As robots and artificial intelligence or, more likely, their sponsors, seek to take over more and more human jobs it's timely to ask: what role for humans then?
We can thank the IT industry and the entrepreneurs behind it for prompting this very important question.
If we, humans individually and collectively, no longer have to do any boring, hard or dangerous work, then now, as at no previous time in the history of our species, we have an amazing opportunity to do work that matters.
How many of us are currently genuinely interested in the work we do? it is hard to quantify but from what I hear and sense, very few. The number of employees who would rather be doing something else, something more rewarding, something more 'them' is probably huge.
Now is the time to recognise this and to use this shift (to robots and to AI) to seek careers and employment fit for the breadth of human capabilities and that fulfils the depth of the human spirit.
What does it mean to be fully human in a wise workplace?
There are probably two facets:
Firstly, there's our own unique personal reason d'etre: a deep inner calling, the difference between a career and a vocation. It may be a particular sporting or artistic ability that needs to be pursued. Or perhaps a need to work in a particular part of the world or with a given group of people. For these we need to listen to our inner voice, to tune in to whatever is driving us . . . and act on it.
The second facet is one that applies to us all. What gives meaning and purpose to any of us? As we seek a more worthwhile career, and indeed life, it is important that we ask ourselves this question.
Rather than filling in boxes and following procedures don't we need to be engaging, with each other? It is not so much what we do as a job but how we do it. Isn't any job not just more effectively done if those involved are engaging with each other as fellow thinking, feeling human beings, but also more rewarding and more enjoyable?
And isn't such deep engagement precisely the skill that we humans have that robots and AI just don't?
The failure of Carillion we can hope, like the financial crash of 2008 and the Grenville Tower tragedy, be seen as another, much needed, wake-up call: that the way much of society has been ‘working’ doesn’t actually work.
It’s quite simple: making decisions on a purely financial basis fails to address the fact that society is made up of thinking, feeling individuals. What is the benefit to society as a whole if a few organisations or individuals become hugely wealthy if the bulk of the earth’s population are, in some way or another, struggling?
We are in this together. Nobody is separate from the suffering of over-stressed staff, or ignored citizens: even if these individuals are not vocally complaining, their discomfort and distress is being reflected in the state of the world: in the growing health issues such as obesity, diabetes, mental health issues, for example and in Climate Change and it’s increasing violent effects on our weather.
It is time for us all to Wake Up to our inherent need to relate to each other as caring, sensitive, human-beings and to our planet as our support system. By being wise in this way, and aware of our deeper needs, so relationship, both personal and professional, become far more meaningful . . . and thus effective.
For too long ‘emotional’ has been seen as a weakness. But is it weak to cry when we see or feel others suffer? No! It’s being naturally human, expressing our intrinsic ability to empathise and care.
Of cause, it’s not usually helpful to be overly sentimental, nor to allow emotional attachments to get in the way of our interactions. Again this is where wisdom comes in: being able to tell the difference between a genuine plea for help and human need . . . and emotional blackmail or ‘baggage’ – chops on shoulders for example. We can only do this by developing our Emotional Intelligence. We can only do this by acknowledging our own emotions and working through them.
This is what we need to wake up to: that the emotional needs of so many individuals humans have been ignored for too long. We’ve had enough!
Wake up . . . and express how you’re feeling.
You don’t know how to? Another indicator of just how far we have come from our natural expressive human natures. I’ll be happy to help.
I belong to a wonderful on-line forum which aims to explore “the role of contemplative teaching and learning in higher education”. Over the last few days the Contemplative Pedagogy Network has been sharing our response to the question of a “definition of contemplative pedagogy/pedagogy”. My own contribution was this:
For me, the question “How do you define . ..” immediately highlights the key issue (or threshold concept perhaps):
Conventionally, education, particularly in HE, has been about pinning down an idea or topic in definitions, theories and pre-defined practices. By contrast the key ingredient of Contemplative Practice (embracing mindfulness and reflective practices) is an intent to rise-above the need to define and pin things down. What sets contemplation apart from conventional pedagogy is that it is a state of mind beyond the rational.
