Can Insight into the Human Condition Help Us With Leadership, Employee Engagement, and Customer Experience?


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It occurs to me that “outside in” is being approached with an “inside-out” way of being in the world. And the people that are doing this are blind to it. What do I mean by that? It is best to illustrate it through behaviour. As such I urge you to read this post by Wim Rampen that points at the gulf between customer-centric rhetoric and company centred behaviour.

Why is it that so many are doing “outside-in” through an “inside-out” lens. And are blind to it? Why is it that so many talk about employee engagement and collaboration and yet there is so little of it? Why is it that we talk about social and yet social media used by business folks is anything but social? Why is it that we talk about service and yet so little service is experienced? How is it that there is so much talk about relationship yet authentic relationship is so rare?

To get at the root, I say one needs to get present to the human condition. It is the most obvious reality and yet the hardest for us to see, and be truthful about – to ourselves, and to others. Here, I call on the wisdom of David Foster Wallace. A man who understood existence in a way that so few of us do and shared his profound insight in the following talk which is 23 minutes long.

Here are some nuggets from the speech:

1. “The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about..”

2. “The exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience.”

3. “Plus there is the matter of arrogance…. Blind certainty – a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up…”

4. “To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties because a huge percentage of stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, as it turns out, totally wrong and deluded…”

5. “Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence…….It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.”

6. “….it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.”

7. ““Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

8. “… How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.”

9. “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration…”

10. “But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us….”

11. “….. I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations.”

12. “Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.”

13. “But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer…”

14. “The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.….You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…..Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

15. “If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.”

16. “Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.”

17. “Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

18.”On one level we all know this stuff already…… The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.”

19. “The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

20. “The really important kind of freedom is involves attention and awareness, and discipline, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them in a myriad petty little unsexy ways every day.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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