Developing an interconnected mindset – The role of the individual

From an early age, an individual, growing up in the developed world, is saturated with the idea of individual (financial) success as being the pivotal achievement, to the detriment of other goals such as personal happiness and growth. A small child watches on average several hours a day of programming and advertisements which quickly defines their construct of the world. Once they start school peer pressure and traditional teaching methods reinforce the belief that the goal in life is to win as an individual, regardless of its effect on wider society.

This idea of “I win, you lose” is buttressed in the education system, in interaction with others, through media and throughout life. Individual success is important but should not be seen in isolation and as the only goal. With an excessive focus on developing logic, reason and understanding (as managed by the neo-cortex) there is less and less room for emotions (as managed by the limbic system). By the time an individual leaves school and enters the workforce this idea is cemented into their subconscious mind, creating a filter that determines all future choices.

As a consequence of this focus on individual success we often fail to do what is best for our wider eco-system in fear of giving away what we perceive as strategic advantage. This approach might result in a short term success but over the longer term the negative impact of our short term thinking can create highly undesirable outcomes. These outcomes range from wider social impacts such as climate change, income disparity and pollution to psychological and familial fragmentation at the individual level. Pursuing the idea of working together would make us all become stronger rather than just merely supporting the individual advantage.[1]

Just think of the fact that copying from a fellow student during an exam is considered “cheating” while working together in the workplace is considered “team-work”.

The first step in taking back control over one’s actions and thoughts is to become aware of the existence of this filter and how it pre-determines our choices. This realization might be insurmountable for some. In any case counteracting the impact of the filter is difficult for everyone. The difficulty stems from the fact that this filter has become an integral part of an individual’s persona. And to subvert it, the individual must step far beyond their comfort zone, rendering them vulnerable. Yet the state of vulnerability is perceived as a state of failure in society – and is therefore part of a vicious circle.

On this high speed track towards individual success we forego other pathways to satisfaction, happiness and fulfilment. We do not even perceive that these alternate pathways exist. And those who do see another path and attempt to pursue it are often considered by society as having derailed.

When an individual happens to be the leader of an organization or business their responsibility extends beyond their individual fulfilment to the people they are entrusted to lead. Kazui Inamori [2] defines the seed of his leadership philosophy as providing “happiness” to all those around him. By happiness he refers to his obligation towards his staff and their personal life fulfilment as individuals. He sees his role as a leader to support his employees’ aspirations in the context of building a holistically sound workplace. This has resulted in the successful growth of two multinational organizations.

How can we get the individual to see the alternative paths that to this point have been obscured by their internal filter? How can the individual gain the confidence needed to set off on a new path in the first place? And how can this individual ultimately help others to follow?

Given that the societal pressures are produced by none other than individuals acting collectively, what force in society would have the motivation to support the individual in their quest rather than limiting them?

While all this might seem to require society to take a quantum leap this approach really only requires that each of us take a few small steps in the same direction – steps that can be effected by everyone –  today !

Written by Carsten Sudhoff


[1] “There is an old African proverb that says if you want to go quickly go alone, if you want to go far go together. We have to go far quickly. “ Al Gore Davos 2009

[2] Kazui Inamori is a philanthropist, Japanese entrepreneur, and the founder of Kyocera Corporation and KDDI Corporation. He is the current chairman of Japan Airlines.

Comments 1

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