Thus, for me, what’s we’re interested in is anything that encourages and enables this ‘consciousness beyond the rational’ (which includes being able to integrate the different forms of mental activity).
Unless this key point is acknowledged in our practice and interactions with others, contemplative pedagogy risks becoming yet another exercise in box-ticking conceptualisation. Or put another way . . .
“How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
Many other excellent contributions explored similar ideas along the lines that whilst our discussion on definitions can help us to understand each other perspective, contemplation is one of those ideas that cannot be pinned down in a set of words . . . and if we insist on trying to, we’ve missed the point . . . just as you’d fail totally to grasp a moonbeam in your hand.
But we can allow that moonbeam, or piece of poetry, or feelings for someone going through a difficult time, to resonate with us. We can be present with it, enjoy the sensation. Isn’t a contemplative state of mind a key part of being a wise human . . . in any scenario or situation?
Yesterday the British Government launched Thriving at work, The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers. To me it was a rare piece of positive news: finally a top-level yet practical initiative that could really make a positive difference to so many ordinary people. Ordinary thinking, feeling, individuals.
For whilst mental health may be a serious medical condition, such as Schizophrenia or PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) for example, to a far greater number of us it is more likely to be concern over a close friend or relative or a general feeling of depression or anxiety at the state of the world. Don’t many of us feel unwell, through some non-physical cause on a fairly regular basis? It probably goes with being creatures that care, that have strong emotions and, dare I say it, sensitive natures?
If our emotional state and resulting mental state can be fragile, if it’s perfectly natural to feel ‘out of sorts’ for all sorts of reasons (such as a favourite uncle being close to dying, or there’s been a terrorist incident in your nearby centre) then it is only natural and reasonable that we need to talk about these feelings: we need somebody to listen, to empathise and to show they care about how we’re feeling. In any situation where we’re rubbing shoulders with our fellow man and woman.
For too long ‘hard’ business and ‘objective’ academia has ignored these realities, treating every staff member the same way it see a financial statement or business plan. And look where that has got us! How many work places do you know that are not characterised by glum faces and excessive stress?
Where’s the wisdom of that? Or the common sense? Finally, in this report, we’re reminded of what we all know at so many levels but have been discouraged from saying through fear of not being ‘professional’. Being professional means caring about our colleagues, being willing and able to actively listen to their concerns, to share as a fellow human-being.
This is not only good for us, individually, as human-beings, but is also good for business: when we feel cared for, we’re more likely to feel valued. When managers listen to our concerns we’re more likely to respond to particular business-related concerns. It’s common sense, it’s win-win. This is wisdom at work.
Whatever job we're doing, whether in a large organisation or small, one simple practice illustrates the gist of Working with Wisdom.
Say, for example, you're undertaking a minor household repair or bit of DIY. Here's how NOT to do it: something that happened to me a few years ago:
Having had some carpet replaced I was fixing the metal strip to hold it in place in a doorway. Power-drill with masonry bit to get through the concrete floor: no problem.
First couple of holes drilled, raw-plugs fitted. Third hole started then . . . HISS - S- S- SS!
I'd only drilled though a gas pipe!
Job suspended, gas turned off at mains, Gas Emergency team called.
Gas pipe eventually plugged and its course carefully plotted before continuing the job.
If only . . .
If only I'd taken a few minutes to really look at and tune-into the job before I started.
There's many levels of tuning in, each worth spending some time on:
1. Before you do anything, look around: notice, for example, where gas meter, appliances and any fittings may be: they have to be connected by pipes, which are probably buried under or within the floor.
2. Take your time and check all is well before starting any irreversible operations such as drilling: is the cat likely to pounce and make you jump?
3. Take an extra moment to tune in and allow your 6th sense to kick-in, if it needs to. One moment of intuitive warning can prevent many hours of hassle . . .
