I’ve written before about the extent to which we’re driven by our beliefs and biases.
Having recently read Athur Janov’s “Beyond Belief”, I’ve been looking again at why we believe. It seems such an intrinsic part of our behaviour, that it’s strange to be even asking the question ‘why do I believe?’ Dr Janov claims that belief acts as a kind of medicine for the soul; a means to keep us from our deepest pain; to quote:

“Beliefs are medicine for hopelessness. They attenuate despair, vitiate loneliness and dissipate helplessness”

Humans have developed greater conscious awareness than any of our animal brethren. This gives us greater access to the wonder of our experience as well as our pain. Janov’s case is that to mediate this potentially overwhelming experience of life, we have evolved highly sophisticated apparatus and strategies to keep reality at bay. We keep our most painful memories and feelings – emanating from deep within our midbrain – in check through any number of act-outs and addictions, but perhaps most subtly through our beliefs.

The belief systems we maintain in our pre-frontal cortex are elaborate and highly robust. And the bigger the pain, the more elaborate our beliefs must be. As Janov says, the more warped a person’s physiology,  the more unbearable their reality. The more unbearable the reality, the more warped their ideas.

How does this show up in the workplace and how do we deal with it?

We naturally want to create a world in our mind that is certain, in the same way that we might seek the certainty of a religious faith, we seek to believe in the certainty of our company’s plans, its financial projections, our contract telling us that we have a specific job in a specific team.

John Lennon gave us “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” – we could adapt that for the business world as

“The plan is a concept by which we measure our fear of reality”

The Agile credo asks us to give up on much of these beliefs, to trust in the ‘work system’ and each other, to let go of the rigid plan, to face reality day by day. As explored in my post on resonance, when we face current reality, we’re often not just confronting the pain of our present situation, we’re also facing our past. By accepting the uncertainty of reality in the here and now, we may bring up the pain of the uncertainty of earlier parts of our lives.

To avoid all this pain, again, to quote Janov, “we need hope more than we need truth”. We believe because we need to avoid our pain.

Part of the process of adapting to a more Agile mindset in business is developing the capacity to face the uncertainty of reality. For this, we must  grieve, on an ongoing basis, any pain – past and present – which that reality might bring up. It’s hard a path, but ultimately one that brings greater capacity to continually adapt and re-generate in the ever shifting sands of the modern economy.