Series on Examining Biases and Mindsets – Group think & Confirmation Bias

Why is that perfectly rational and logical men and women, when part of a group, question their own thoughts and believe that if everyone thinks in a certain way that MUST be the way to do it. Read on to understand the unconscious bias that Group Think creates in minds of many…

Great sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, Grand Slam and the Olympics, capture the World’s attention and offer us many insights into the human spirit and mindset. The recent US Open that concluded with 20 year of Naomi Osaka beating Serena Williams, who holds 23 Grand Slam titles, in an unprecedented win, has opened doors to much speculation and controversy. While Serena’s behaviour on court and the repercussions it led to, is a whole new plane of discussion, what was disturbing, was the crowd’s behaviour. The pro-Serena crowd seemed to have grown a new-found fondness for booing. While booing every time she was given a penalty can be understood, they continued their booing well into the award ceremony. The booing was so persistent, that the young Osaka who deserved every bit of her win, actually apologised to the crowd for winning. She said she knew they expected a different outcome and was sorry for how it turned out!!! Unbelievable and just plain Sad!!

But this really can’t be the first time sport fans have behaved in less than desirable ways. Every country has its share of embarrassments for fans going berserk: torching items, destroying public property, becoming unruly and violent and much worse behaviour! The interesting part being that many individuals who are part of these mobs are likely to be very reasonable, law abiding and sensible individuals who use logic and reasoning as a precedent to most of their actions. Yet, we will find them booing when a part of them knows it is wrong, going berserk and violent, when they actually do know that it is not something they normally do and most likely don’t subscribe to such behaviour in general.

What then are the triggers?
Psychologists have studied this behaviour termed such phenomenon as mob mentality
Mob mentality is the mentality by which people adopt the behaviours and opinions of their peers. They are unable to take a stand that contests that of their peers and go with the flow
We see a more refined version of this mentality at the work place as well, commonly known as “group think” & “Confirmation Bias”.

Take for example, the American Auto Industry in general. American Auto Manufacturing Industries as a whole, for decades viewed their enormous growth, productivity and profit, as an unbeatable economic force. Over a few decades they cultivated a culture and leadership that believed that they were the undisputed leaders and that they knew exactly what car loving Americans wanted.

Despite the rising influence, innovation and appeal of the energy-saving small cars being marketed by foreign automakers like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, American manufacturers continued producing the vehicles they thought would perform best-huge fuel-inefficient SUV’s and Minivans.

As the markets shifted, the auto industry slumped. Same with Swiss Air. The money spinning airline made a series of wrong organizations changes only to wreck it’s future and empty it coffers, with the full support of all its top leaders and key stake holders.

Then one stops to wonder why no one saw it coming? Why were brightest minds in the Auto Industry and a leading airline, blind to the perils of their decisions?

Psychology Professor Irving Janis studied many such fiascos. He concluded that members of a close knit group cultivate team spirit that often supersedes the niggling voice in their head that could be telling them that they should inspect and analyse before agreement. Instead they question their own thoughts and believe that if everyone thinks in a certain way that MUST be the way to do it.

Janis documents some symptoms of group think, as quoted by Psychologists for Social Responsibility:

1. Illusion of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.

2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.

3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical / moral consequences of their decisions.

4. Stereotyped view – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.

5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.

6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous. Continue reading

Changing the ratio – Women Leadership

Is there something about sports that sets Women up for Leadership roles? An Ernst & Young survey of 821 high-level executives and found that 90% of women sampled played sports. Among women currently holding a C-level position, this number rose to 96%. Leaders who stand up and hold their heads high every time they fall, leaders who push, cheer and string their teams to success, unbroken spirits that have clear goals and victories in sight. Girls who knew they could win. Girls who would not give up.

I recently was at my son’s state level basket ball tournaments and had the pleasure of seeing some determined young boys and girls playing ball like their life depended on it. The tournament comprised of teams from various towns and districts of Karnataka, spanning the length and breadth of the state.

