Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves. – Gabriel García Márquez
A useful skill to develop is the ability to use models from one field to inform work in another.
Or, on the other hand, to see the similarities in models with different names but common characteristics.
For example, you are probably aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model, where after you’ve figured out the basic needs for life, you can get on with the job of being what you must be.
I was browsing through a book by April O’Connell called Choice and change: The psychology of adjustment, growth and creativity, when I came across a bit on self-actualisation – the thing that used to be at the apex of Maslow’s pyramid.
In a nutshell, there are four psychological processes, O’Connell argues, that you need to master if you’re going to be what you must be.
The first has to do with what is in your head – how you go about inquiring, learning and discovering day after day.
We’re so busy these days being stimulated by media and overwhelmed by work that we rarely have time to learn – after we finish formal schooling anyway.
Most people know that learning should be a lifelong thing – but do you think that you’re learning and developing doing what you’re doing now?
The next process has to do with your emotional development – whether you are able to go past the basic feelings of fear and joy and experience more complex ones like empathy, compassion and kindness.
It appears that the older we get the more some of us close ourselves off to such experiences – maybe we see it as childish or unnecessary.
But it’s important to develop that ability, if only because we need to be open to new feelings in order to avoid closing ourselves off – getting stuck in rigid thinking and authoritarian ways until, eventually, the world moves on and we are made obsolete.
The third process has to do with our ability to direct what we do – to have some control over what we spend our time doing.
We are often never completely in control – but the more control we have the more likely it is that we will steer ourselves in a direction that works for us.
This process has to do with taking responsibility and taking action – not waiting for others to tell us what to do, give us what we deserve or push us in the direction we ought to be going.
The last process has to do with understanding and accepting that we live in a world with other people and that means we need to think about more than just what we can take for ourselves.
It has to do with the relationship we have with others and our environment – and what we do to live better together.
I thought it was worth thinking about this four part model for two reasons.
First, it is very simple and you can figure out pretty quickly how much of your time you’re spending developing yourself in each area.
I’d say I work on two of the four most of the time, and perhaps spend a tenth of my time on a third.
Self assessment: could do better.
The other is that this simple model of a self-actualised person has echoes of a systems thinking approach called the viable systems model, although the latter is expressed using language that is so much harder.
But why might it be useful to compare the two?
Well, if you’re trying to build any kind of system – a business, for example, what is it you need to do to make the business viable?
Well, you need to constantly learn how to do your business better.
You need to have empathy with your customer – understand what they need you to do.
You need to execute effectively – directing your resources to get things done.
And you need to have good relationships with suppliers and partners to support and grow your business.
The four characteristics of well-developed people seem to map well onto well-developed businesses.
And they seem worth trying to develop.