Yes, it's all common sense. But are not common sense and wisdom very similar? Both are about not making assumptions, both are about being aware . . . and tuned in.
Whilst much is spoken about collaboration, in the business and academic worlds true collaboration is rare. All too often competition for limited funding and other narrow or vested interests prevent a true spirit of co-creation, shared ownership or genuine joint venture. But there are a few examples. And from these we can tease out the essential ingredients.
A sense of community, for example: a deep and meaningful sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself or one’s department. When did you last feel that within a work situation?
That is a serious and important question that I’d like you to reflect on: when did you last feel anything in a work situation, other than overworked and stressed?
But why shouldn’t staff and customers be happy and feel valued? Indeed in Higher Education, for example, ‘Student Experience’ is a key driver for many initiatives. But what do we been by involvement? Are we, in providing an organisation’s culture and ethos, really getting to the heart of engagement?
But meaningful involvement can and does happen and is, I would suggest, essential if those involved in a collaborative project are to feel secure and relaxed enough to engage with each other as fellow human-beings beyond personal goals and expectations.
Belonging in the workplace
I've been lucky enough to experience such a sense of community in a number of work settings. As an electronic and quality engineer I felt it at Plessey Research Caswell. The result of this atmosphere was a world renowned centre of excellence and innovation, as I describe in this article.
A second example was the Experience of Worship, a major UK Research Council funded action research project, led by Prof. John Harper at Bangor University. Acknowledged as an exemplary example of practice-led research (similar in approach to Action Research or Participate Enquiry) the participants from a number of universities and from across a spectrum of disciplines (including History, Musicology and Liturgy) each, in their own way, engaged fully in an enactment of a medieval worship. The impact was both academic and personal (see, for example Beasley, Aveling & Moss, 2016).
As the founders and proponents of Action Research and Participate Enquiry emphasise (e.g. McIntosh, 2010; McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 1996; Reason, 1994), when research concerns human subjects, what those humans sense and how they feel is every bit as important to understanding the situation as is the factual evidence. (Likewise in teaching & learning where experiential and embedded learning requires the active participation of the student). Whilst hard, objective, data is still vital, the full picture usually requires an awareness of the subjective evidence. Humans are, after all, thinking, feeling, beings.
In business as in academia, soft-skills are being increasingly valued. How can any of us engage in meaningful collaboration unless we are willing and able to acknowledge, for example, that a partner is struggling emotionally with some aspects of our shared work? This is Emotional Intelligence in practice. 17 years in Quality Assurance taught me that how we feel affects how well we do our job, whatever that job is.
No amount of detailed processes, procedures or systems can make up for a working environment in which an individual feels ignored or under appreciated. There is no alternative to caring for our colleagues and about our project.
What these two, very different examples have in common is that those working in both situations felt able to be and express themselves as individuals and that their unique contribution was valued. Because of this, and because of a shared passion for the intent of the projects they were involved in, a shared commitment to the ‘greater goal’ was enabled.
So, how can such a sense of community be enabled? That really is the point: it is not a ‘thing’ that can be planned or controlled. It has to come from the heart. In these two examples the people in charge recognised this important point and demonstrated it in their interactions with those who worked for them, authentically, naturally.
Being wholly human
It is perhaps a matter of stepping back from ‘being a researcher’ or being an historian or an administrator and remembering that first and foremost we are all fellow human beings (see Beasley 2012).
Collaboration requires a sense of community and community requires a deep and meaningful engagement. There are no quick fixes, no box-ticking techniques to make this happen. It has to come from within.
Beasley, K. (2012) ‘Beyond ‘isms & ‘ologies: Being a Researcher, Being Human’, Beyond the Field Conference, Aberystwyth, November 9-10 2012 (See abstract; See presentation slides)
Beasley, K., Aveling J. & Moss, J.F. (2016) 'Reflections on the Enactments: Voices from the Nave' in Harper, S., Barnwell, P.S. & Williamson, M. (eds) The Experience of Late Medieval Worship, Ashgate, 2016, pp259-269
McIntosh, P. (2010) Action Research and Reflective Practice, Abington: Routledge, 2010.
