You’re Being Conditioned Out Of Being Human

Sir Ken Robinson: We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.

What’s the world going to look like in 50 years? Will the entire world, from continent to continent, be connected to free, unlimited wifi? Will formerly barren landscapes burst with lush, sustainably farmed crops, reducing world hunger to zero? Will there be fully green cities, running on renewable energy with carbon emissions at zero? Will there be access to healthcare for anyone who needs it, regardless of socioeconomic status, to lower mortality rates, and nearly eradicate infectious disease? Will a 94-year old Tom Brady break his own record for oldest player to win a Super Bowl MVP?

Many of you are probably thinking, “Those things are impossible,” but before you click out of this article, let me remind you that we’re in the 21st century at the dawn of the Automation Revolution, while the system in which we work and are educated is a 19th century system from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. So, yes, in our current system, those things are impossible, but that isn’t inevitable. Our system is costing us the contribution of millions of people who spend their days driving trucks, making sales, and micromanaging their subordinates, instead of exploring their creativity to discover their true potential.

Rather than lament what isn’t, it’s vital to begin from what is, which is where the work of thinkers such as Sir Ken Robinson come into play. Though Sir Ken unfortunately passed away last week, that doesn’t mean his calls for an education revolution have to pass away with him.

His work is painfully relevant today, because many of the worlds problems stem, not from inequality, systemic racism, or capitalism (though those don’t help), but from receiving an education that doesn’t allow children to explore, play, or embrace their differences. In an industrial world, people are conditioned to be compliant, to memorize facts, and to meet quotas, but human beings are at our best when allowed to explore our creativity. Because we’re taught to not question the way things have always been done, it costs us the opportunity to find ways to make things better.

Remember the embarrassment of answering a question incorrectly in front of the class? Or when you thought you had a great idea, and you were laughed at? Think about how it felt to receive a bad grade on a test or project. In the current system, failure, being wrong, and making mistakes are the worst things a person can do. This conditions the creativity out of children, and we become a world where only 15% of people are engaged at work (Gallup) — a world where over 3 million teens have experienced a depressive episode in the last year (SAMHSA). A world where only 14% of American adults say they’re very happy (University of Chicago).

By conditioning the creativity out of people, people are becoming like the robots that will be taking human jobs, and ironically, to prepare for the incoming wave of automation, people need to be creative. As Sir Ken said in his prophetic first TED Talk from 2007,

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They’ve become frightened of being wrong, and we run our companies like this — we stigmatize mistakes — and we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.

We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Most of you reading this aren’t kids (if you are, go outside and play, you psychopath), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take something away from this: it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to think outside of the box and get your ideas shot down. It’s okay to be laughed at because you think or do things differently. If we want to leave future generations a world we can be proud of, we’re going make a lot of mistakes, but with each mistake, we’ll be one step closer to a world where children are taught that it’s okay to be themselves, take risks, and make mistakes. If we don’t start taking action now, the world in 50 years won’t feel much different than the world today, and that’s not something we can be proud of.

Put The ‘Comfort’ In ‘Discomfort’

I don’t mean to brag, but my mask collection is thriving right now. Back in March, I bought a pack of 12 different colored bandanas, and I’ve been able to pair each one of them to complete so many different ensemble combinations. They’re the accessory I never knew I needed (After typing that, I now understand why people regularly ask if I’m gay).

Speaking of an abundance of something, I have about thirty minutes of new stand-up material since the pandemic began. Most of it stems from my experience getting COVID, visiting the hospital, and how others have responded to world events. Sure, I’m still working on honing it onstage in front of socially distanced audiences, and it’s not all great yet, but the more I do it, the more I’m getting comfortable with what’s funny, what connects with people, and what doesn’t.

I haven’t done an in-person speaking presentation since the second week of March, but I have given some virtual presentations. Sure, I wish I could have a live back-and-forth with the audience and really get a feel for the energy in the “room,” but I’m learning to love the live interaction I get with Zoom’s chat feature. The last few months have been spent transitioning my speaking business to a virtual level, and it seems to be picking up some steam.

Nothing is as it was, but everything can be adjusted to. My life has turned upside down (not a breach baby joke), and now that I’ve shifted to looking for opportunities to adjust and grow, I’m finding normalcy in disruption instead of pining for normalcy.

