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We are drowning in information, but starving for wisdom.
A business case for Compassion.
I am so excited to share with you perhaps one of the best kept secrets to deal with the unintended consequences of technology in the way we work, improve our health, a superpower we are all born with and that we can use in response to stress.
This week, I had the privilege to do a keynote for an audience of over a thousand business leaders, young entrepreneurs and master students, on what work in the future will look like and how I believe compassion will prepare us all best for the unintended consequences of the technology which will support us.
There is no escaping the facts, work is changing. If you conduct an online search on our current "fourth industrial revolution", you will be hit with over 50 million search responses that sees everything from academic theory to sensationalists articles on the inevitable Robot Apocalypse.
However, the heart of the digital revolution is Human. It's how humans will work with the technology. You don't have to be a technologist of have a four year technology degree. You work with the technology.
And technology will not steal our jobs. They will take the redundant, demanding, boring 10% out of our role, leave more room for the parts of our role for which we are uniquely skilled, the highly value added parts like complex problem solving, interpersonal relationships, creativity, empathy and compassion. We will add 1.7 role for humans, in industries so we can spend more time in customer/patient facing activities.
The problem is that companies and countries are spending less on job training, and the rates of success are not as high. As a result, by 2030, the global economy will be short of an estimated 82 million skilled workers.
And despite this, just 42% of business leaders believe talent shortages will affect their organizations growth or profitability. And only 9% have a defined plan for recruiting the skilled talent they will need.
New generations, like the workers in the Nomad Economy, where an increasing number of highly skilled employees and freeing themselves by taking on new professional challenges every couple of years, will be on their own in preparing themselves for what is coming.
But the ever accelerating pace of advancement, the rate of innovation, the unintended consequences of technology, is having a negative effect on us humans.
Because our mental capacity will not evolve naturally at the same pace.
25% of all employees view their job as the number one stress-or in their lives. The world health organization describes stress as the global health epidemic of the 21st-century. Stress and burn out make up for 82.6% of all emotional health cases in employee assistance programs around the world in 2014, up from 50,2% in 2012. And 3 out of 4 of us are going to suffer from a lifestyle related chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety and food or mood disorders even though 80 to 90 percent of these diseases are completely preventable.
Collectively, those diseases account for more than 86% of our healthcare costs. Stress in the workplace costs the U.S. economy alone upwards of 300 billion dollars per year with up to a 190 billion dollar healthcare spend.
To put that in perspective, it costs 2 Billion per year to ensure the worlds population has access to clean water, and 30 to 35 Billion annually to end world hunger.
When you are in stress, your heart races up, your breathing gets quicker, you might start to sweat and your muscles start to tighten and they get ready have a fight or flight response, so adrenaline kicks in. Now this is a great response to have if you have a car coming at you or if you have a tiger coming at you in the wild, because this is a survival reflex and it helps you to stay safe. However our brain can't tell the difference between a tiger and an angry email or a conflict you might be having at work or something in your business, so what we all end up doing is that we keep adding up the negative energy of our stress response throughout our days and what's most important to realize is that when we are in this mindset our vision becomes tunnel visioned. We literally narrow our perspective and we become really self focused. We forget about the people around us and we don't create ideas, and worst of all, we make really bad decisions. We reach for food or drinks or the social media or worse as a coping mechanism.
I have some good news for you, inspired by Dr. Parneet Pal, the Chief Technology Officer of Wisdom Labs. The good news is that fight or flight is not the only response that we have available to stress our brains and our bodies are wired to respond in a different way and that response is compassion.
Compassion is our ability to notice stress and suffering when they're happening in ourselves and in the people around us along with a desire and a motivation to do something to alleviate that suffering. Both for yourself, as well as for the people who work with you, or work for you.
When we go out and help somebody else, something fantastic happens in our body. It activates our parasympathetic nervous system this is a complete opposite of the fight-or-flight responds. So what this means is that when we help others, our heart rate goes down, our muscles relax, our blood pressure goes down and our stress levels start coming down.
