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Human Condition & Capital

I have it on good authority that teenagers are being taught an increasing number of sophisticated concepts to cope with the perpetual challenges arising from la condition humaine. Schools seem to be full of benevolent subject-matter-experts ready to share recipes inspired by books and seminars on neuroscience’s contribution to well-being. Acronyms are used not only as a mnemonic tool, but also to imply coherence. Here is a sample which was shared with me a few days ago as I listened to members of the younger generation with some disbelief:

  • S.W.A.P. has apparently nothing to do with Severe Weather Avoidance Plan but rather relates to Self-Watch, Attention and Persistence – seriously

  • E.E.E. is not about Electrical and Electronics Engineering, mind you, but about how to drive success through Effort, Efficiency and Effectiveness

  • A.P.E. stands for Alive, Perception and Energy, an attitude towards life which is obvious to anyone who has had the chance to observe monkeys in the wilderness

  • P.2.P is not what is generally understood in our world, but a spectrum that goes from ’poor’ to ‘perfect’ and which is used to assess one’s mood or relationship with others

  • B.O.U.N.C.E. is short for Brain, Optimism, Unwind, Nutrition, Connect and Exercise – basic ingredients for happiness: just cook it!

  • H.H.H. or the 3 Hs remind teenagers of the Head, Heart and Hand model which is essential for … self‑transformation. Who doesn’t need it?

Advances in neuroscience coupled with good intentions support the creation and promotion of these approaches. Unfortunately, they run the risk of leading to some cynicism amongst students and of obscuring more powerful models. For example, teenagers may be tired of hearing about the ‘growth mindset’. And yet its idea promoted by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, deserves some undiluted attention.

As described in her book ‘Mindset’ and summarized in a Ted Talk, the study of the brain demonstrates that individuals can be split already at a young age between those who engage with failure, process mistakes, learn from them and correct them, and those who do not. Those in the former category are said to have a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset). For reasons which include their upbringing and education, they embrace the idea that abilities can be developed through perseverance and enjoy the process of learning. Unlike fixed mindset individuals who instead focus on performance, they are less concerned with gaining favorable judgments of their competence from others. Through persistence and resilience, their brain grows, which allows them to reach ever-higher level of achievements. Carol Dweck and her team have developed principles which have proven to be successful at nurturing a growth mindset in the educational and familial environment. They go far beyond acronyms.

As Diversified Industrials companies move further away from manufacturing into services and into the tech world, they will have to rely increasingly upon intellectual capital. Researchers’ preliminary findings in ‘How companies can profit from a growth mindset’ (HBR, 2014) suggest that growth-mindset firms, i.e. those which focus on progress and potential from a broad population rather than on a narrow ‘star system’, have happier employees and a more innovative culture. Indeed, employees with a growth mindset are deemed to be less likely to avoid challenges, see their performance deteriorate when faced with obstacles, cut corners, keep secrets and cheat than others. Cultivating human capital through a ‘growth mindset’ culture with a view to building competitive advantages will be an increasingly important part of the sector’s natural evolution.

For now, let us give teenagers a break and revert to basic principles. My father used to say that life is all about the ‘4 Bs’ which in French stand for eating (well), drinking (with moderation), working (diligently) and loving (with passion) – in no particular order of importance. If that is what summarizes the human condition, cheers to it!

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