And you can too.

That’s the beauty about us human beings: we’re incredibly resilient to change. If our ecosystem drastically shifts — say a volcano erupts, a drought strikes, or a pandemic rages — we have the ability to course correct faster than any other species. With the advent of the internet and our ease of access to an infinite amount of information, when a pandemic strikes and our way of life is disrupted, there’s an abundance of opportunities to adapt if we so choose. Our way of life is shifting to one with constantly evolving technology based in algorithms far beyond our grasp, and, within the next decade, our lives will be disrupted by this on a regular basis. COVID-19 is just a sample — a test, if you will, and I’m worried because of the amount of resistance to change I’ve witnessed.

But we’ve lived lives of general complacency, which actually works against our very own DNA.

At the dawn of the agricultural revolution some 12,000 years ago, humans were hunters and gatherers, built to adapt to daily uncertainty. “Will the weather shift and bring a great storm? Will I be bitten by a snake or eaten by a tiger? Will the herd of deer we saw yesterday still be in the valley so we can eat for the next few days?” Before humans settled down in fixed locations to farm, they were much happier, much more in-tune with their bodies and the world around them, had healthier diets, fewer instances of disease, and generally lived more rewarding lives. Anthropologists hypothesize that hunter-gatherers in the world’s most inhospitable climates worked only 35–45 hours a week and didn’t have to worry about mundane household chores (How can vacuuming be mundane when there’s the threat of getting mauled by a saber-toothed tiger?). Once humans settled down to farm, they began performing the same tasks on a daily basis, falling into mind-numbing routines. In many locales, the people depended on a limited number of crops, so that their diets actually reduced their lifespans, and they were infected by diseases originating in livestock. In today’s world, we settle down in one locale for many years at a time, enjoy the same foods, interact with the same people, and work the same jobs, sometimes doing the same task ad nauseam every day for the entirety of our adult lives.

We’re meant to explore, learn new things, and deal with daily uncertainty, yet we’ve shoehorned ourselves into a society set on status quo. Because of this, we resist uncertainty, which goes against our biology, instead of embracing who we were meant to be as a species, learning and adapting. Once a volcano erupts, early humans were quick to relocate to a safer place. Today, the volcano is this pandemic, and we’re insisting on staying in the path of a slow-moving lava stream while we choke on volcanic ash and refusing to wear masks. If we want to survive and thrive in the automation era, we can’t pine for the way the world used to be. To be happy, successful, and connected as human beings — since we’re all going through this on some level — it’s time to, not only get comfortable with discomfort, but embrace it.

Also, you too can crush the bandana-mask look.

We’re All Irrational. Here’s Why (And How We Can Fix It):

Humans believe they are rational, when in reality, we act based off of our emotions and then rationalize our actions in hindsight.

Then we claim we’re rational.

We don’t like to “look bad” in front of other people, so we rationalize our behavior when we act in a way that may go against our beliefs, when we belittle another person, or when we get into trouble.

“I fell behind at work because my girlfriend is stressing me out.”

“I was speeding because everyone else was speeding. Besides, the police are preying on people to meet quotas. I’M THE REAL VICTIM HERE!”

“That audience wasn’t there to think, which is why they didn’t laugh. No wonder no one is happy at work, they’re all stuck in the old way of thinking.”

We’ve all looked back at something and thought along the lines of “It couldn’t have been me” or “Something else has to be at work here,” when really, we don’t want to admit that we’ve allowed our emotions to overtake us, and that’s why we acted how we did.

That’s okay! It’s human nature.

It has been wired into our brains since animals have had brains in the first place.

Fight or flight was vital for our survival, but now that we live in safe and abundant environments, our brains have kept this old technology and there’s a disconnect between our emotions and cognitive thought.

The rationalization of emotion-based irrational behavior does three things:

  1. Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
  2. Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
  3. Makes us see what we want to see, depending on our mood

IT MADE SENSE FOR ME TO PUNCH THAT WALL, WALK OUT OF MY JOB, AND GET IN AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT ALL WITHIN 5 MINUTES.

The key to avoid giving into the emotions that lead to doing things we regret is to take a moment and ask ourselves the question “What is objectively true?” Answer with no emotional keywords and no rationalization, just objective facts.