The most intriguing of the lot was a girl’s team, from an interior town of Karnataka. Every single girl on the team had short cropped hair and an iron will to make every move count and every ball through the hoop. Their resilience and grit showed on their faces and passions ran high. One girl suddenly had an Asthma attack and had to be carried off the field. Despite her condition, she tried her best to stay on the field insisting that she will be okay very soon. And rightly so, within 7 precious minutes of the ticking field clock, she was back to her ball handling position and ran the court like she had the wind beneath her feet, adding more fuel to the passions of her team mate. I could see in their young 13 year old faces, capable and strong leaders of tomorrow.

Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the captain of the swim team and also played university lacrosse, tennis and basketball. She is quoted as saying that she often uses her on field game strategies to run her company.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi played cricket in college. Sunoco CEO Lynn Elsenhans played on Rice University’s first women’s basketball team.

Many women leaders who have played competitive sport agree that sports has been fundamental to their success as business leaders. Research has found many reasons why playing sports can boost the odds of success in either business or in the corporate world.

Sports builds character and fitness:
Playing competitive sports keeps one mentally and physically fit. Players get used to strenuous and regimental schedules, exercise and play sessions which create positive associations with hard work and results. Sports promotes integrity and teaches one early on that hard work , sincerity and steadfastness form the basic tenets of a winner.

Sports promotes resilience:
Everyday day on the sports ground is a lesson in failures. Children in sports learn from a young age that when you fall the ONLY thing to do is get up, brush yourself off and play again. Failure and success is part of an everyday routine. This lesson takes them a long way in life. They learn resilience and that no failure is big enough to give up.

Its okay to want to win:
This by far is the biggest reason why girls need to be exposed to competitive sports early in life – because playing sports makes it okay to Want to win, okay to be competitive, okay to not compromise, okay to beat the odds, okay to defy the naysayers and plough on to success. Women leaders of today acknowledge that without this basic mindset, women succumb to societal expectations of compromising and feel uncomfortable being competitive.

Leaders of tomorrow are born on today’s play grounds and sports must be encouraged and boosted at the school level to empower our women to be significant and prominent contributors to tomorrows workforce.

Stereotyping of women in leadership

Women in leadership positions face several types of stereotyping. As a 21st century workforce striving for equality between the sexes, we must begin with awareness and sensitization to workplace mindsets, biases and dynamics that affect women in ways that are unseen and often unnoticed.

In an article, Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, was described by her staffers as “impossible to work with,” and “not approachable” This was just a few days after the paper won four Pulitzer prizes, the third highest number of Pulitzers ever received by the newspaper.

No eyebrows were raised. This is a commonplace stereotyping of women leaders. High achieving women are easily branded as “too aggressive”, just one of the many different types of stereotyping women are faced with… Although over the recent years women have scaled many rungs of the corporate and political ladder and continue to hold key leadership positions as heads of state and billion dollar companies, they are never too far away from careless and hackneyed stereo typing based on their gender that subverts their status and abilities. Most women leader have risen to their positions of power despite the stereotyping.

Gender and career experts have examined the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective subconscious.

Too Aggressive or Too Weak : While women often do well in collaborative leadership, when it comes to taking an authoritative position, women leaders are quickly labelled as too tough, too aggressive and Egoistic. Just being assertive or knowing her mind and speaking it has women leaders being perceived as to aggressive.

As a flip side to this same coin, since women leaders tend to be more compassionate and understand that getting results are a collaborative effort, they tend to strive at inclusion, and research has shown that they get easily branded as “Too Weak”. A label that affects their opportunities at moving upwards towards higher positions with the organization that may require tougher decisions.

Heartless Power Mongers: In the movie “The Devil Wear Prada”the protagonist is painted as an unsympathetic and ruthless slave driver. This character was loosely based on Vogue Magazines Editor in Chief Anna Wintrow, who is one on the most powerful personalities of the fashion world and whose personality has been exaggerated by the media (and the above film) as ruthless and power hungry. She however, does not consider herself as intimidating or powerful. In an interview, she says that she “Just keeps her head down and does her work to the best of her ability”.

Masculine: It is now well known that Margaret Thatcher made a transformation of her image, particularly in the way she dressed and her voice, in order to be heard and perceived as a distinct voice of power in a “man’s world of politics” she was groomed to make appearances only in sober monotone suits and abandon all “frills, dresses and jewelry”She only got to keep the string of pearls because she absolutely insisted on it. She was made to drink warm water with lemon so that her voice would be less strained and acquire a lower pitch when she makes her speeches so that she does not sound like a “shrill, high pitched and excited woman”.

