What can vulnerability teach us about the future of work? – Special Guest Writer: Monica Parker

(Article Published on Thornburg Pediatrics Blog with the generous permission of Monica Parker)

 

Alongside technological advances, our society is changing rapidly. What do those changes mean for the future of work? Hatch Analytics founder Monica Parker has some idea.

Fun fact: we’re only born afraid of two things – loud noises and falling. Sort of strange, when you think of it. But, in truth, our brains at birth are something of a tabula rasa. A blank slate. Some scientists posit that we aren’t even born knowing how to love, that circuitry only being triggered in our limbic system by our mother’s first caress. But, from those first crying breaths, we know our brains begin to learn. And much of what we learn is what to fear.

Fast forward to adulthood and we fear so much. Deepest set among those fears is the fear of change.

When futurists pull out their crystal ball and talk about the future of work, I find much of the discussion to be doom and gloom. ‘Our world is becoming increasingly chaotic’, they say. It’s more volatile. Uncertainty reigns supreme. In fact, we can never really ‘know’ anything, as increasing ambiguity gives life to everything from fake news to alternative facts. These elements have become known as the VUCA world – a world that is more volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous.

It was the US Army War College that coined the term, and management consultancies were fast to pick it up. Why the US Army may prefer a fear-based worldview is perhaps best left to a whiskey-fuelled debate, but I imagine it’s not a stretch to see why management consultancies are also all too happy to perpetuate it. (No doubt an excellent rationale for needing their services.)

With the development of this innocuous acronym, and folks all too willing to socialize it, we’re all meant to feel less safe and more overwhelmed by change spiraling out of our control.

Much of the artificial intelligence (AI) and automation debate seems to play into this VUCA mindset. Google headlines about AI and you’ll see the likes of Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steven Hawking warning us of the impending AI apocalypse.  My response? Don’t believe the hype.

For starters, I think it’s an inherently negative world view, but also, I just don’t think it’s accurate. Don’t get me wrong – there is no doubt the pace of change is greater, maybe even unprecedented, but the assumption that it will lead to the end of days seems unfounded.

Technology and automation have been drivers for change for centuries. The language being used today to describe the future of automation and AI is strikingly similar to that used 100 years ago. (Socrates even objected to the new-fangled invention of his time – writing – claiming it would damage memory and fail to impart information with sufficient depth.)

In fact, 85pc of the jobs held in 1900 no longer existed in 2000. And this trend will certainly continue. 65pc of kindergarten-aged kids will work in jobs that haven’t been invented yet, and a kid that age will have 16 jobs in nine industries over the course of their life. In the OECD, 70pc of young people will enter the labour market in jobs that will be lost to automation in the next 10 to 15 years.

When I hear stats like these, I can’t help but think ‘skills gap’. But if the jobs haven’t been invented yet, what skills do we train them for?

Some would say coding. But do they need to code? I don’t think so. I’ll date myself by saying I did not understand how to program my VCR 10 years ago, and now my TV does it for me. They say computers will be coding themselves in a decade. What I believe is that it’s not the technical skills we need to be preparing people for. Rather, it’s the very skills that make us more human.

The skill we most need? Change management. And I’m not talking about that burning platform, quick wins, top-down rubbish. I’m talking about change management that helps us withstand the sort of big, fat, hairy existential change that transforms people, planets, systems. Because, just in the same way ‘business as usual’ working models aren’t sufficient to face a world of rapid transformation, neither will the old models of change.

So, I have a different, more positive VUCA world I want us to live in. My VUCA is one where we cultivate the change management skills of vulnerability, unlearning, curiosity and awe.

Vulnerability

If kids are going to have 16 jobs in nine industries – some of those job changes coming involuntarily – they’re going to need to be resilient. Now, the word resiliency has a few different connotations, several of which mean tough or impenetrable. But, if you’ve seen Brené Brown’s TED talk, you know that the single biggest contributing factor towards resiliency is vulnerability. Regrettably, vulnerability is not a quality particularly honoured in the corporate world. And certainly not in the male world, where suicide is the biggest killer of young men under the age of 35. Cultivating a culture of vulnerability will help us manage intense change.

Unlearning

This one might sound odd, but even Yoda said ‘you must unlearn what you have learned’. So what did he mean by that? He means that some of the knowledge you ‘know’ to be true may not be true, and could be blocking your vision to new thinking. Galileo helped us unlearn that the world was flat. What other flat-earth ‘truths’ might be obstructing our ability to change our perspective?