McNiff, J. Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (1996) You and Your Action Research Project, New York & London: Routledge, 1996.
Reason, P. (1994) Participation in Human Inquiry: Research with People, London, Sage, 1994.
Dr Keith Beasley is co-founder of Working with Wisdom
Knowledge: on the (l)edge of knowing.
The mantra through much of society in recent decades has been ‘Knowledge is Power’. Few would deny that having access to and a handle on the wealth of information that abounds in today’s data-rich world has benefits. But it has downsides too. How many of us have not been swamped by the sheer volume of data now at our figure-tips? And that’s just the information we choose to look at!
And where does fake news fit into this? The boundaries between fact and fiction, meaningful evidence and biased opinion is getting ever more blurred.
We have all this ‘data’, if not freely available over the internet, then in some cloud or virtual storage available for a suitable fee. Is it actually improving our quality of life? Are we, humans individually and collectively, happier? Few that I speak to would say so. On the contrary. Take into account all the ailments, both personal (e.g. obesity, dementia to mention but two of a myriad of disabling conditions) and of society (extremism, anti-social behaviour for example) and there is little sign of the data revolution and age of knowledge making life better for many of us . . . if any.
Perhaps we have it all wrong.
There are a number of problems with data and knowledge:
Data, knowledge and the facts and theories that are conventionally taught tend to be conceptual, abstract. Indeed, Higher Education in particular prides itself on-being objective and detached! What all this means is that what is being taught goes into our heads as disconnected bits of information with little, if any, bearing on students’ personal lives.
Let me illustrate this with an example: rain. We all know what rain is don’t we?
How do you know that? The chances are that your understanding of and appreciation of the water that falls from the sky has much more to do with first-hand experience of it than what you’ve been formally taught.
And how well do you know rain?
Have you experienced a dreek day in Scotland, or a tropical storm in Malaysia . . . or watched rain-drops trickle down a window-pane, or . . .
And so it is with everything. From liquid nitrogen to love, from fear to pheromones. These are just words. They are not the thing itself.
All of these features, and our focus on them, have created a big problem: our minds are full of abstract ideas, descriptions, theories, beliefs and concepts. Whilst in another part of our mind, as we go about our daily life, we experience these things we think we understand. But all too often the two sets of mental images: the theory and the reality, don’t match up. The result: confusion, frustration and a sense of dis-ease.
With so many dubious features to knowledge, what is the alternative. What would overcome the above limitations?
One small step . . . from knowledge . . . to knowing
a) For our access to information to be ‘of the moment’. If we could ‘know’ the truth about our particular situation and tap into the details of the immediate ‘here and now’ reality of most relevance to us, as we make a particular decision, then we could make that decision based on a different quality of knowledge. If our access to information were genuinely free of bias, of manipulation and take into account every pertinent fact and nuance, then far better decisions could be made . . . they might even be more inclusive, resulting in actions more beneficial to all.
How? By being more present, by living in the ’here and now’. The recent, rapid increase in individuals taking up some form of mindfulness, meditation or self-healing is no coincidence. They, know, at some level, that they have to get ‘out of their heads’: meaning detaching from the if-ing, but-ing rational mind and related emotional attachments.
b) We become more discerning, more able to sort the wheat from the chaff, not being swayed by irrelevant arguments or emotional blackmail. We becomes more self-reliant in selecting, interpreting and analysing data. The ability to reach and act on our own conclusions is key to feeling in control of our own destiny with consequential benefits to our sense of well-being and fulfilment. Becoming present, more aware of the reality beyond our sub-conscious, conditions reactions, also achieves this objective.
c) By becoming more reflective and recognizing the value of time spent in contemplation: giving our minds change to assimilate the huge amount of knowledge and experiences that so often fill our days and years.
Peace of mind and a feeling of being at peace with the world happens when our inner view of the world (what we think it is, our internal model of it) match the one we experience through our senses. But how often is that the case? Rarely!