In more recent times we can see this form of “masculine” dressing in Indira Nooyi, Head of Pepsi, where the only hint of femininity comes from single pearl drop earrings. Even powerful and smart women leaders are often forced to conform to male biases that being too feminine is a deterrent to be being perceived as strong leader.

Gender Biases and Stereotypes- A real life case study in the Silicon Valley

Most women, as they rise to positions of power, face a bastion of stereotyping, focusing only on their gender and belittling their achievements. Read on how even stalwarts like Sheryl Sandberg also faced the same.

In 2012, at the time that SAP bought out Ariba, a much read technology investor and writer on Forbes Magazine, Eric Jackson, wrote an article captioned ”Sheryl Sandberg is the Valley’s IT Girl – much like Kim Polese”. A highly opinionated article which compared Sandberg’s social prominence and “not Camera Shy” persona that leads from the frontlines, as COO of Facebook, to that of Kim Polese.

Nearly a decade before Sandberg’s book “Lean In” made waves, Polese was known as the “superstar of the internet” and the “Madonna of the tech world”. Polese, at age 35 had successfully founded an internet company called Marimba that sold for $239 million, 15 times the venture capital raised for it and had become the golden girl of the silicon valley.

Jackson, in his scathing article went on to highlight the similarities between the two women (and there were quite a few) but the main premise of the article was that Sheryl was falling into the same trap as Polese, who, he claims, neglected internal operations of the company in favour of focusing excessively on “external Stuff” such as media and outreach. Jackson somehow thought it in his place to warn Sandberg of becoming a forgotten “has-been” just like Polese (factually incorrect because Polese continues to be on several technology boards and continues to do outstanding work in the technology space).

He advised Sandberg – “If I was a friend of Sheryl Sandberg and she asked me for my advice, I’d say: you don’t want to be the next Kim Polese. Maybe you should tone down the public appearances for a while and just keep your head down at Face book. There will always be some new Fortune Magazine cover to do, or award for being the most powerful woman executive in the world to accept. Yet, you’re ultimately going to be judged for your – and yours alone – business accomplishments. So, don’t take your eye off the ball.”

This is just one of the examples of stereotyping that women face. Since this involved high profile people it became more noteworthy, but is very much on the lines of what women face at the work place all too often. Pretty face, not much more: Jackson, in the very title of the article, calls Sheryl Sandberg an “IT girl” of the Silicon valley. According to the Collins Dictionary an “IT girl” is a loose term used to to describe a young woman who is well-known because she goes to the most fashionable places and events and knows famous people. In this context, it trivializes Sandberg’s achievements as a top executive who has earned her place in the spotlight. It objectifies her and brings focus merely to her femininity, which should rightfully be irrelevant in the face of her achievements.

Being at the right place at the right time: In the same article Jackson, has a whole paragraph dedicated to why he thinks Polese did not deserve her place on the Times magazine list of 25 most influential people. He attributes it to luck. If we look at most success stories be it Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Steve jobs, we will have to attribute much of their success to being at the right place at the right time. But the point is that they were the right people as well, who had earned their spot. Yet, this tag is most vocally and casually attached to women leaders, taking away all the credit they deserve for their hard work and attributing their success to luck and at being at the right place at the right time.

Good catch: In the original article, Jackson had a line saying Sheryl Sandberg’s husband was ‘super smart to boot’. A line he soon removed due to the heightened back lash it received, as did the rest of the article. In this case, Sandberg was a Harvard graduate, worked at the World Bank and US treasury and was Google’s Vice President before Face book – a pedigree that is hard to match- and none of which had anything to do with her husband. Yet women, like Sandberg get stereotyped- making it seem like they got to their positions of success and power because of their association with powerful, smart men – again taking away from their efforts, brains and leadership attributes.

Eric Jackson has since issued an apology to both women and his readers for a sloppy inaccurate article. We hope that all the feedback he has received has given him the opportunity to reflect on his thought process.

If work place genders ratios are to changed one must change their mind set. Rethink their assumptions, notions , conscious and subconscious biases and let women do their jobs, with the spotlight on their Jobs and not on their gender.

