Finding a purpose… do I know what to do?

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I have devoured Johann Hari’s newest book ‘Lost Connections’ and I have really enjoyed his thesis and the evidence he has collected to support it.

The core premise of the book (please read it if you have the time), is that there are nine causes of depression and anxiety (bio/psych/social) and only one of these is treatable with antidepressants.

Hari suggests that the causes of anxiety and depression are disconnection from:

  1. meaningful work

  2. other people

  3. meaningful values

  4. childhood trauma

  5. status and respect

  6. the natural world

  7. a hopeful or secure future

  8. and 9. the role of genes and brain changes.

The two causes he identified that really struck me as areas where I could make a difference were the disconnection from meaningful work and disconnection from a hopeful or secure future.

Hari’s work aligns with other material I have been reading and listening to around issues with work, society and the future. It speaks to me about the fear that is expressed about robots taking people’s jobs, it echoes the frustration felt in organisations when smart people act stupidly, and it is in the growing critique of the side hack and the gig economy. We all want work that means something and in a world of hyper-specialisation, casualisation and increasing impermanence.

In addition, most people need a view of the future that is shared and includes them, I know I do. The cacophony in the political sphere in many countries, in my opinion is based on the lack of a shared future view. The absence of many of the big future issues from political discourse in countries such as Australia and the US makes these discussions particularly ‘thin’ and un-engaging and results in a focus on edge issues and extremes.

My approach in the futures and foresight space, which I then translated across to innovation and customer experience, is all about supporting people to make meaning in the work place through identifying purpose alignment, imagining better futures and creating new norms.

The underpinning theory of my futures practice is Hope Theory, which focusses on goal setting, pathways identification and empowerment as ways to create compelling views of the future.

I also have evidence that this stuff (a technical term) works:

  • It is possible for an established, hierarchical organisation to create changes to the way people work and how they think about their jobs.

  • It is possible to establish new ways of working to prototype how the future might be different and to deliver outcomes not thought possible.

  • It is possible to connect people across siloes in ways that support relationship building and collaboration.

I have had the opportunity to develop programs, tools and training that assisted a 1000 person organisation to try out how it might be different. I have worked with people across many contexts and countries and the foresight tools and approaches engage them to be think differently.

My challenge now is to work out what to do next….do I try and take what I have learned and test it somewhere else? Do I set up a vehicle to spread the ideas further? Do I write everything up and give it away to people who might use it?

My excitement and energy around these options waxes and wanes which suggests to me that none is the right one. So what else could be possible?

I feel like there is little time to waste, as we have large challenges ahead, the symptoms of which are staring us in the face — increasing levels of mental illness, economies that are looking shaky and workplaces that are becoming more toxic coupled with a climate that will become less hospitable to our species.

So that is where I sit currently, in a space of not knowing what to do next but an openness to finding my road and people to play with.

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