Immediately the other fantastic thing that happens is that we engage the biology of courage and hope, and what this means is that we bring online three amazing neurotransmitters.
The first is Oxycontin, a neurotransmitter that immediately reduces our stress levels but it also increases levels of love and caring and connection between people and relations.
The second neurotransmitter that gets released when we help others is Dopamine and dopamine is a feel-good hormone. This is a hormone that lights up our reward centers in the brain and it immediately reduces our fear, making us fearless and making us motivated to go out and take action.
The third neurotransmitter that gets released is Serotonin, which is opposite of adrenaline. Total relaxation, and serotonin makes us really smart. It gives us access to all of our great creativity and ideas so we can come up with the best solutions to the problem.
So now that we know that we have this other response to stress available, and that is compassion, the question becomes how do we get better at it. Because we're all born with this capacity, we are all born with compassion. The answer is very simple. And it’s about meditation and mindfulness.
Through meditation and mindfulness training, just like you train your physical body through different kinds of physical exercises, you can train your compassion and mindfulness through meditation.
You are actually training what we call our “monkey mind”. The mind of full of something else. It’s always something else. At work we think of the issue we have with a friend, when we are with friends we think of our family, and when we are with our family, we think of work. It’s called ADD Attention Deficit Disorder, and we are all suffering from this. If our workload is increasing, and our “monkey mind” is all over the place so we can’t truly focus our time and attention, the result will be overload and stress.
The potential of the mind (or neuroplasticity) is great, and we can all experience clear mind, clear focus, efficiency, happiness and be kind at the same time. Even in the eye of the storm. But we need to work at it and train our brain. Meditation and Mindfulness is about training the Monkey mind. If you want a serviceable body, you go to the fitness center. If you want a serviceable mind, you spend your time on mindfulness.
At the center of the practice of mindfulness is learning to manage your attention. When you learn how to manage your attention, you learn how to manage your thoughts. You learn to hold your focus on what you choose, whether it is a phone-call, and email, a meeting, information you need to work with or the people you are with. In other words, you train yourself to be more present in the here and the now.
Many studies have found that online mindfulness programs have been shown to be practical and effective in decreasing employee stress while improving resilience and work engagements, thereby enhancing overall employee well-being and organizational performance. And it is often a multi model learning model that is working well. This includes mobile learning, on-site training, webinars, and peer to peer networks. I recommend you to look at The Potential Project (Rasmus Hougaard), Wisdom Labs, the work of Peter Matthies and the Conscious Business Institute, the extraordinary work done by Tignum AG (Jogi Rippel), the innovative and digital work done by Maarten van Huijstee, Origins (Joel aan 't Goor), the Core Leadership Institute, Headspace Inc, and many qualified others.
But don't take my word for it, let's quickly take a look at the evidence for whether or not this kind of training actually benefits you.
So those people who practice mindfulness and compassion training 5 -10 - 20 - 15 minutes a day consistently, live longer and healthier than people who don't and this is because their stress levels are lower, their resilience is higher, their immunity is better. Another amazing thing happens when we do these practices and that is that we are able to disrupt our habit loops in the brain. So what this means is that when we are triggered by stress, instead of reaching for our usual knee-jerk response, you know whatever that food or that drink or social media or whatever choice you were going to make, we are actually able to interrupt that habit loop. We're able to pause, take a breath, be mindful and then choose a wise response.
A wise response not just to our lifestyle but a wise response for our businesses as well.
We become the person in the room who is focused, even if there's a lot of chaos and distraction around us. We are the person in the room who can manage our emotions powerfully and we are the person in the room who has the ability to empathize and take the perspective of others in making decisions to be generous and kind. To be compassionate. In other words, we develop an ethical and emotional clarity which helps us to make better decisions. Better decisions for ourselves. Better decisions for our business. And better decisions for the planet.