One of my favourite artists of all time is the barely-known but hugely talented singer songwriter Warren Zevon. He’s a great wordsmith and this snippet from my favourite song of his, Desperados Under the Eaves, is testament to that:
“And if California slides into the ocean,
Like the mystics and statistics say it will,
I predict this motel will be standing
Until I pay my bill”.
I’ve always loved that line ‘mystics and statistics’ because spinning on the head of that particular pin is one of the great divides of nations, society and management. It’s classic God versus science or put in management speak, measurement versus intuition. Today more than ever we seem polarised in this domain with heavyweights pulled into opposing corners. It doesn’t have to be thus.
Given Easter is upon us I thought it might be interesting to explore matters that go beyond the merely physical. Recently at a Business Summit in Sydney, respected NASA scientist Alice Bowman spoke about how she manages a large team that is delivering the New Horizons space project; the one that did the Pluto flyby. She blew a few myths into outer space at the same time. The idea of the extrovert, charismatic and somewhat arrogant is now regarded as passé given that hyper-connected networks triumph over hierarchies. What was really important about what Bowman discussed was the fact that a blend of both science and the arts were what made her a better leader. Furthermore she indicated that the development and use of intuition is an important aspect of her leadership style and the delivery of her aggressively scientific project. She said
“A lot of the problems I encounter leading, I address intuitively. What I think it is, it’s allowing yourself, in the workplace, to also have that emotional side, not just have that technical skills. Once I accepted that I have this other side of me, I became much more calm, because I didn’t feel like I was fighting that part of me. So I guess it gets back to that – know yourself. When you’re leading, you’re in tough situations, and you want to draw on all those strengths that you have, some of those are on the emotional side. “
Pretty heady stuff coming from a rocket scientist. I like it though. I did both art and science at University in the belief that a well-rounded education required engagement of both hemispheres of the brain. Economics, accounting, statistics, chemistry, epidemiology, psychology are all science and evidence based. However I also reckoned that ideas imagination and creativity are essential elements to have as well so I did Shakespeare, political science, film studies and literature. Some days I was reading sonnets in the morning and dissecting cats in the zoo lab in the afternoon. It seemed somewhat schizophrenic at the time but now it makes total sense. Perhaps it was my intuition at play that guided me to take that particular academic path.
One of my favourite management writers is Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. I’ve been a fan since reading Power in Organisations which was a real eye opener for me. His most recent book, co-authored with fellow faculty member Robert Sutton is entitled Hard Facts, Dangerous Half Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management. It’s a catchy title to be sure, if not a tad verbose! In it Pfeffer argues that every company needs evidence based management. I can’t argue that. What Pfeffer though doesn’t factor in is intuition. He believes that evidence-based measurement is the key to business success or more correctly a way to avoid business failure. The problem here is the unyielding belief in the science that lies behind measurement. Data does not provide the total solution. While at business school in the US I led a management simulation team competing with a number of others. It was based on a racing team scenario and we analysed data to determine whether we should compete in the last race of the season with the risk of blowing an engine if we did or losing a sponsor if we didn’t. Getting knee-deep in the data we plumped under my inspiring leadership to race. I, with others, was devastated to find that it wasn’t actually about a racing team but rather the data given to the NASA team that sent the crew of the doomed space shuttle Challenger to their deaths. Sobering indeed.
The strength and flaw of science, of course, is its reliance on being exact. To publish scientific results in a peer reviewed journal you need the appropriate experimental design and results need to be repeatable. The findings need to stand up to scrutiny from the rest of the scientific community, hence where the peer reviewed journal comes in. Quite often the findings become the new understanding despite poor design, the incorrect measurement or statistical tools and inadequate sample size. At other times those who have made discoveries that fly in the face of received scientific wisdom get hammered by their colleagues in the field. A perfect example of this, which involved two Australians, was the discovery in 1982 by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren that a bacteria (helicobacter pylori) and not stress and bad diet cause ulcers. I was around at the time working in hospitals and my gastroenterological colleagues were pretty scathing of the notion. A Nobel Prize each and the rest is history. Prior to that science stated quite adamantly that in no way was a bacterium to blame.
