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Mastering “The Paradox of Being Human”

Mastering “The Paradox of Being Human”

The whole conundrum around the struggle between selfishness and selflessness, with its biological roots – or what Simon Sinek calls “The Paradox of Being Human” – gives us so much more to ponder than just the innate conflict between individual and organisational objectives for which I proposed a solution last week.  The biology – summarised again in the table below – is also significant because it suggests happiness or satisfaction is situational and is therefore transient, which implies that “the pursuit of happiness” is a futile exercise: at best a fleeting goal. 

Biological Underpinnings of the Human Paradox

Nor am I alone in drawing this conclusion. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states “The foremost reason that happiness is so hard to achieve is that the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind. … If human goals and desires are taken as the starting point, there is irreconcilable disorder in the cosmos. … How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences. Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.

That is why Csikszentmihalyi prefers to talk about “flow” which he describes as “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to work. The fact is that, assuming a 40 hour working week, we generally spend around 35% of our waking time at work, which makes achieving “flow” more likely at work than anywhere else: something Csikszentmihalyi’s research confirms is the case in practice. Yet his research also shows that, despite this, people keep wishing for more leisure. He calls this “the paradox of work” and attributes it to two things:

  • People not heeding the evidence of their senses based on their stereotype of what work is supposed to be like; and
  • The sense that the time invested in achieving other people’s goals is time subtracted from their own lives.  

While employee ownership actually offers the solution to both these problems, it more obviously provides the answer to the second than the first. The former is more clearly a perception issue and, I would posit, has its roots in the fact that, all too often, the interests of the organisation take priority. And, if that is what gives rise to the stereotypical perception of work, the only way to change it, is to recognise individual needs and collaborate more with the individual to address them.

The ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model offers you that capability. In addition to enabling employee ownership it recognises the reciprocity of need, with the organisational need providing the context for personal growth and the fulfilled individual providing the capability for organisational delivery. This provides the framework allows both parties to benefit from the synergistic outcomes of mutually enhanced performance.    

Understanding the biology of the human paradox reveals that happiness, or employee engagement if you are looking at things from a totally organisational perspective, is:

  1. An attitude;
  2. Personal; 
  3. In a constant state of flux, varying according to the situation or circumstances.

Consequently there is no way of guaranteeing constancy. The best you can do is create an environment that irons out the wrinkles and ensures that any conflict is temporary and can be readily overcome. The ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model offers you that.

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