“Isn’t it just the human condition?” my friend remarked. We were discussing the difficulty of getting organizations to understand the problems they face and our reluctance as leaders to accept that we may be causing our own difficulties.
“Yes” I replied, welcoming the agreement that complex management and leadership issues can be understood from a human and, in some ways, simpler if deeper perspective.
An unsaid “Not much we can do about that then” filled the silence.
Wait a minute though…
What really is meant by “the human condition?”
According to Wikipedia… it “encompasses the experiences of being human in a social, cultural, and personal context; the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not connected to gender, race, class, etc. — a search for purpose, sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, fear of death, etc.”
What are the benefits of seeing the link to organizations?
Recognizing the link through the human character of leadership opens up a route to solving issues by working on our “human condition” – a complement to our usual left-brain, analytical, “professional” approach. There are ways to do that and they can produce quick results.
What if we notice the “nominalization” in the phrase itself?
Linguistics people would notice that “the human condition” is an abstract noun referring to on-going activity describable with verbs e.g. blaming others for our problems to protect our ego.
That in turn is a signpost to growth…
If we put problems down to “the human condition,” thinking “not much we can do about that then,” we disempower ourselves and miss that we can develop human wisdom in ourselves and others, and so improve results. Identifying the on-going processes in “the human condition” will help us influence them, and not be their victim.
Are you a victim of the human condition? You could be a master of it instead.
Is expertise in “the human condition” a vital part of leadership?
Hillary Sillitto says
I was reading Peter Senge’s “The 5th Discipline” and found this quote:
“I have come to believe that our failure lies not in unpersuasiveness or lack of sufficiently compelling evidence. It may simply not be possible to convinve human beings rationally to take a long-term view!”
He adds, “People do not focus on the long term because they have to, but because they want to.”
If this is an aspect of “the human condition”, then maybe that is where David’s friend was coming from. Long ago, if you met a Sabre-toothed tiger, either you were his dinner, or he provided yours. In those days, the short term survival response also provided for the longer term. Now life is more complex, and the response conditioned by evolution isn’t always the best one. So maybe the issue is how to make people want to think long term.
Dr David Fraser says
Thanks Hillary, for your comment.
Peter Senge also says that we are inclined to react to events as they happen rather than intervene in an awareness of the dynamic or systemic (i.e. time-related) nature of what we are dealing with. Reacting to events may make things worse rather than better if there are delays in the system. We may do exactly the opposite of what is required.
On the “want to” point, people will keep doing what they’re doing until something more compelling comes along, so part of the answer to the issue is making sure the long term gain is more compelling, even discounted back to the present, than the short-term gain is.
I’ve heard Peter say that he avoids trying to convince anyone of anything. His alternative if I recall is to create learning experiences for people, and also to work with those who are already convinced. There are more than enough of them to keep him occupied, he says.