“The Three Questions” is a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By, and Other Tales. The story takes the form of a parable, and it concerns a king who wants to find the answers to what he considers the three most important questions in life.
He consults wise men, promising a large sum to anyone who could answer those questions, but their answers were too diverse and did not satisfy the king. So, he goes to a hermit in search of his help. The rest of the story revolves around both of them.
It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything
he might undertake.
And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed
throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone
who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and
who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.
And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his
In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right
time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days,
months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only
thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.
Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be
absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was
going on, and then do what was most needful.
Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.
But then again others said there were some things which could not
wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to
decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide
that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only
magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right
time for every action, one must consult magicians.
Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said,
the people the King most needed were his councilors; others, the
priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the
To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.
All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them,
and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right
answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely
renowned for his wisdom.
The hermit lived in a wood that he never quitted, and he received
none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before
reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving
his body-guard behind, went on alone.
When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.
The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into
the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.
The King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit,
to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the
right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and
to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest?
And, what affairs are the most important, and need my first attention?”
The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat
on his hand and recommenced digging.
“You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work
awhile for you.”
“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he
sat down on the ground.
When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his
questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out
his hand for the spade and said:
“Now rest awhile-and let me work a bit.”
But the King did not give him the spade and continued to dig. One
hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees,
and the King, at last, stuck the spade into the ground and said:
“I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can
give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”
“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”
The King turned around and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit
unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his
stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with
his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood
would not stop flowing, and the King, again and again, removed the
bandage soaked with warm blood and washed and rebandaged the wound.
When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to
him. Meanwhile, the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the
King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut
and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes
and was quiet, but the King was so tired with his walk and with the
work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also
fell asleep–so soundly that he slept all through the short summer
night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could
remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.
“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw
that the King was awake and was looking at him.
“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.
“You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who
swore to revenge himself on you because you executed his brother
and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the
hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day
passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find
you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me and
wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your
most faithful slave and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”
The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily,
and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him,
but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend
him, and promised to restore his property.
Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the
porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before. The King approached him and said:
“For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”
“You have already been answered!” said the hermit, still crouching
on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.
“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King.
“Do you not see,” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my
weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds, and I was the most important man, and to do me good was your most important business. Afterward, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.
Remember then: there is only one time that is important–Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is, to do him good because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”
Those who lead for the sake of serving others embrace continuous learning and reflection as fundamentals in improving themselves and their leadership abilities. As Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I prefer the statement, “The examined life is worth living.”
Classic literature on leadership
My wife recently came across a 2015 Business Insider article titled 8 classic novels that will make you a better leader. She then asked me, “Didn’t you use Siddhartha as a model for leadership for a course you took?” I responded, “Yes, but that was long ago.” The Business Insider article by Rachel Sugar highlights literature identified by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Stanford Business, as fictional sources for learning about leadership. According to McLennan, classical literature allows one to see the moral development of protagonists, thus gaining an understanding and appreciation of transformation processes leaders undergo.
Siddhartha on leadership
In 2003, I was in my second year of managing a 25-bed group home for delinquent youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeking to gain knowledge on leadership I enrolled in a Master’s of Public Administration program at Clark University and eagerly signed up for a class on Organizational Behavior and Leadership. I was ready for enlightenment! We had to present a historical person who in our opinion embodied leadership. The go-to figures like Martin Luther King, Georg Washington, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were at the top of most people’s list. Having recently read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I immediately knew who I would pick.
The search for Siddhartha
After seeing Siddhartha second on McLennan’s list, I fervently scurraged through old computer files. To my surprise, I discovered the leadership PowerPoint presentation on Siddhartha Gautama from 2003. After having had reviewed the file I had realized that I had broken every rule there is on PowerPoint presentations! Nonetheless, I was happy to have found it. I present in this article my key takeaways on leadership from Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha. I encourage anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to someday be in one to read this story more than once.
Part I: The Brahmin’s Son
Leaders must at times choose a path not desired by supporters but still should have their support through the trust they have gained.
With the Samanas
Regardless of their avoidant practices, leaders cannot dodge the self in reality and must appropriately learn to cope with themselves.
Leaders radiate distinctive energy and have a presence that can be felt by others.
A leader’s wisdom cannot be learned by others, nor is one’s acquired wisdom better or worse than another’s; it is only different due to one’s individual experiences.
Leaders at some point act independently of what they have learned and of what others think; this can be a lonely but necessary process.
