms for others to be top performers.

Quotes from leaders
Source: www.leanleader.org

A nixed economy – From a defunct mixed economy to a bionic economy

Definitions of a nixed economy, a defunct mixed economy, and a bionic economy

nix: to stop, prevent, or refuse to accept something (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

nixed economy: an economic system which has been stopped, prevented, or refused to accept the consequences of its own behaviors

defunct: no longing existing, living, or working correctly (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

mixed economy: an economic system in which some industries are controlled privately and some by the government (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

defunct mixed economy: a mixed economy that no longer exists, lives, or is working correctly, whereby major industries are controlled by the government

bionic: using artificial materials and methods to produce activity or movement in a person or animal (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

bionic economy: an economic system in which major industries are controlled by the government through the use of artificial materials and methods to produce desired activity in an otherwise defunct economy

The $700 billion bionic economy

In the 1970s television series, The Six Million Dollar Man, test pilot Colonel Steve Austin was nearly dead from a test flight crash. Deciding that “we have the technology to rebuild this man”, the government rebuilds Austin, augmenting him with cybernetic parts which gives him superhuman strength and speed. Austin becomes a secret operative, fighting injustice where it is found.

Thirty years later in 2008, the economy has crashed from profit testing gone wrong and was on the verge of collapse. Deciding that “we have money to rebuild this system”, the government decided to rebuild a defunct system and turn it into the $700 billion bionic economy. Augmenting it with taxpayer dollars, top executives of irresponsible financial institutions received $1.6 billion USD worth of super-economic strength and speed, like bonuses, home security systems, private chauffeured cars, club dues, and private financial planners–no irony there– just to name a few. The bionic economy became an overt government operative, rewarding financial injustice where it was found.

A nixed economy: The Free World not living in accordance with a mixed economy

Oil surge and Iraq War
From the mid 1980s to 2003 a barrel of oil had remained around $25 USD. The energy crisis from 2003 to 2008 culminated in a barrel selling at a record high of $147 USD in July 2008. On March 20, 2003 the United States coincidentally began its invasion of Iraq, based on false intelligence–the world’s No. 4 in oil reserves. In May 2007, as the barrel of oil was soaring, the Iraq Oil Law was proposed. The law intended to give major western oil companies long-term contracts and a safe legal framework to manage oil fields in Iraq. Due to internal conflicts this proposed law triggered, further inciting instability in the region, no law was passed.

Oil prices from Jan. '03 to Dec. '08 contributing to a bionic economy
Oil Prices from Jan. 2003 to Dec. 2008. Source: Wikipedia

Housing bubble and Subprime mortgage Crisis and Market Crash
On September 15, 2008 Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The financial services firm had a whopping $600,000,000,000 in assets–the largest bankruptcy filling in US history. In a bid to save an ostensible global collapse of the banking and economic system–since it is unknown how a mixed economy would have handled the situation, the Bank Bailout Bill was submitted to the House of Representatives on September 21, 2008. But many in Congress felt it was forcing taxpayers to reward bad banking decisions. The House voted against it on September 29, 2008. The result: That same day the stock market crashed. The Dow fell over 770 points, the largest point drop in any single day in history and global markets plummeted.

The Senate quickly re-introduced the proposal by attaching it to a bill that was already under consideration. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was approved and signed by President Bush on October 3, 2008. Less than two months later on December 30, 2008, the housing market also met its fate. On this date the Case-Shiller home price index reported its largest price drop in its history.

The subprime mortgage crisis was in full swing between 2007 to 2010. During this time period over 60 notable financial institutions world-wide–including the likes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and American International Group–the two alone had a combined value of nearly $200 Billion USD–were either acquired or went bankrupt. From 2006 to 2012, half of the United States–this writer was almost a victim as well–would be affected by the credit crisis and bursting of the housing market bubble. In 2008 alone, 3.1 million Americans filed for foreclosure, which at the time was one in every 54 homes, according to RealtyTrac. The repercussions were long-lasting. By 2016, homeownership in the U.S. had dipped below 63% – a 50 year low. (Read more at Investopedia)

Auto industry bailout
It is surprising that from 2008 to 2010 the auto industry would take a turn for the worse, with the “Big Three” approaching Congress in November 2008 to request an over $80 Billion government bailout or face bankruptcy? A major tenet of Capitalism is limited government intervention whereby free markets are free from any government intervention. Unless one views the $80 Billion bailout from January 2009 to December 2013 as “limited government intervention”, then by these definitions neither the rules of capitalism nor mixed economy were followed.

Timeline of Complete Economic Failure in 2008

July ’08 – barrel of oil sold at $147 USD – Highest price in history

 September ’08 – Lehman Brothers files Chapter 11 – Largest bankruptcy filing in US history.
Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is not passed by the House and the Stock Market crashes – Historic one day 770 point drop

October ’08 – Emergency Economic Stabilization Act – Financial Institutional $700 billion USD bail out signed

November ’08 – $80 Billion bailout – Largest auto bailout

December ’08 – Largest home price index drop in Case-Shiller history

The dangers of a bionic economy

The imminent danger of having an artificial economy is that those who interfere with free or even mixed economies ultimately control the parts. When a bone breaks and heals naturally, then the body itself is in control of the healing process. When that part is artificially replaced, as was the case in 2008, then it is no longer a natural healing process. It is an unnatural intervention with predetermined goals serving the interests of those in charge of the replacement.

No one will ever know what the aftermath would have been like had the nixed economy taken its natural course. The “Great Recession of 2008” showed a complete and utter economic collapse. Was it a sign that a new system is needed?

Who benefits from a bionic economy? According a Federal Reserve Bulletin published in September 2017, as of 2016 the richest 1% of Americans owned 38.6% of the wealth. The bottom 90% owned only 22.8% of the wealth. That is nearly twice as much. The three richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans. And the wealth gap is only widening.

A bionic economy devalues money and human life

Check out the article November 2017 Market Watch article titled, Here’s all the money in the world, in one chart. The ratio of hard currency–$36.8 Trillion, compared to non-tangible wealth–$1.2 Quadrillion is mind-blowing! In other words, physical money consists of only 8% of all worth in the world. The non-physical “money” makes up 92% of all wealth.

Here is more sobering news about the bionic economy. Global debt is estimated at $215 Trillion. That means that global debt is almost six times greater than all the hard cash in the world! How would a person be treated by a financial institution if for every dollar he earned, he owed six?

Ready for another amazing bionic economy feat? $70 Trillion (33%) of that debt was accumulated in the last decade alone. However, the bionic market keeps on going. How long and on what foundation can the bionic economy perform as it has been? What value does money really have and who is benefitting from this bionic economy?

Stock Market-10 Year Graph
Stock Market 10 year graph (Source: www.macrotrends.net)

Remember the 3.1 million Americans whose dreams of homeownership were used to lure them into a financial trap? Where was their bionic compensation for being negligently counseled and loosing their home? Where was their bionic loan to bring them back to life and save them from foreclosure, bankruptcy, and emotional hardship? Interesting how the mixed economy was good enough for the millions of victims to recover naturally, but not for the perpetrators! A bionic economy not only questions the value of money, but it seems to call into question the value of human life as well.