I had a recent presentation not go well, and at first, I rationalized why it didn’t seem to have the impact I wanted. For instance, the audience had just sat down with their lunches the moment I was getting introduced, so it was hard to connect with them since most of their focus was on their food. All of the participation bits and my jokes fell flat because of this… at least that’s what I told myself. Then I watched video of the presentation and realized that the story I was telling myself soothed my ego, was focused on evidence that confirmed my beliefs, and made me see what I wanted to see. None of this helped me other than making me feel temporarily better. However, here are the facts:

  • I gave a presentation in front of an audience of 100.
  • It was my first time giving this particular presentation.
  • I had been up until 3 AM the night before, making changes.
  • I only ran through the presentation once before actually giving it.
  • The audience didn’t laugh at my jokes or give me energy.
  • I stumbled over middle parts of my presentation, had to refer to my notes multiple times, and forgot some important points
  • The feedback I received reflected these objective facts

Allowing my emotions to dictate my perspective to make me feel better about myself made it impossible to do anything about what had happened. But looking at those objective facts showed me a clear course of action in order to continue to grow as a speaker.

With this knowledge, I gave the same presentation a month ago and have received positive feedback and inquiries about follow-up speaking gigs.

All because I chose to take a step back, admit my irrationality, and look at things as objectively as possible, I improved my long-term situation. We can use our emotions as a tool to ask ourselves “What else could be true?” and “What can I do about it?” That’s how we can bridge the gap between our lizard brain and cognitive thought.

What are the objective facts of a situation in your life that didn’t go your way? How are you rationalizing what happened? What can you do about the new facts you have in front of you?

Micromanaging? That’s SOOOOO Industrial Revolution

When I step outside in my Victorian era tailcoat, vest, and top hat, I tend to get some concerned looks, but it’s when I take a leisurely ride through the park on my comically lopsided penny-farthing that I end up on a lot of Instagram stories. Why?

I look like an idiot.

If my roommates’ parents were to take a steam-powered locomotive from San Francisco to visit Cleveland, I’d be perplexed. Doing that instead of taking a plane would be like Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor on foot… rather than just using GIANT EAGLES. Seriously – Gandalf had giant freaking eagles at his disposal. The quest to save Middle Earth from destruction could’ve been over in days!!! Why would you take such an outdated, antiquated method of transportation when there are GIANTE FREAKING EAGLES called AIRPLANES!? You could even take Amtrak, make a stop at every single goddamned town, and still be more efficient in your travel.

It doesn’t make sense to rely on 19th century practices when there are so many better ways to do things, does it? So why do many of today’s creatively stifling management practices run on 19thcentury thinking?

With the dawn of factory work, companies relied on measurement and monitoring in order to control thousands of workers. According to the book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, managers created policies that stifled employees’ natural desires to explore and try new things so that they would focus on narrow tasks. This system was crucial to production and reliability, but it hampered self-expression, the ability to experiment and learn, and withered away their connection to the final product, thus eliminating meaning and engagement from work.

Now, we live in a world that’s evolving at an unprecedented rate where thinking outside of the box, taking risks, and innovation are key qualities that employees need… but the old industrial management practices are still entrenched in most workplaces.

Employees are unable to leverage their unique skills. They’re shoehorned into a system that creates stress, fear, and encourages office politics so that there are constant missed opportunities for collaboration, breakdowns in communication, and a rampant lack of meaning.

The Industrial Revolution discovered new ways to innovate technology so that people could work more efficiently, but if factories were still relying on the same machinery from 150 years ago, they’d actually be hurting their efficiency.

Most workplaces are still relying on the same management practices from 150 years ago, yet little effort has been made to change this entrenched system. Time continues to pass and we’re heading into a new, automation revolution. IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE!

There are workplaces out there that engage their people in ways that gives them the freedom to explore, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This makes their teams much more innovative and their people much more fulfilled by their work, thus creating the production that Victorian era managers were looking for without the sacrifices to their employees’ humanity. These workplaces, however, are few and far between…

If advancing our technology allowed mankind to take such a giant leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, imagine how big of a leap mankind would take by advancing how we treat other people – you know, the ones who use and innovate the technology. Giving humans the opportunity to take advantage of the biological need to explore our creativity at work is our GIANT FREAKING EAGLE; let’s work together and USE IT!