Part II: Kamala
Leaders must not only rely on logic; they must learn to use their senses as well.
Leaders do not make decisions hastily; they listen to their inner voice.
Leaders are drawn to their goal; they do not allow anything to enter their mind which opposes their goal.
Amongst the People
Leaders accept all people and treat them all the same.
Leaders can still be successful if they know a little about business as long as they are calm, can listen, and make good impressions on people.
Leaders becoming too engrossed and consumed by their material rewards can lose their effectiveness and original purpose.
By the River
Leaders need both knowledge and experience.
Leaders are not defined by titles, clothing, or possessions since these are all transitory; they are defined by their character and beliefs.
Leaders are human and therefore fallible; they learn from their mistakes.
Leaders do not see nature as a hindrance or something to be conquered; they gain knowledge by learning from nature.
Leaders listen with an open soul, without desire, judgment, or opinions.
Leaders do not quantify their success in relation to time nor are they bound by it; they exist for the moment.
Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.
Address difficult conversations as soon as possible
Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.
Document, document, document
Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.
Have a policy on staff conduct
Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.
There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.
Bring in a 3rd party
Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.
It isn’t personal, it’s about the company
Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.
More tips on handling difficult conversations
For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.
Amongst the pioneers in the field of organizational development, Richard Beckhard (1918-1999) was an American organizational theorist and Adjunct Professor at MIT. In his book, “Organization Development: Strategies and models” (1969), Beckhard defined organization development as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, (3) managed from the top, (4) to increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes’, using behavioral-science knowledge”.
Has Change Management changed much?
What is today’s definition of change management? The University of Virginia (UVA) defines change management as “the structured approach to proactively manage the impacts of change both at an individual and institutional level. It incorporates strategies that help individuals and the organization make successful transitions and result in the adoption of change for desired outcomes. It is most effective when all objectives – institutional, technical, and human – are fully implemented and embedded in the institution.”
Is UVA’s definition much different than the one from 50 years ago? “Structured approach” and “proactively managing” sound similar to Beckhard’s “planned interventions” and “managed from the top”. Regarding “desired outcome”, who is desiring the change? What outcome is desired? Solely relying on top management to guide and lead change processes in an information age is the equivalent of expecting only environmental experts to resolve climate change. Effectuating meaningful and sustainable change is not a one-time project with a fixed deadline and budget. It is a never-ending process and investment.
Nomen ist omen
What does change mean? What words are associated with it? Is management one of them? What does management imply? What words are associated with it? Is change one of them? Either word (change or management) used alone triggers a healthy dose of skepticism. Change usually disrupts and threatens management structures and corporate policies. Management practices usually prevent change by ensuring constant, predictable, and controllable conditions. Is that reflective of the current global and digital reality? Does the term “change management” seem like it wants to effectuate change?
Wisdom from the past
The distant past can help conceptualize an evolved form of change management. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia, had insight into creating a culture that ensures vitality. Below are some of his thoughts.
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” (Quotes source: quoteambition.com)
From Change Management to Change Facilitation
What would Thomas Jefferson think of UVA’s definition of change management? What Jefferson is alluding to are conditions conducive to facilitating change processes, not managing them. Culture is neither prescribed nor managed. Rather, it naturally evolves, like the leaves in the picture. The leaves change and fall to be recycled, giving way to new growth. With minimal guidance and a clear vision, organizational culture naturally seeks to adapt, inspiring innovation and nurturing forward-thinkers and risk-takers. As Jefferson duly noted, paramount is placing people in the center by educating and keeping them informed. Only then are humans best equipped and able to ensure a system’s liveliness.
Nowhere does Jefferson explicitly mention hierarchy, management, or control mechanisms. Organizations able to process multiple realities and appropriately respond in real-time have a competitive edge in a VUCA world. Organizations fostering a “human edge culture”–where everyone is expected to sense and adjust as needed–will not only outperform their competitors both in scope and scale; they will lead the pack.
Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Accelorator. He specializes in Conflict Resolution, Change Facilitation, and Intergenerational Collaboration. He optimizes employee engagement, team cohesiveness, and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics and ensuring the successful integration and retention of young employees into organizations. Jean-Pierre is also a Speaker and Author. He is the creator of the youth inspired EPIC Model of development.
I believe the proliferation of technology provides insight into the human evolutionary snags we are experiencing on a global scale. The chart below is taken from a previous blog, “The Digital Paradox: How Digitalization Beckons Human Development.” These technology trends highlight the social, political, and economic challenges headlining news and media today. Digitalization has the capacity to remind us to embrace our humanness in order to remain vital in a fast-paced world.
Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR)
Individual Perception / Is what I see real?
Mixed Reality (MR)
Diversity of Perceptions / Religion & Culture
Trust & Transparency / Global economies
Wisdom / Our collective consciousness
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Emotional Intelligence / Leadership
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT) / Environment & sustainability
Bots and Algorithms
Ethical Intention / Morality and posterity
Corporate vitality requires more than technology
What is corporate vitality? According to the BCG Henderson Institute, corporate vitality is “the capacity to explore new options, renew strategy, and grow sustainably.” Technology undoubtedly helps in exploring new options, renewing strategies, and ensuring sustainable growth. However, relying on technology alone is not sufficient. Technology, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a tool; a manner or method by which science is used for practical purposes.” Humans wield tools and implement methods. Technology alone does not ensure corporate vitality any more than a smartphone ensures effective communication. Companies promoting human vitality will ensure corporate vitality.
Human vitality is vital for corporate vitality
Vitality, as defined by Meriam Webster, is “the peculiarity distinguishing the living from the nonliving; the capacity to live and develop.” These two definitions are vital in fully embracing corporate vitality. Humans are undeniably peculiar and easily distinguishable from even the most sophisticated robots. We are also naturally designed to live and develop using a proven and well-established childhood process–the EPIC Model. Human vitality thrives in a culture that encourages diversity, creativity, and novelty. Human vitality flourishes in an environment free of judgment and comparison. It welcomes constructive feed and is more interested in conceptualizing future ideas than getting mired in the past.
Past performance does not predict future success
Companies with anachronistic hierarchical and management structures will have difficulty remaining vital. According to Martin Reeves, Global Director of the BCG Henderson Institute, corporate vitality is “the capacity for future growth and invention.” Resting on your laurels by measuring past performance is no longer sufficient. Reeves encourages companies to measure potential performance. A research partnership between BCG and Fortune magazine resulted in The Fortune Future 50. The pyramid figure from the study highlights the building blocks needed to ensure the best prospects for long-term growth.
Developing future growth options
An entrepreneurial spirit derives from people, not machines. Leaders of thriving organizations embrace a trial and error mentality accepting short-term losses for the sake of long-term development. Innovation is not the sole responsibility of a department or a handful of people. Market ideas flourish within a vital corporate culture. Every brain has ideas in it. People just need the opportunity and space to share, shape, and execute them.
Adaptive and evolving strategies
Reshaping your vision alters your strategy. Recalibrating strategy fuels innovation. Innovation helps one leave the realm of the mundane and routine. Information needed to spur innovation is no longer privileged information for those sitting at the top of organizational charts. Those at the periphery are as informed, if not more, to what is emerging. Technology has simplified the ability to fulfill our basic human desire to explore, play, inspire, and connect–the EPIC Model. That means everyone in your organization has the capacity to propose a game-changing initiative.
People, not money ensure corporate vitality
It is said money alone can’t buy you happiness. It also apparently can’t buy you corporate vitality. According to a January 2019 report from eurostat, R&D expenditure from all Member States of the European Union in 2017 was close to €320 billion (2.07% of GDP). Corak stated that in spite of the EU’s large investment sum, Europe has little to show regarding innovation and vitality. Out of the one thousand largest global firms researched only one EU company from France, Dassault Systems, made the Fortune Future 50 list. In comparison, the US (40%) and China (40%) accounted for over 80% of the companies on that list. Assuming that the EU, US, and China are on a relatively level playing field when it comes to R&D, what accounts for this disparity?
Corporate vitality is a cultural mindset
Remarkably and not surprisingly, people in positions of influence account for the majority of a company’s ability to remain vital. Those in leadership positions determine revenue sources, develop strategy, and shape organizational structures. The general workforce is at the center of enabling strategy but account for a small percentage of corporate vitality. The general workforce should play a greater role in improving corporate vitality. Companies whose strategy and structures promote inclusivity, shared accountability, foresight, and risk-taking have a definitive edge. Could these values essential to both corporate and human vitality be the missing link in the EU?
Edge computing consists of IoT devices gathering data closer to the edge of the network. The advantage here is two-fold. First, the accuracy and quality of the data improve the closer it is collected to the source. Second, data is processed more quickly as it need not be transmitted to a central hub for processing. According to an edge computing article by Brandon Butler, doing computing closer to the edge of the network streamlines the flow of traffic from IoT devices, allowing organizations to analyze important data in near real-time.
