Category Archives: philosophy

The Digital Paradox: How Digitalization Beckons Human Development

Digital Paradox
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

The Digital Paradox

A group of teens is huddled behind their smartphones instead of engaging with one another. An emotional email rant is sent to a colleague instead of a face-to-face discussion. The more technology ostensibly appears to disconnect us from one other the more it beckons us to confront our own humanity.  This is the digital paradox. I briefly identify current digital buzzwords and attribute to each the respective human developmental challenge we face.

Emerging Tech Buzzword   Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR) = Individual Perception
Mixed Reality (MR) = Diversity of Perceptions
Blockchain = Trust / Transparency
Big Data = Collective Consciousness
Artificial Intelligence (AI) = Emotional Intelligence (Sensing)
Internet of Things (IoT) = The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT)
Bots and Algorithms = Ethical Intention / Posterity

Human Augmented Reality Makes Us Unique

Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. We augment reality daily using our own biological computer–the brain–to enhance sensory-based experiences based upon our programmed perceptions. Are we at risk of losing our sense of self-perception in a predetermined digitally enhanced augmented reality? What impact does sharing the same augmented sensory experience have on our human development? This leads us to the next emerging technology and its human-related counterpart.

Managing Mixed Reality Requires Leadership

Digital mixed reality refers to any real-time combination between reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality.  In human terms, mixed reality is the intricate interplay of “augmented realities” of over 7.5 billion people. Globalization is the unstoppable convergence of human beings. Nevertheless, the rise of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance shows a struggle to accept this natural process. Why? Managing diversity requires leaders who can hold the space for multiple mixed realities. Managing conformity only requires dictators. Leading diversity is achieved on a more horizontal plane by fostering knowledge sharing to promote common human interests. Dictating uniformity is achieved on a more vertical axis by restricting information sharing to satisfy self-interest based on hierarchy. What does this struggle to integrate mixed realities say about the quality and intention of current global leadership? This leads us to the next emerging technology.

Blockchain is About Trust and Transparency

According to a World Economic Forum report, corruption costs the global economy $3.6 Billion each year.  Blockchain in its basic form is an electronic ledger (chain) of individual data transactions (blocks). In comparison to current financial transaction methods, Blockchain is more secure and unalterable, fostering trust and transparency in a VUCA world. Data is the new oil in the digital era. The importance of trust and transparency will increase as the importance and scope of information expand. The era of “Fake News” is hardly a surprise as financial scandals surface. To remain in power, those who profit from deceit slander and discredit the sources revealing the deception. Blockchain mitigates this issue by allowing one to transparently “follow the money” and brings us to the next tech buzzwords.

Big Data & Artifical Intelligence = Collective Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence

In an emerging digital age tech gurus are advising us to focus more on what humans do best. Computers are best at collecting raw data (Big Data) and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze this surplus of data as desired. This relationship between Big Data and AI humanly translates to our collective consciousness and emotional intelligence respectively. Trust and transparency awaken our collective conscious and stimulate our emotional intelligence. Like computers, humans gather exorbitant amounts of data through augmented and mixed human realities. Being in tune with our emotional state and those of others leads us to be more aware and compassionate. This is being human. Collective consciousness and emotional intelligence make us whole and connected with nature. This is what computers cannot do and leads us to the next tech wonder.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Represents the Interconnectedness of Living Things (IoLT)

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over an integrated network. As our collective consciousness grows and emotional intelligence develops, we will better understand the interconnectedness of all living things (IoLT). Please click the subtitle to read more about how IoT reflects the intricate food web and symbiotic relationships naturally keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance. Somehow this chain of digital events is starting to sound like the famous British nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built! This children’s story is not about Jack’s house per se. Rather it is about the stories of people and animals in his house. The same is true of digitalization. Technology ultimately comes full circle back to our human development and its impact on the 8.7 million species inhabiting Earth. And so we have to be clear about our intention. Let’s look at the next two tech buzzwords for some insights.

The Use of Bots and Algorithms Show Intention

Technology is created by humans. We determine its use and intention. Bots are programs created to automate repetitive tasks. There are Good Bots and Bad Bots.  Good bots can improve your website’s SEO and bad bots can steal content from your website. An algorithm is a set of steps to accomplish a task. Algorithms, like bots, are not free of corruptive influence and human prejudices. Algorithm bias already exists. Like all technology, bots and algorithms are a means to an end. The collective use of bots and algorithms shows our overall human intention and future direction. Digitalization is a reflection of our human development. Is it to serve the interests of the few or benefit the common good of all? What is needed to ensure that posterity supersedes the lucrative lure of special interest to exploit advancements in digitalization?

The Digital Paradox Can Be Our Saving Grace

The digital paradox is technology enlightening humanity. This is not only the best outcome; it is achievable. The digital paradox casts a bright light onto what is needed for us to further develop as the top species responsible for this planet and all other species inhabiting it. Advancements in deep learning bring algorithms and computers closer to mimicking human thought and behavior. At this stage of our human development is the objective of making machines in the image of humans advisable? We routinely and sadly witness the enduring physical and emotional harm a group of people or even a single human being with malicious intent can have on a community. Imagine what devastation a global network of ill-intentioned algorithms could do? What is needed to minimize this risk?

The Digital Paradox Demands Ethical Dialog

We must proceed with mindful ethical oversight. Ethical dialog about technology and its use and intention require as much attention and resources as that which go into R&D itself. However, careful and serious attention is needed when assembling ethics committees. A recent Guardian article highlighted the risks of having biased and nondiverse members on ethics committees in charge of ensuring that algorithms are not biased and prejudiced. Lo and behold another paradox! Humans stand at the center of all technology. No matter which reality lens you use, the digital paradox becomes clearly evident the more digital processes mirror the likeness of their human creators. Even in a technologically advanced world, all roads still lead to Rome.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, and Youth Specialist. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

996 Work Culture: A Pseudo-Scientific Misrepresentation

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. Have some fun with numbers. It may help you find creative solutions to complex organizational problems!

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and 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 Expert. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. 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 lead to 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 Expert. 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

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, and technique. 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!

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.