Each of these features describe an alternative consciousness, a more wholistic way of using our minds. Complementing our rational consciousness, it enables us to integrate our intellectual perspectives, personal experiences with a deeper, inner awareness of our place in the world. From this state of mind we are a connected part of the organisations and communities of which we are part. With this state of mind we can truly engage and have a positive impact in the world. This is knowing, as opposed to knowledge.
This is what leading educators are beginning to come to terms with: as I’ll discuss in a future blog.
This article has been intentionally ‘easy reading’. The academic background, with extensive references, can be found in my PhD research.
Whatever job we do, the chances are that we’re under so much pressure that we’re expected to, or think we need to, multi task. But how many of us are actually any good at it? And is it an effective approach to a bursting in-tray and numerous demands on our time?
What do we mean by multi-tasking? Doing a number of tasks at the same time! Yes, but how many? And over what time period?
Being good at multi-tasking means knowing what to do when. Easy to say, but not so easy to do! Being able to select the right task at any given moment and to know when to drop that and start something else requires wisdom . . . or at least a high level of awareness:
Responding to that plea for help
Consider a typical example: we’re busy on one job and the phone goes. A colleague wants us to drop everything and see to another ‘problem’. How often do we just react to such a situation depending on who’s asking (or telling) and our reaction to it?
Effective multi-tasking, wise-working, is about responding to such situations, rather than reacting to them. In just a few mindful breaths we can, for example, ascertain that our caller’s ‘problem’ is no more than them panicking. So we, calmly and firmly, help them to see the bigger picture and ‘loosen up’. Within a couple of minutes we’re back at our task. Win-win.
As with good quality, it’s all about ‘fitness for purpose’. For example:
Knowing when to stop
Whether multi-tasking or working normally, a major block to efficient and effective working is perfectionism. Working with wisdom is about recognising when we’ve done enough to satisfy the here and now need.
Wise working, particularly in a multi-tasking environment, is about knowing when to say “No”, not just to your boss or colleague, but to that inner voice. There is no wisdom in reacting to the fear of not getting a job done ‘properly’. On the contrary: when we’re worried our efficiency decreases, because the mind gets caught up in ‘what if . . .’ recriminations. That’s no good for our health or our company’s profits!
So what we need to multi-task effectively is peace of mind: a mind detached from shoulds, fears, expectations, guilt and so on.
At the personal level
An increasing number of us are turning to some form of mindfulness, meditation or self-healing to help achieve a calmer mental state. We may be reasonably successful at obtaining a relaxed mind, free of clamour, on a beautiful mountainside or in the quiet of our bedroom, but in a busy office? This is the paradox of working with wisdom: it’s precisely because it’s so hard to achieve that we most need to adopt a wise approach and develop a tool-box of appropriate practices to help us stay aware and stay present in our day-to-day working lives.
For an organisation
From a corporate perspective, it’s a matter of culture. The wise business recognises the value of reflection and contemplation. For example:
Contemplative Life provides a central hub that brings myriads of contemplative practices and communities under one umbrella and makes it easy for you to find practices of interest and connect with others of like mind.
Working with Wisdom provides mentoring to enhance your personal wise working and assessment and training of your organisation to foster wise working at a corporate, cultural level.
Is it my imagination or are most organisations looking for more and more ways of being more efficient and more effective? Looking for savings here, making cuts there?
It seems to have become endemic, an automatic reaction to any poor results or desire for greater profits. But where is the wisdom in all of this?
Walking in the mountains, having lost your water bottle, how would you drink from a refreshing mountain stream? Would you, as quickly as possible, grab what you could?
No, you’d be even more thirsty and frustrated!
You’d carefully cup your open hands together and allow the water to fill them. Then you’d gently raise your hands to your mouth and, carefully, pour.
Gently, carefully. That’s the wise way. In any operation.
“OK”, the slightly wiser QA man says “let’s get that down in some procedures”. And so instructions are written:
“Cup hands gently together, being careful not to leave any gaps between the fingers”. If the author is at all aware, they’ll even include a photograph to illustrate the intent.