Think About It:

Do you work better when you’re free to be creative or when you’re micromanaged and every part of your work is monitored?

Think of a time you were able to think outside of the box on a project: how did it engage you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to come up with solution ideas more quickly?

If you’re a leader, how can you communicate to your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves creatively and take risks? If you had just a little more creative freedom with your work, what would you do differently?

How can you spread this shift in workplace thinking at your job?

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Jobs: Created for Surviving, Updated for Thriving

Why do we work?
Why do we wake up and, day-in, day-out, put ourselves through a routine of boredom, stress, and putting on a nice face for other people? Even if you love your job, why do you do it?
We go through school in order to graduate college with a degree so that we may get a “good job,” but do we ever consider why?
Allow me to take you back to a time before jobs as we know them.
Human beings were pretty new on the scene and they were trying to figure things out. They wandered the wilderness, looking for food with the odds stacked against them. They were slow, uncoordinated, weak, fearful, and unnecessarily violent with one another.
Then, between 17-13,000 years ago, people began to communicate with one another, and it was within this communication that we brought to reality something that had never existed before: imaginary concepts. Not once before the dawn of humankind had any other creature come up with a conscious idea, and it was within the use of our newfound tool of imagination that people took a leap forward on the food chain. In this newfangled world, humans began communicating ideas back and forth on how to make survival easier, and in doing so, invented jobs.
Some of us weren’t so good at hunting, but could tell a mean story about the hunt and keep morale up.
Some of us couldn’t whittle a spear to save our life, but we could tell the difference between good and bad mushrooms.

(Have you ever seen a movie where the villain gives a glass of wine to a lowly servant to make sure it isn’t poisoned? I wonder if there was a group of people whose job it was to figure out which foraged foods were okay to eat…)

The idea of having a job was brand new, and people ran with it. Hunters, gatherers, builders, inventors, shamans, storytellers, and telemarketers (who knew?) soon populated communities, and they knew their role and the purpose of that role: survival and the survival of their families and communities.

Fast forward from this world of scarcity and struggle to survive to a world of abundance and on-demand TV.
We go to work to get paid so we can support ourselves and our families, so while it feels like we work to survive, we live in a world with abundant resources, so focus can be shifted from simply surviving to thriving.
How?
We live in a world dominated by an imaginary currency, imaginary companies, an imaginary internet, and imaginary beliefs on what it means to live a good life. If humans disappeared, none of these concepts would survive because we created them (hence “imaginary”). Since large-scale human cooperation was based on imagined concepts such as these, we have the power to create new concepts and ideas to transform our current jobs into tools that can be used to further the capabilities of people. All we have to do is share these concepts with the people around us, make this cause one that they can believe in, and hope that they share with the people around them too.
What if we looked at work as an opportunity to advance humankind and make the world a better place for our children?
I don’t know about you, but that’s way more exciting than working toward retirement.
No matter your job, you have an opportunity to create for others.
For example, when I started speaking, my focus was on getting more gigs so I could entertain, educate, and inspire more people, but it felt like something was missing. Now that I realize the value of being a creator, my focus has shifted to creating a better experience of reality for those I have the opportunity to serve. I want to create excitement and energy in others so that they use their position, whatever it may be, to create excitement and energy in even more people. By focusing on this, I get more excited and energized and work becomes more than just getting booked – it becomes a daily opportunity.
Added bonus: the more excited and energized we are, the better work we do.
What do you do for work now?
What product, service, or experience do you sell?
How does your product, service, or experience help other people thrive?
What would it look like if it helped even more people or helped the people it’s already helping even more?
How can you use your talents, skills, and the tools already at your disposal to make this a reality?
We have the power to share the idea that all of our jobs, no matter what they are, exist in order to further humankind, not to simply earn a paycheck and maintain the status quo.
Maintaining status quo breeds stagnation, and stagnation breeds disease.
What do you want to create in the world with your work? Stagnation or energy?
What do you want to inspire in others? Stagnation or energy?
It all starts with the story you tell yourself about your work.
We work to create opportunities for ourselves and others to thrive.
Pass on this story, because without sharing it, sure, we’ll survive, but what’s the point of just surviving when we have the power to elevate ourselves and thrive?

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.