Curiosity

Did you know that curiosity actually changes the chemistry of your brain? In a 2014 study from UC Davis, when participants were shown questions that interested them, parts of their brains associated with dopamine release became active. But what’s really interesting is that when people were shown the answers, their hippocampus was triggered, which allowed for the information to be embedded in long-term memory. This means that cultivating a sense of curiosity will help us process and embed greater amounts of information more quickly. Look no further than to Leonardo da Vinci, so convinced with the curiosity and dream of flight that he talked of tasting it. Curiosity unlocks not just adaptability and learning, but hope.

Awe

Scientists at UC Berkeley say that awe is the most profoundly beneficial emotion from a physical and psychological sense. People who regularly experience awe have greater humility, curiosity, innovation, happiness and desire to contribute to the world. And yet, from Hatch Analytics research, we know that 71pc of people don’t even take time out of their workday for fear of being seen as skiving. If people can’t take time from their workday to even think, how can they ever cultivate a goosebump-inducing sense of awe?

Look, I’m not as clever as Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Steven Hawking, so I’ll choose to selectively follow them. While Hawking did say he believed AI could be the end of humanity, he also said that AI is a magnifier. And that, as a tool created by humans to solve human problems, AI could act as a magnifier to all good human intention.

I love that image.

Rather than give in to the very old-fashioned notion of an apocalyptic technology scenario, let’s imagine a world where a quality such as vulnerability is revered and cultivated. A world where our sacred cows can be slayed in the name of adaptive thinking. A world where the altar to the cult of overwork crumbles under the weight of curiosity and awe. A world where we trade our fear of falling with our dream of flying.

That’s my future of work, and I’m sticking with it.

Reactive vs Reflective: Tots and Tantrums

Kids from 18 months to 4 years old are hardwired to have tantrums.  Their prefrontal cortex is a gray mushy mess that is still developing and that is important because it is the logical, rational, and behavioral control part of the brain.  Just like mom and dad, or more so, the more they use this part of the brain the more it will develop.  At this point in their young lives, they are learning first and foremost by imitating mom and dad.  Children and young babies respond to mom and dad’s actions more than their instruction.  Make no mistake they are taking every little thing in.  So, if mom and dad get frustrated, disappointed, anxious when life goes awry the child is going to internalize these responses.  When our worlds start falling apart (flight gets delayed, child bit someone in the playground again, someone jumped in front of you and took more than their share of samples at Costco) it’s time to activate our prefrontal cortex through raising our self-awareness by acknowledging and accepting our emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and sensations in a practice what we like to call mindfulness.  This process of self-reflection can promote calmness which is a worthy response for our children to learn and adapt. 

We have a choice in stressful situations to be reflective, or reactive.  Reactive is the unmediated response to stimuli.  Reactive stems from the limbic system.  The limbic system is the more primal part of our brain that evolved many thousands of years ago wired to react to pain and pleasure, initiate fight or flight, control anger, induce fear, promote violent or aggressive behavior.  These strong primal instincts permit lifesaving reactions free of the constraints of rational thought.  This is sometimes called our lizard, or reptilian brain because a similar system is found on a T-Rex and her kin. Interestingly, when the limbic system is activated it can block the other control centers of our brain to directly control our behavior.  To review, our children have a lot of limbic activity and limited but growing prefrontal cortex activity.

A couple great tips for becoming more mindful and less T-Rex are to understand that activating the prefrontal cortex has an inhibiting effect on the limbic system.  Therefore, by using self-reflection to scan your emotions and acknowledge them not only are you exercising your prefrontal cortex, but you are diminishing the limbic response.  Additionally, the old idea of counting to 10 when you are angry begins by acknowledging your emotional state plus activates the logic center of the brain to further inhibit the limbic system.  Try to practice mindfulness and be the calm that we all desire in the world.  

A picture of actor, Justin Baldoni, recently went viral when his daughter had an outburst at a Wholefoods.  Justin and his father calmly waited for the meltdown to subside while his wife captured the moment.  Clearly, the young tot was having a limbic reaction to some painful event, and Justin handled it expertly.  See his description of the event below.  

“I tried to stay off social media yesterday to connect with my family without distraction so I’m posting this today. Emily took this in Whole Foods. It’s now one of my favorite photos ever of me and my dad.