Those of a more intuitive bent have known about the importance of the gut for centuries. In fact in the area of our stomach/intestines we are reaching something of a nexus – where art and science are beginning to converge. To put it another way, science is beginning to catch up. Latest thinking is that mental illness may well originate as a bacteria in the gut. The gut is becoming recognised as the second brain. The Scientific American no less (May 1, 2015) describes a ‘superhighway between the brain and GI system that holds great sway over humans.’ This superhighway is known as the enteric nervous system and it connects to the brain though hundreds of millions of neurons. In fact the gut is so smart it can operate independently of the brain. It needs this brain scientists think because it has to listen to the trillions of microbes contained therein. There are estimated to be ten times as many bacteria in your GI system than cells in the human body.
So when we say we get butterflies in our stomach when we feel nervous or get a gut instinct this is no longer the stuff of ‘old wives tales’ but fast becoming scientifically mainstream. The gut has a huge impact on our mood as well. Scientists estimate that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is probably the best-known brain chemical for influencing our emotions and behaviour.
Richard Branson is often quoted as saying ‘I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.’ And you can’t argue against the enduring nature of Branson’s success. There are those like Caroline Myss who believe intuition isn’t something that can or necessarily should be trained and practiced. I for one do not agree. The fixation we have had with numbers and analysis has meant that we have pushed this sense of self and intuition to the background. We respond to intuition all the time but we don’t know it. It’s a higher level function. It’s organic and we don’t think about it; a bit like our olfactory function – we don’t realise we smell something we just do. It’s a side of ourselves we have to bring forward, nurture and begin to acknowledge as a powerful tool for transformation and managing complex situations and complex personalities.
This consideration of the ‘Godstein’ (spirit and science as one) paradox is also apposite this week as we launched our 24/7 gymnasium (Build Fitness) at work. It’s just not any ordinary gym, it is about an opportunity for our staff and tenant’s staff to get fit and explore the possibility of whole-heartedness. Build Fitness has a strapline which is ‘whole-hearted- you.’ Rather than just concentrate on the factually-oriented scientific notion of fitness (though lord knows theories on what constitutes a good diet and good exercise seem to change by the month) we are gingerly treading into the areas of body, mind, spirit, heart and self. It’s long been known – since Maslow anyway that there are other elements at play that are important and to achieve self-actualisation a mere concentration on physical well-being is not going to set you there. Here’s what I wrote to explain the WHY question on our website (buildfitness.me) for those wishing to use our facility.
Physical well-being is a logical place to start. Many of us on the CTC Precinct live sedentary lives. Worse than this our out of work activities have also taken on a distinctly sedentary flavour e.g. sitting and watching Foxtel and Netflix. Our weekend of sport these days might well be watching it on telly. There is increasing evidence that sitting for prolonged periods has a very detrimental effect on long-term health outcomes. This can be ameliorated by physical activity but the use of a gym may not be that attractive when we just want to get home at the end of a busy day. At some stage in the future it is likely that employers, deemed to know of the health risks of sedentary work, will be asked to justify why claims should not be made against them for doing more to avoid premature death of their workforce or retired workforce. The issue of asbestos exposure in the workplace many years ago may well be ‘sitting exposure’ in the 2000s. Sitting as they say is ‘the new sugar’.
With a 24/7 gym available at work employers will be able to say that their employees were given the opportunity to avail themselves of facilities that are recognised as being the perfect antidote to an unhealthy work environment. At CTC we provide a collaborative leasing model and enable our tenants to feel part of a bigger whole. In the same way as the Café can be regarded as a facility that they our tenants make available to their staff so too is the gym a facility for all CTC Precinct employees. Harvard School of Public Health now believes that healthier people are happier and as a result are healthier. It is a continual feedback mechanism. Happier people will suffer fewer colds and less heart disease as a result. What better gift to give your workforce than fewer colds and less chronic heart disease!
When we think of fitness the heart is often what we think of first and it is true that Build Fitness does have a good range of cardio equipment to get the heart racing. We are also including other aids to assist in getting a good view of your heart health like charts and a blood pressure monitor. A heart rate monitor will be available in the centre for those who wish to monitor their heart during some of their exercise program.
Heart, of course, has other meanings including the centre and courage, determination or hope. Each has an applicable meaning for what we are trying to do with Build Fitness. The gym is likely to become somewhat of a hub or centre within the Precinct with those involved with it showing determination (and in my case at least) hope in improving our physical and mental well-being. Heart is lastly about love and love of self and self-image are all issues that are important with respect to physical and mental wellness.