Finding your inner Goddess – Leadership lessons for women from Athena

If you have ever had the good fortune of visiting the ancient city of Athens, Capital of Greece, you will be immediately struck by its ancient and dominating history. Athens dates back to 7000 BC it is, one those places whose present is much entwined in it glorious past, a past that follows you around no matter where you go. According to legend, the Athenian King Cecrops named the city after himself but the Greek Gods, seeing how beautiful it was, felt it deserved an immortal name. Read on to discover who the city was eventually named after…

King Cecrops decided to have a contest amongst the Gods of the Acropolis, the winner of which will lend their name to the glorious city. The two most promising and prominent Gods of that time, Poseidon and Athena, naturally were the fiercest contenders.

The contest between them was so intense that they nearly went to war with each other. However, just when they were about to attack each other, Athena had an idea for a different approach. She proposed that she and Poseidon enter into another contest, where whoever presented the city with the best gift would become the patron. King Cecrops and the people of the city would decide the winner.

Poseidon struck the Earth with his massive trident and presented the city with the gift of water. He was the God of the Sea and the gift of water, in the form of a massive foamy stream, excited the people. But they found out, a little after, that the water was sea water and quite unfit for human consumption.

After much thought and wisdom, Athena, in turn presented the city with an olive tree. Her gift was presented as a seed sown in the earth, and people had to wait to see what comes of it. The olive seed bore fruit and proved to be a wonderful and practical gift. It provided the people with sustenance, fuel, wood and a crop that was tradeable. Athena’s gift was much loved and she was proclaimed the winner.

Thus Athens got its name and Athena’s wisdom was immortalised, in the city of Athens, which to date bears the olive fruit which is much loved world over.

Athena is considered to be the Goddess of Wisdom as well as war. She was a prudent and wise battle strategist. She had creatively turned what could have been a destructive war into a gift for the people. She had ensured that the outcome of their rivalry and irrespective of who won the contest, the city and people won and benefited by default.

Athena is also considered the Goddess of strength, leadership, crafts (specially spinning and weaving) and was known for her generosity and kindness.

As women, in leadership roles much can be imbibed from these myths and legends of Athena. She embodied courage, wisdom as well as kindness and domesticity. For us women striving to balance the home and workplace, we could, like Athena, embrace our femininity and yet, fiercely lead from the front line.

In 1982, much inspired by Goddess Athena, speaker, author, and successful entrepreneur, Martha Mayhood Mertz spearheaded a leadership award program: The ATHENA Award, named for the strong, enlightened goddess. An award for individuals who excelled in their professions, gave back to their communities, and helped rise up other leaders, especially women. Mertz’s book traces the ATHENA history and illuminates 8 ATHENA principles: Live authentically, Learn constantly, Advocate fiercely, Act courageously, Foster collaboration, Build relationships, and Give back, Celebrate.

These eight distinct attributes reflect women’s contributions to leadership. While these can be applied by both genders, women demonstrate these personal traits more intuitively. These intuitive traits, when combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership – taking risks, assertiveness, hard work – could prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.

Series on Examining Gender Biases

I recently attended a Women Entrepreneur conference. There was a lady, a successful venture capitalist that was delivering the keynote address. While talking about biases at the workplace, she related a story that stayed with me for many days.

In a previous job with a Fortune 500 company, the HR team conducted an experiment. They sent 2 CV’s for the same job description for a fitment check. The interesting part of the experiment was that the CV actually belonged to the same person…the name on one CV was male and on the other was female. The fitment results for the CV which had the male name was much higher than the CV that had the female name.

The audience that these CV’s had been floated to did not think they had a gender bias. It was an eye opener for them too. This set me thinking and I thought we should dedicate our next series on LinkedIn to gender empowerment and gender biases.

Trust you will enjoy this series….it was fascinating for us to put it together.

Push Vs Pull- Steering the ship of Learning – Part 2

In the first part of this series we tried to make sense of push learning and ways in which it impacts learning. In this second part let us hash out Pull learning.

In this learning approach, companies provide a host of online learning, MOOC’s and LMS based trainings where the onus lies with the employee to up skill himself. It is a more decentralized bottom- up approach, where access to information is easy and almost instant.