Two men, standing together in silence, forever bonded by an unconditional love for both each other and this brand new, raw and pure soul who we would both go to the ends of the earth for. I can only imagine how many times I did this when I was her age. My dad taught me so much about what it means to be a man, but this post is about one thing and one thing only. Being comfortable in the uncomfortable. Something I grew up watching him do with me over and over again. There are no perfect parents, but one thing my dad taught me is to not parent based on what anyone else thinks. My dad always let me feel what I needed to feel, even if it was in public and embarrassing. I don’t remember him ever saying ‘You’re embarrassing me!’ or ‘Dont cry!’ It wasn’t until recently that I realized how paramount that was for my own emotional development. Our children are learning and processing so much information and they don’t know what to do with all of these new feelings that come up. I try to remember to make sure my daughter knows it’s OK that she feels deeply. It’s not embarrassing to me when she throw tantrums in the grocery store, or screams on a plane. I’m her dad…not yours. Let’s not be embarrassed for our children. It doesn’t reflect on you. In fact.. we should probably be a little more kind and patient with ourselves too. If we got out everything we were feeling and allowed ourselves to throw tantrums and cry when we felt the need to then maybe we’d could also let ourselves feel more joy and happiness. And that is something this world could definitely use a little more of. #fathersday #redifinemasculinity #daddy #dearmaiya”

Kids Earn $62.5 Billion for US in Twenty-Five Minutes

They say that a penny saved is a penny earned.  That’s exactly what children aged 8-11 could be doing for society if we permit them to play for 25 minutes a day, three days a week.  We could save $62.5 billion by averting health care expenditures and loss of productivity related to obesity according to research published by Bruce Lee on May 1st in Health Affairs.   Bruce Lee and his team from John Hopkins University Bloomberg School and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center at Carnegie Mellon University fed data into supercomputers with computational models to look at what would happen to obesity rates as we adjust time playing for children 8-11 years old.

The crux of this study is that even a modest increase in play would yield big bottom line results.  The national average shows us that 32% of children currently get 25 minutes of exercise a day for three days a week.  That leaves plenty of room for improvement.  If we invest today in programs that encourage physical activity we’ll have big pay-offs in the future.  We need to begin planting the seeds early because studies have shown that a high BMI at 18 will lead people to have high BMI throughout adulthood.  High BMI is associated with higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, stroke, gallbladder disease, depression, and anxiety.  All of these health issues not only decrease the quality of life but inflate health care expenditures and affect productivity through absence at work.

While the study is built around many broad assumptions it still raises some important issues, like the importance of physical activity in children.  Furthermore, the billions in savings do not even begin to quantify the less tangible benefits of feeling good and happy, which will pay further dividends to society.  Still we hope studies like this will guide our decision makers and influencers to help encourage activities, programs, and resources that spur more play and physical activity in children.

Try These Eight Safe, Natural and Effective ADHD Treatments

Prevailing ADHD therapy is not suitable for all children.  If you are looking for natural, safe, and effective alternatives to treat (beat) ADHD, then try these 8 natural supplements readily available in most places supplements are sold.  Turning to a powerful nootropic like Ritalin is not my first choice for treating ADHD because these stimulants can have adverse effects on our children’s reward system that can have lasting effects.

Zinc

Zinc is an important cofactor to dopamine, which affects our responses to emotions and reward-seeking behavior.  Zinc deficiency is further correlated to low melatonin and serotonin which is associated with decreases in ability to process information.  Zinc is naturally occurring in certain foods and added to others.  Oysters have the highest zinc per serving of all foods, but poultry and beef account for most zinc in the American diet.  Many people do not get enough zinc in their daily diet because of our society’s eating habits.  A fun test is to drink a liquid zinc supplement and see what it tastes like.  If you are zinc deficient it will have no taste, but if you have enough zinc it will taste bitter to you.

Carnitine

Carnitine is believed to improve brain cell functioning by facilitating the burning of fatty acids, which helps brain and nerve cells to preserve their membranes.  Carnitine has been demonstrated to improve symptoms of hyperactivity and social behavior and is considered by some as a safe alternative to stimulant drugs.

Serine

Serine in a non-essential amino acid important in metabolism and is a precursor to several amino acids including tryptophan.  When administered with omega 3 fatty acids it improved ADHD symptoms significantly better than omega 3 fatty acids alone, suggesting a synergistic effect.  Phosphatidylserine also increases dopamine levels.