The instructions are issued and results monitored. The feedback is not encouraging:
The wise man sitting by the stream smiles amiably at the attempts to follow procedures. “Watch”, he says.
The puzzled, frustrated and thirsty students stand on the bank as the wise man finds a suitable place to kneel. He cups his hands together seeming to offer a prayer as he does so. Gentle he immerses them into the bubbling flow and carefully he removes his hand in one flowing movement as he lowers his mouth to meet them. For effect he slurps the water in noisily. “Ahhh!” he exclaims with a beaming smile.
“How?” the students demanded.
He shrugged his shoulders. “It is not for me to teach or explain” he said . . . and walked away.
For the next few hours the students tried and tried again. Eventually one took his instructions and began folding the paper: he’d remembered his origami hobby from a child. Paper cup anybody?
Image: Cwm Idwal by Keith Beasley
In my last blog I described the KISS principle and how simplicity can be a useful trait to fall back on when intent on making processes more effective and efficient.
This time I’m applying the principle to decisions made when designing a new piece of educational material. Just what and how much content is required in a course for it to really get across a given topic?
In Teaching and Learning (T&L) theory we are lucky to have a ground-breaking insight and approach that neatly applies the KISS principle: Threshold Concepts (Meyer and Land, 2003).
The gist of Threshold Concepts is that in many topics there are just one or two core ideas that are essential to its understanding. Once a student has crossed that threshold of understanding and grasped the essence of these key concepts, then everything else follows naturally. What makes this easier said than done is that often these key concepts have a troublesome aspect, some feature that seems illogical and/or counter intuitive.
The trick to designing a good course thus comes in identifying such threshold concepts and finding ways to helps students cross that threshold. Often this will require non-standard T&L techniques: lecturing to a PowerPoint presentation just won’t do the job.
Take, for example, learning to ride a bike. The threshold concept would be balance: unless and until the learning cyclist has grasped the notion of balance enabled by momentum, they’re likely to keep falling off. The only way to teach this is to do it: supported by stabilisers at first, but by letting go, by feeling the wind through your hair. Similar experiential approaches might apply to a wide range of subjects, from mindfulness to baking a cake, for example.
But the threshold concept of threshold concepts is clear: keep it simple! Identify the one (or 2) key concepts and find a way of teaching them that helps students over whatever it is about that concept that some may find troublesome. Sometimes it’s as simple as emphasising that less really is more. Less detail, less theory, less complications: just the simple essence.
This is also the underlying essence of ‘Working with Wisdom: sometimes (often!) we are apt to think too much, to believe that the rational mind has all the answers. Wisdom doesn’t rely on complicated theories or more explanatory words. It invites us to step back from a problem, observe, feel what’s going on and ascertain the essence of the moment. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid, is a useful reminder to do just that.
Beyond the image
This is Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber on Anglesey (Wales, UK), a Neolithic tomb that, like Stonehenge, doubled as an agricultural calendar for our prehistoric ancestors. One wonders if our Neolithic predecessors were more in tune with seasons, daily cycles and time generally than we are today? They did use simple but effective designs for their burial mounds . . . and they had an educational purpose!
Image © 2017 Keith Beasley
Dr keith beasley
As an engineer turned life-guide and Quality Assurance expert who did his PhD on 'Transcending Thought', I've seen life from many perspectives. We need them all to even begin to make sense of life . . .
Working with Meaning 19/1/18
Wake Up Calls 16/1/18
Beyond Definitions 5/11/17
The Wisdom of Mental Health Awareness
Tuning In 26/10/17
Collaboration and Community 19/10/17
From Know-lede to Know-ing (Part 1) 13/8/17
The Wisdom of Multi-tasking 30/6/17
Grasping the nuance of efficiency 08/6/17
KISS in Education
Keep it Simple, Stupid!
Wisdom . . . at Work
Reflection on Reflective Practice 21/4/2017
Engaging with Engagement