Scientia Potentia est!
Knowledge is power. Edge computing like digitalization is about increasing the speed of data attainment and processing, i.e., knowledge acquisition. The strategy is quite simple. Gather relevant information as quickly as possible to expedite the response to fluctuating markets and shifting customer needs. Efficiently responding to changing market and client needs is valuable. The ability to foresee changes and already have systems, services, and products at the ready is priceless. Market prediction is the difference between industry leaders and followers.
The human obsession with speed
I attended an inspiring impulse talk on edge computing by Igor Grdic, Country Manager, Central Southern Europe, Vertiv. In his presentation, Grdic mentioned the basic physics equation: Time = Distance / Speed. Distance cannot be shortened in the physical world. Physics proves that if you want to decrease time, increase speed. Speed is often praised and rewarded. “Time is money!” “Can’t waste time!” Humans know this formula solution all too well. Late for a meeting? Drive more quickly. Need a coffee fix? Go through the drive-through instead of parking and going inside. I am guilty too. Even as a barefoot runner, I too want to reduce my time by becoming faster.
Human efficiency = Shortening the human distance
Need something from another department and don’t know anybody who works there? After filling out a few forms and sending multiple emails, you may get what you need in a few days or weeks. Know someone who works in that department? Within a day or even hours, you will have what you need. Efficiency between humans is not about increasing speed. It is about shortening the human distance. Digitalization is revolutionizing the way we conceptualize the equation: Time = Distance / Speed. And it is about time! Edge computing shows us that by shortening the distance at which data has to travel, more information can be acquired, processed, and utilized. More importantly, information gathered at the edge is more reliable and relevant. Edge computing decentralizes processes.
What can leaders learn from edge computing?
Companies outfitted with the latest in technology and utilizing edge technology will become more efficient to a certain extent. As the access to technology becomes more accessible, processes used to improve human relationships between co-workers and customers or players in your supply chain will become the game-changer in competitive markets. Trust and relationships improve the quality and transfer of knowledge and goods. The closer information is to the source, the more reliable and valid it is. Those at the edge of your organization and within your supply chain have vital information. Employees and partners at the edge are close to the pulse of how your materials, products and/or services are utilized and valued. They are most knowledgable about what works and what doesn’t. How valuable is their knowledge?
The human/time paradox
Increasing the speed at which people work together results when the social and psychological distance between them is shortened and not by extending work hours and shortening deadlines. Using the right processes can shorten this time. All things digital being equal, the socially and psychologically connected team/supply chain will outperform those that are not. The former is more flexible, adaptable, resilient, engaged, and innovative. Highly bureaucratic and rigid hierarchical organizational structures and “one-up” work environments harbor jealousy, deceit, and undermining behaviors such as the withholding of information and dehumanizing rumors. All negatively impact efficiency. To increase speed, how much time and money do companies invest in technology in comparison to shortening the distance between employees and partners?
Leaders need to go within in order to go to the edge
Competitive companies and industry forerunners create and foster workplace cultures that trust and rely on those employees and partners living at the edge. What does it take for an organization to capitalize on the wealth of information at the edge? Creating a human edge funnel requires a culture of trust, transparency, collaboration, empowerment, and freedom just to name a few. Leaders best able to let their companies thrive and innovate at the edge require a solid sense of self and a clear and realizable vision that all employees, regardless of position or seniority can manifest and evolve. Hence another paradox. Leaders with the most inner security and certainty can more easily allow and foster a culture that thrives and grows on the outer edges.
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 digital buzzwords and attribute to each the respective human developmental challenge we face.
Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR)
Mixed Reality (MR)
Diversity of Perceptions
Trust / Transparency
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 top-down authority. 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 Trillion 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 like Jack Ma 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 consciousness 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). IoT reflects the intricate food web and symbiotic relationships naturally keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance. Somehow this chain of digital events sounds a bit 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 our digital intention needs to be clear. Let’s look at the next two tech buzzwords for some insights.
The Use of Bots and Algorithms Show Intention
Humans create technology. 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 technology?
The Digital Paradox Can Be Our Saving Grace
The digital paradox is technology enlightening humanity. It is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. 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 requires 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.
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 workweek! 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 workweek 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 workweek. 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 workweek 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!
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.
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.
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, nor should they be. 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.