Several organizations profess that this is the new age and cost efficient methodology of learning. Here, organizations strive to provide content to employees in the most easy to use and learner centric ways and employees can, at will, opt-in for such programs. Diverse yet relevant information is available as are the tools to assimilate them. It also goes a step further and allows employees to test themselves and evaluate learning. Organizations drive learning through these digital platforms and strive to create traction towards these learning methodologies.

In today’s age, knowledge is no longer at a premium. Unlike the pre-internet era, one no longer needs a trainer/teacher/guru or mentor to learn first hand from. All you need is a device. But the question remains, despite all the knowledge available why is there a deep lacuna in both skills and behaviours that are required of each contributing individual?

Investments in digital learning platforms and e-learning do not ensure that learning happens within the organization.

Much like the new age schooling system which is child centric and one where the child learns at his/ her own pace, the question to be asked is, how prepared and equipped are they to face the harsh realities of the competitive world? Similarly, in the corporate world, how well can they surf the fast paced technology tide? Is every employee attuned to the changing landscape and aware of specifically what skills he needs not just to surf the tide but to stand out amidst the several thousand surfers?

While his organization may be agile enough to embrace new business models and technologies, how deep are the ravines separating his current knowledge( and skills) and the desired knowledge( and skills) ? How long is the bridge over these ravines and how long would it take him to cross it?

Push Vs Pull – Who calls the shots?

Given that neither of the two approaches to learning are bereft of pitfalls, we have come to believe that organizations must have a multi-pronged and layered approach to learning. Learning and development teams shoulder the responsibility of creating a learning strategy which is in line with their organizational goals. They bring to this task a deep understanding of the capabilities and skills that an organization needs to successfully execute their business plans and achieve their performance goals. They must put their employees in the forefront and make them active drivers of the learning experience. They need to become facilitators of learning and curators of content, deciding which skill and behaviours must be pushed onto the employees but strive to establish processes to get employee buy in’s to learning, thus moving it into the realm of pull learning. This is further fortified by embracing leader-led training and subject-matter authored content and creating a culture of social and collaborative learning into every program.

L & D Teams are required to captain the ship of learning – Keep an eye on the compass and make sure that the organization and its workforce are headed in the right direction. They also ensure that the rudder are constantly churning the minds of it employees, fuelling their career goals, leaving no room for complacency and steering them towards their own growth and development and, in turn, that of the organization.

Push Vs Pull- Steering the ship of Learning (Part 1)

Organizations mostly embrace learning in either a push or a pull style of learning. In this first part in the 2 part series on learning, let us look at the up side and the flip side of Push learning.

As an organization providing customized learning solutions, we have, for nearly two decades now been closely involved with the learning and development lifecycles of several organizations. Our diverse and custom offerings have enabled us to work across various industries ranging from manufacturing, finance, IT/ITES, retail and many more. This allows us to sit at a vantage point and observe the learning culture, methodologies and gain deep insights into how learning works or does not work within organizations.

Some insights on the Push Learning methodology: Here companies have long and detailed annual training calendars and employees must attend trainings – mandatorily if nominated or a more subtle version where attendance is strung to appraisals and overall performance.

Much like our schooling system there is a precedent on what aspects we are required to learn and how these learning goals may be achieved. Organizations, we find are willing to spend several dollars and man days to fulfil these training needs which, most probably, have been defined by their internal learning and development teams and have chalked out training calendars. Based on these TNA’s and calendars they are keen on pushing employees to up skill themselves.

Much like in our traditional schooling systems, learning is most definitely achieved, albeit in varying degrees and not without chagrin, but many things will be learnt.

This push system has other benefits as well, there is, often times, a clear direction in which organizations are looking to steer their employees in and this can be driven by tailoring learning initiatives to meet larger organizational development goals.

This system also ensures that those lacking the motivation to self regulate and upskill themselves receive the boost to move in the direction of learning. Wisest of organizations have learnt that no matter how much you tweak your hiring process and no matter how enterprising your workforce may be it is prudent to assume that not all employees are motivated to constantly learn and often require an external boost to do so.

