The Evil Step-Sisters of Fear and Greed in Business Performance - Jonathan MacDonald

Jonathan MacDonald

In a recent interview, Jonathan was asked why people create a constrained picture of reality in their minds? And, what is it about human nature that makes us create boxes to live in?

Firstly, humans are different to animals in three biological constructs, scientifically speaking:

1. We are aware of our own mortality
2. We have a curiosity about some sort of higher spirit or being
3. We are social animals with a desire to be amongst others

Looking at this from a practical perspective, we can start to ask questions such as: is who we present ourselves at work the same as how we present ourselves at home? Is how we portray ourselves on social media congruent with how our lives actually are? Quite often the answer to these questions is no.

Humans often compartmentalize as a subconscious defense mechanism that can diminish harm arising from things we find potentially harmful. It's often used when there is an internal dissonance between values, emotions, or beliefs that we hold. It's a type of confirmation bias.

To this end, from a psychological perspective, we have a good dose of two evil step-sisters; fear and greed. Fear is often noted as False Expectations Appearing Real. However, fear is a horrible construct of a time machine where we either fear that something in the past has affected us, or we fear that something in the future will affect us now. Then there is greed, wanting something we don't have, and when we arrive at it, wanting something more because we're never fully satisfied.

Albert Einstein notes that "three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear, and greed". One could argue that stupidity is actually the manifestation of fear and greed. So we make decisions that are sub-optimal as we're scared of a perceived outcome or we desire more than we have. This is seen everywhere, from financial decisions to politics in business, to relationships, and to government (or politics) itself. There is a desire to maintain our position and power.

With those two step-sisters of fear and greed, we force ourselves to construct boxes so we can either diminish fear or fulfill our greed. Then inside that, there is this extraordinary amount of comparison. The problem with comparison is that we then create a story of limiting beliefs. And when we create that story for our life, we then compare ourselves to the story as to where we think we are. It's a dangerous way of living.

Stoics could be seen as a remedy for that. Seneca said, "no person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don't have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have". If we can separate what we can control from what we can't control, we can be content with things that aren't necessarily good and bad. They just are. We can use uncertainty and discomfort as power if we choose to. Or alternatively, we remain fearful, in a box, and hope that the change passes. Of course, it won't.

Ultimately we compartmentalize to justify our fear and greed in circumstances that are not truly in-line with our fundamental beliefs and values, to justify the decisions we make. If we could become comfortable with uncertainty we would increasingly be powered by change.