Many human abilities are as much instinctive as thoughtful. Excellence at work requires thought rather than just responding instinctively.
You Cannot Get Away from Tens of Thousands of Years of Evolution as Tribal Beings
More and more, modern research is showing how much of our human capability to do and to interact with others utilizes ability systems that located in the pre-conscious parts of our brains. These evolved ability systems let us become the dominant species on the planet tens of thousands of years ago.
Somewhere in the past 40,000 years or so, we began to move from being tribal creatures to being societal ones. We started to live in conglomerations of individuals which were bigger than one tribe. Previously, as simple tribal members, we might have had occasional interactions with members of a few other geographically local tribes. But as societal creatures, we developed (i.e. added) the ability to be concurrent members of a number of tribe-like social collections that exist within our societies.
Life in Organizations Is Based on Our Evolutionary Journey of Life in Tribes
As societal creatures, we developed organizations that specialized in achieving at least some of the objectives of each of their members. We shaped these organizations in ways that reflected our evolution as tribal beings. Inside our organizations we use the hierarchy and insider/outsider dynamics and abilities that we evolved as part of our history as tribal creatures.
At the same time, as societal creatures, we developed shared mechanisms and processes for collaborating within and across these organizations. Many of these mechanisms are anchored in our use of shared tools. Those tools can serve physical objectives – gathering, growing, and manufacturing, or information sharing and management objectives.
Tribal Life is about the Survival of the Tribe, Societal Life is about Organizational Collaboration
Organizations traded with other organizations for the resources needed to achieve those objectives of each organization’s members. Thoughtful, structured, planned ways of interacting with individuals in these other organizations became as important a part of our human abilities as our instinctive ways of interacting with other individuals in families and in tribes.
Today, we have all these types of ability. Our gene-based evolutionary history adds new abilities to our competency repertoires. It does not replace the ones we already have with these new ones. Evolution also does not act to integrate new abilities with old ones in balanced way. As a species, we have simply added more thought-based, conscious organizational abilities to our older instinctive interpersonal familial and tribal ones. Evolution adds abilities, rather than replacing them.
The Impact of Stress
Stress is a large part of our organizational and societal life. Under stress, we tend to fall back on our instinctive abilities, even when they might not be as effective for dealing with a given situation as our thought-based abilities. Our instinctive abilities often define our business and societal interactions. Much confusion and turbulence occurs in organizations and in societies as a result.
Modern managers’s actions are part thought-based and part instinct-based,
Understanding and mitigating the results of these dynamics requires that managers in organizations consciously override their instinctive first responses with careful, thoughtful, analytically-based responses. The next generation of organizational behavior writing and business professional development curriculum needs to be much more clearly explicit about the evolutionary nature of human abilities. We need to move from theories of “emotional intelligence” to ones that more clearly reflect the additive evolution of our abilities.
We need to make sure that managers understand that they concurrently have instinctive interpersonal and thoughtful organizational abilities. We need to help them recognize that our instinctive abilities, the ones we all move to under most levels of stress, are not the best ones to use to respond to the demands of organizational and societal life.
Acceptance Leads to Hope
There is tremendous hope for us as human beings. Our evolution has given us the ability to shape our collective future through collaborative, thoughtful organizational action. But we often do not. Our evolution has also given us the capacity to interact in ways that are firmly embedded in the pre-conscious instinctive abilities that evolved when we were members of families, living in tribes.
We need to move beyond the familial and tribal in organizational and societal life in order to have a future of hope, not one of self-defeating strife.
The background to this set of 4 blog posts
I learned something important about myself on the weekend. I am less patient with myself now and much less accepting of some of the things others in my society believe about life in organizations.
I don’t expect to be seen as being any more “right” in my views now than in my earlier years. I don’t expect folks in general to agree with me any more than they did in the past – that is up to them.
But I do find that I am not prepared to engage in as much dialogue about these beliefs with those who see things differently, unless that dialogue leads to real constructive action that benefits both of us.
I have worked for a long time, and am still actively involved with clients, and my own business. Over the course of my career, I have kept up a constant involvement in academic life – as a night student, graduate student, part time lecturer and distance education participant. I have, and still do, read widely in management and workplace psychology. I have thought hard about what I was doing at work and how I was leading the folks who worked for me.
I have come to these four conclusions by reflecting on both the reading and the experience. I have quietly held them for years. They underlie all my consulting work and business writing.
The 4 conclusions
- Performance appraisal is a waste of time if you are looking for business results. ( http://the-right-talent.ca/performance-appraisal-is-a-waste-of-time/ )
- Organizations waste the dollars they spend on interpersonal skill training (e.g. programs on leading others, resolving conflict …). (http://the-right-talent.ca/most-soft-skill-training-a-waste-of-organizational-dollars/)
- Interview-based recruiting is all about “good enough” hiring, not future performance excellence on-the-job. (http://the-right-talent.ca/recruiting-and-good-enough/)
- Life in organizations is much more tribal than you think. – This Post
I will expand on each of these in separate blog post.