To re-imagine the future of work we have to connect with nature and something that is already innate in us; the power to organise ourselves. As we begin to truly value our differences, respect and inform one another, we see demonstrations there are more human ways of organising to get work done. We’re witnessing a growing awareness as to how we change the way we organise for the better. We’re at a time now where this shift matters given the noticeable decline in wellbeing and productivity in our workplaces.

A signpost to the future

The scientific concept of emergence might provide us with a vision and a signpost to the future. An example of emergence in nature is a phenomenon you might see when watching a flock of birds fly in unison or a shoal of fish move in synchrony. They appear to move as one larger organism. Whilst we might think there is one leader that others are following, it’s actually a bottom-up phenomenon. All the organisms are leading and behaving in harmony. They appear to be operating from one mind.

Now imagine a world of work where everyone can lead… with opportunities to apply their strengths as needed at different times and in different ways. Imagine a future closer to the concept of emergence, where everyone has autonomy and are moving with unity.

Before we contemplate that further we first have to understand what within us is getting in the way.

What’s getting in the way?

It’s difficult for any of us to see a new future when we’re trapped by the emotions and feelings that accompany our existing reality. For many people this reality is stress, job insecurity, frustration with peers or colleagues, worry about money and anger over organisational change. What we’re witnessing are people living in a state of survival, which essentially means they’re living in a state of stress. This state makes it very difficult for them to imagine a new future.

When in survival mode, our primitive fight or flight nervous system is switched on, causing us to react as if we are being chased by a predator. Our pupils dilate so we can see better. Our heart rate increases so we can run, fight or hide. Blood is sent to our arms and legs. The nervous system produces adrenaline, and circulation moves out of our rational brain and is instead relayed to our primitive brain. This all means we have less capacity to think creatively. We rely solely on our instincts to keep us safe. This is not a time to learn and create, it’s a time to run and fight.

Our stress response

Now of course we aren’t being chased by predators in the office or on the production floor! However, the same biological response is being turned on each time we’re triggered by something in our environment. This biological response is only designed for short term stress. When we turn on this defence response and can’t turn it off, we experience long term anxiety. Interestingly, once we become accustomed to these stress chemicals and the negative feelings they create, it becomes our norm. Without realising it, we become addicted to these feelings; they make us feel alive. It’s why psychology estimates that 70% of our thoughts are fear based. We prioritise and react from survival, whether that’s running from a predator or feeling the urge to protect our jobs, social reputation and the status quo. I’d like to state here that we are perfectly designed. However, there’s a catch to being in survival for longer than we were designed to be – we become addicted to it.

The chemicals of stress create a range of emotions within us. These can vary from anger, shame, frustration, judgement, guilt, powerlessness and insecurity. In not knowing what to do with these persistent feelings we subconsciously begin to associate them with all the problems and conditions in our environment. We blame the poor work conditions, difficult colleagues or customers, a lack of pay and benefits, or the changes being made in the organisation.

Self preservation

Remember, the chemicals of stress were designed for self-preservation so there’s no wonder we become self-involved and self-serving. We begin to blame others and our circumstances for the feelings we’re experiencing. What I want to convey here is that this is a normal biological response. It’s our bodies way of returning us back to some level of order. However, our lack of awareness about how our brains and bodies are designed lead us into unhelpful and dysfunctional behaviours. This is why developing self-awareness and emotional intelligence in organisations is so important to the evolution of work. There’s a need for us all to improve our ability to own our unhelpful behaviours and learn to self-regulate. This doesn’t mean suppressing our feelings, it’s more about developing our ability to feel whatever comes up whilst making the choice to allow the best version of ourselves to remain in the driving seat.

Our emerging future

To bring about a new future we must take the time to understand our human nature whilst learning to connect with the way we feel. In doing so I believe we’ll demonstrate to ourselves and each other, that there’s a more human way of organising.  A shift to a more emergent way of being requires a bottom up and top-down approach. In this blog we’ve explored what’s needed from a bottom-up, individual perspective. In our next blog we’ll explore what’s required from the top down. We’ll look at how a shift in leadership style can support people to move out of their existing reality and inspire them towards the future of work.