The obvious down side to this system lies in the basic wiring of our brain, which pushes back anything that is forced upon us. A natural inclination towards self directed movement and resistance towards mandates. People are more motivated to learn if they feel the need to do so, if they have internalized the need for certain learning and if they have actively initiated a learning process. Retention is, as we know, is often directly proportionate to our intention to learn.

So while organizations may be spending the time, effort, money and other resources on employee development, not every employee is receptive to the desired outcomes or the efforts.

Curiositica – the insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous learning

Culturally most of us are discouraged from being curious. We have been reprimanded by our teachers for asking too many questions, told to stay within our boundaries of thought and means . We have been told time and again that “Curiosity killed the cat” a term that is now part of our subconscious, warning us of the dangers of being too curious.

“Nosy Parker” – a commonly term we have all used at some point to brand that one pesky neighbour or friend or relative who wants to know everything about everything. Those whose curiosity is insatiable and feel the need to dig deeper and ask more and more annoying questions.

The conditioning of our minds to “not be too curious” goes back to the times of Adam and Eve. In the myth of creation, God created these first humans in the Forest of Eden and they had the bounties of the earth given to them to enjoy. They were created as beings who were innocent and unaware and unembarrassed by their nakedness. God had for them just one restriction – to not eat the fruit of the apple tree- the tree of consciousness and knowledge. All was well until dear Eve could not control her curiosity. Why was the apple forbidden? What was that knowledge that God wanted to keep them away from? Why must the apple not to be eaten, after all it looked plump and juicy!

Curiosity coupled with temptation, temptation arising from curiosity, made the forbidden fruit irresistible. Eventually, with a little prodding and deception by a serpent, Eve ate the apple. Carried away and excited by its wonderful taste she also convinced Adam to take a bite. Thus they committed their first sin and were banished by an enraged God, away from the Garden of Eden.

A story we have heard in several forms and let the morals seep deep into our psyches. Always stay within the rules and fight your natural instincts to ask why. Don’t ask why not? Don’t ask what else? Don’t let the lure of what lies beyond get you! Because if you do the consequences will be dire!

As per the myth, having eaten the apple, Adam and Eve did face dire consequences but it was also the birth of human consciousness and knowledge. The genesis of the human mind and thought. The apple gave Adam and Eve the consciousness of mind. It gave them knowledge and awareness of their surroundings and their own abilities. A knowledge that would have completely eluded them (and all of mankind – if the myth is to be believed) if they had played by the rules.

We humans as a species are curious. We have always wanted to know more, to push the boundaries and ask those unwarranted questions! That is what defines us! What happens when we rub two stones together (Bravo! We got Fire!!) Why does the apple fall from the tree? And How? (Eureka! We figured out gravity!) and we have not stopped since! We are constantly inventing and discovering and creating new things. To keep asking how, when, why not, what else, how else and what if is really what we were born to do!

The Renaissance movement that began in the 14th century was marked by remarkable progress in art, science and pretty much all walks of life, which was brought about by common people asking not so common questions and taking the not trodden paths of thinking differently, exploring new ideas and thoughts. Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the greatest thinkers and artists of this time. His curiosity to learn, examine and question led him to mastery in more than one discipline. Be it art or science, warfare or architecture, he always wanted to know more. He asked if birds can fly why can’t I? He asked if a building has to stand up straight and not collapse in a heap of rubble what must be its proportions? If Mona Lisa stood by the window in the morning light would her face shine as much or lesser than if she stood in broad sun light? Just everyday questions…but in pursuit of these answers unexpected results were gained. Micheal Gelb, studied the works and mind of Da Vinci and has given us 7 principles to be an everyday genius, like Da Vinci. The first of this 7 is Curiositica – a insatiable thirst and quest for knowledge and continuous learning.

Your curiosity and the consequent ability to act on it, will define if you are a learner or not. Are you someone who constantly wants to know more, be a better version of yourself, find solutions to problems, understand why someone acts the way they do, explore scenarios and outcomes, find new ways of doing old things? If you are, you are on the right path. You are on the path that will set you up for a daily dose of vigour and adventure. You are likely to be able to not get bogged down by challenging situations, because your mind has been sharpened to think in several dimensions and you are more likely than not to find creative solutions. But most of all, you may have found the recipe to fight boredom since your curious mind will always keep you excited and striving for more.