Mental health is a very important concern for those running organisations. Under workplace health and safety legislation employers, as Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), have a statutory duty to ensure that their workplaces do not cause mental health issues. Employee Assistance 9EA) schemes are one thing but in terms of duty of care employers will be asked to demonstrate that they had a culture that encouraged both physical and mental well-being. The gym has a role to play here as well. There is a now a great body of research that says that exercise is good for mental health. Exercise has been shown in studies to improve memory of complex stimuli. Exercise is critical to handling stress; a key exacerbator of mental strain and illness. When we get stressed two potentially harmful (and in some circumstances life-saving) chemicals are produced being cortisol and adrenalin. While the rewarding chemicals that make us all feel good (e.g. dopamine that we get from exercise) have a half-life of around 3 hours adrenaline and cortisol hang around for 22 hours. We have to work much harder to get their effects out of our system. High levels of cortisol on brain function have deleterious effects long-term. Dr Wendy Suzuki who studies brain function at NYU says that high levels of cortisol in the brain accelerates the aging process and reduces memory function. The impact on the pre-frontal cortex is such that it affects our ability to plan, make decisions and engage in flexible thinking; all important skills we require in our workforce.
Long-term chronic stress affects the brain. If your staff is suffering stress there is a duty of care to know about it and to have in place a range of measures that can help the employee confront it and get it under control. The old adage of ‘suck it up’ is no longer defensible.
There is another consideration to stress in the workplace and that it is contagious. There is a belief in neuroscience that says ‘I stress, you stress, we stress.’ This sheets itself straight back to efficiency and productivity. A recent study by St Louis University found that ‘second-hand’ stress is very real and can be passed on through things like tone of voice, facial expressions, posture and even odour. Renowned healthcare researcher the Mayo Clinic advise that stress can be addressed through exercise. It is as they say ‘meditation in motion’. Spirit/Soul
This can be a problematic one because it gets confused with religion and that is not what we are talking about in terms of spirit. Here we can ascribe two meanings. Spirit is about the way in which you do things e.g. in a positive spirit. A positive spirit comes from a positive mind-frame and this is definitely made easier by being physically healthy. Spirit is also that inner feeling of peace or calmness. It is the inner yearning and quite often what makes us want to improve or transform in terms of our careers, our abundance and our relationships our lives. Renowned neuroscientist Deepak Chopra believes that soul is an important aspect in everyday life but particularly in the world of work. He believes that leadership, an attribute many of us must bring to bear in the witness of our daily work-life, requires soul.
Supporting our Build Fitness approach is an initiative we are calling Alert@Work. This will require all CTC staff undergoing mindfulness training with the aim of ensuring we can be in the moment, less distracted by the ever increasing distractions of the modern workplace e.g. open plan offices, endless emails, texts, tweets on Twitter etc. Being situationally aware which is one of the key aims of our mindfulness training arising from meditation will improve the delivery of services to our customers and make the Precinct a safer place. Increasingly large and credible organisations are looking to mindfulness to give hem that extra edge in service delivery and profitability. All CTC staff have undergone emotional intelligence (EI) training to provide deeper insights into the way we interact. Neuroscience, EI, mindfulness and different ways of looking at creativity and leadership are all now becoming the new ‘black’ in the world of management. Many of these aspects touch on spirit and soul and it is down to the individual to what extent, if at all, they wish to indulge in such matters. Build Fitness, especially through the website (http://www.buildfitness.me/) will explore some of the traditional and emerging philosophies that might create a pathway for those interested in exploring the transformational possibilities of such modalities.
Self-image is a very critical component of our mental health. Our self-worth is often linked to self- image and this can be recalibrated through seeing improvements in one’s physical appearance. It’s no surprise that we looked hard to find ‘friendly’ mirrors to help those in training feel good about the journey they are on. Self is the whole package and it is where the mind body and soul reside as one. Some say people glow when they feel good about themselves and pregnant women are a prime example of this. Others see auras around people. This is merely the physical energy given off by people who have fabulous self-esteem who are self-assured and selfless. Without doubt the focus on self is the opposite of narcissism and more about improvement. The narcissists love themselves because of their faults. The self-assured love themselves despite their faults.
Easter is a great time to celebrate re-birth and transformation, no matter your religious beliefs or lack thereof. In the Northern hemisphere it is closely associated with spring and for us in Queensland it celebrates the arrival of autumn – our most pleasant season. And ‘praise the lord’ because with climate change our temperatures and humidity this summer have been higher than ever and we’ve all had a gut-full of that!