Glutamine

Glutamine is a precursor to the calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) that affects mood, focus, and hyperactivity; Disruption of the glutamine-containing neurotransmission system may cause ADHD.

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which regulates memory focus and muscle control (hyperactivity).  Acetylcholine is especially important to normal brain function.  Dr. Axe explains, “Choline is important for liver function, normal brain development, nerve function, muscle movement, supporting energy levels and maintaining a healthy metabolism.”

Folate

Folate is a B Vitamin and low folate levels in pregnancy are linked to hyperactivity in children: People with MTHFR (methyltetrahydrofolate reductase) gene are predisposed to folate deficiency and more likely to have ADHD.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin. Evidence suggests high dose supplementation of B6 is as effective as Ritalin for ADHD, probably due to its role in raising serotonin levels.  Dr. Weil explains that “Vitamin B6 supports adrenal function, helps calm and maintain a healthy nervous system, and is necessary for key metabolic processes. Vitamin B6 acts as a coenzyme in the breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.”

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is linked to poor function of the neurotransmitters that control emotion, social reactions, hyperactivity and attention: Synergistic effect with Vitamin B6.  Literature with the National Institute of Health supports the fact that magnesium supplementation in children with ADHD improved hyperactivity.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9368236

Conclusion

If you are the parent, guardian, or an advocate for a loved one then I encourage you to begin a dialogue with your pediatrician about the safety and efficacy of these natural supplements for treating ADHD.  We all want to see our children have the best chance they can to grow into well adjusted happy adults, and ADHD can certain make that journey more difficult.  Stimulants may seem like a quick fix, but you should know that natural, safe, and effective alternatives do exist.

“I will be this many years old,” Replied the Zen Child-Master

“I will be this many years old,” said my 4-year-old, wise beyond his years.

My youngest recently turned 4 years old and he basically lives in an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse given the number of older siblings he has. Our ‘schoolhouse’ has K-12 pretty well represented so his pre-K life lessons happen as much outside the formal classroom as in the school of life that is our house.

While learning the necessary life skill of making his voice heard through the hugging chaos and competing needs of a large family, further challenged by having a busy dad running a 24/7 pediatric practice, managing a house, and trying to launch a new wellness brand I paused long enough for my youngest son to remind me in the most adorable way, to accept what is and who you are- In a word I got schooled in mindfulness by my 4-year-old.

When asked how old he will be next year, he deliberately raised his left hand, four fingers high and a thumb curled under, used his right index finger to thoughtfully point to the closed left thumb, and said, “This many!” referring to a not yet earned 5th finger.

Children have a special way of revealing universal truths in a most disarming and simplistic manner. We are graced with these fleeting Zen-like glimpses through the eyes of someone so young observing the world. The moment was so innocently insightful, humorous and touching I pulled out my pen to memorialize his message of, “Dad, we are this many in this moment and nothing at all next year, so accept who you are in this breadth.”  He wanted us to appreciate the gentle splendor of life as it unfolds through the eyes of a 4-year-old.

I ask myself, as most parents do, where does he get it?  I cannot be with him as much as I would like so his older siblings provide a lot of wanted instruction, from a well of knowledge and experience that I like to think I inspired. As the eldest of three, I assure you that siblings also provide some questionable amounts of other advice and example making that is born from the inquisitiveness of childhood and occurs when the cat is away.

In true paradoxical Zen fashion children can also light us up with the most off-color examples of frustratingly hilarious and off guard words ever said. For parents, these stories become the lore of their life and represent the scripted and spontaneous influences that define a personality.

One little boy was asked on the playground at school, “What is the weirdest thing you can say to me right now?” His response was so unfiltered and funny (to an adult who appreciates Lewis CK) yet so inappropriate that another student (who did not have a Lewis CK sense of humor) reported the words to the teacher. The teacher then told the principal who called the parents in for a meeting. I would share the full story here but it is best told over a glass of wine at a dinner party and not in written word on a pediatrician’s blog. I prefer my posts stay on the “wanted instruction” side of parenting.

The take home for us parents from these two spontaneous in-the-moment children is that they can be our Zen Masters. They have an ability to pinpoint our shadow sides, our weaknesses, our buttons and push them through the most subtle, challenging, perplexing, frustrating, irritating, amazing ways while turning their head sideways in a gentle “I am a cute puppy dog” way.

So for today, I hold a finger down and a memory up instead of pointing a finger at myself and others.