Now if you are not all of the above, you may slowing be purring and slinking into the back isles of the fast paced theatre of life and while you lie there, tail between your paws you will realise that it actually was not curiosity that killed the cat, it was ignorance. Curiosity was framed!

Ubuntu – I am because we are

“Ubuntu” is a beautiful Zulu word that stands for inter-connectedness. Ubuntu essential means ‘humanity’ but has gone on to have a more widespread meaning emphasizing on spreading kindness to connect people. It is the understanding that we cannot exist in isolation and so Ubuntu is more commonly interpreted as ‘I am because we are’. It means that we are all a sum total not just of our own experiences but because we are social creatures, we are a collective summary of our own as well as the shared experiences of our society.

The Disney movie lion king opens with the mesmerizing song ‘Circle of life’ with its first few lines sung in Zulu. The powerful vocals and African drum heralding the new born lion cub! The circle of life – we go back to where we come from, and within and around this circle we encounter love, despair, success, failure, happiness, sadness, unexpected pathways and obstacles and back we come to where we began.- in one big circle – the circle of our lives. Also, not so surprisingly, each of our circles are interconnected – crossing paths and intersecting at workplaces, homes, subway stations, online and god knows where else!!

Desmond Tutu beautifully said “A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human”. Desmond Tutu was the main modern proponent of Ubuntu. In his book ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’ he describes a person with Ubuntu as ‘open and available to others, affirming of others’.

Ubuntu promotes the following:

– Interconnectedness of everyone to each other and to their surroundings

– No one exists in isolation. We are all part of a larger circle, a large system that effects us and that we are affected by

– It is every person’s duty to share and contribute to the system/ community/society

– Promote fairness and brotherhood. Spread love, integrity and acceptance

Africa’s, Ubuntu philosophy pervades almost all parts of the African continent. It is integrated into all aspects of day-to-day life and is a concept shared by all almost tribes.

In the 1990’s this concept was taken over in South Africa as a guiding ideal for the transition from apartheid to majority rule. Nelson Mandela re-emphasised this innately African philosophy of Ubuntu, to urge people to seek freedom from Apartheid. He said that it is each individual’s duty to support his fellowmen. While each of us must personally grow and enrich our lives we must also enrich the community we live in. We must never forget that we are part of a larger community and with the enrichment and prosperity of the community we will grow as well. This circle, this Ubuntu gives the community and inturn the individual, the power to move mountains.

Several political and private organizations In Africa continue to use Ubuntu as the guiding light for the work they do. Wolmarans (1995:4) reports that South African Airways (SAA) adopted an Ubuntu management system in 1994. Since then, the African Ubuntu philosophy has been a driving force in the company. The secret behind its success has been the publicly stated core values of South African Airways – these include corporate performance, customer orientation, employee care, corporate citizenship, integrity, safety, innovation and teamwork, which are all embodied in the Ubuntu management philosophy. Improved results demonstrate that culture and leadership style plays pivotal roles towards the achievement of a set goals and strategies of an organisation.

As recently as last month, news channels world over aired headlines stating ‘SAA air hostess personified Ubuntu when she tied crying baby to her back’ – a brief article on how an South African Airline hostess Mavis Xotongo came to the rescue of a passenger Kate Whalley – Hands who struggled to put her baby to sleep during a 15 hour flight from New York to South Africa. The 20-month-old baby was restless and crying and unable to sleep.

That was until Xotongo offered to assist and tied the toddler to her back. Kate was able to finish her meal and Xotongo soon handed over a fast asleep baby to the clearly exhausted mother. Kate Whalley-Hands, took to Facebook to proudly share this South African story.

Xotongo had displayed everything Ubuntu stands for – service to one other, empathy, understanding, helpfulness and a sense of duty towards each other. These practices of the Ubuntu philosophy with regard to humanity, care, sharing, teamwork spirit, compassion, dignity, consensus decision-making systems and respect for the environment are all positive elements that could make a contribution towards the improvement of performance of any corporate body or organization.

Values such as solidarity, compassion, generosity, mutuality and commitment to community has found resonance well beyond Africa’s borders. Corporates in Africa and many other continents are adopting the principles of Ubuntu, as they recognize that in this cohesion both individuals and organizations can thrive.