The vital importance of empathy and kindness to customer experience design and employee engagement

How far can you get in cultivating enduring customer relationships, delightful customer experiences, and ’employee engagement’ without empathy?

What kind of world shows up when we put aside empathy?  What kind of world shows up when we put aside kindness?  The kind of world that arose as a direct result of the ‘age of machines’ – of the Industrial Revolution.  When our way of life is centred on and around machines, we worship machines, and we go about life asking and expecting one another to be-act like machines.  We have become great at showing up in the world as machines. And as result we have lost sight of kindness, generosity, empathy.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it occurs to me that our age is calling out for empathy, for kindness, for the injection of the human back into business and our way of life.  Also because, you cannot get far in cultivating meaningful relationships with customers nor designing customer experiences that delight customers, nor generating ’employee engagement’ without grappling with these topics. Look you and I can make the world accessible, convenient, hassle free and fast.  And, if such a world is missing kindness, generosity, empathy, friendship and love then it is a world that is not fit for human beings.

Empathy is central to customer experience, customer-centricity, and employee engagement

With this context I share with you the following video that was brought to my attention by LinkedIn where Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO shared it:

If this video speaks to you, if it stimulates your interest in empathy then I invite you to take a look at the following posts:

What Does It Take To Generate Deep Contextual Customer Insight?

Customer Loyalty and Advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part IV)

Is this the access to profitable revenues, loyal customers and enduring success? (Part I)

Is kindness born of empathy fundamental to cultivating customer loyalty and employee engagement?

I say it is. What kind of kindness am I speaking about?  I am speaking what Werner Erhard refers to as “ruthless compassion”.  If you want to dig into this a little more then check out this talk.

I want to leave you with a quote of a hero of mine, Albert Schweitzer:

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

A Final Word

I am putting together a course on communication-empathy-relationship. And there is one slide that I wish to share with you:

Being Empathic Listening.jpg

Does a promising future await Service Design and Customer Experience?

Are Service Design and Customer Experience in the same boat?

This week I was talking to a fellow professional who is passionate about service design.  What showed up in our conversation was his recognition and disappointment between the talk and the reality of service design. Yes, there is a small community of theorists, ‘gurus’, and practitioners in service design. And in the bigger world of business the landscape is not friendly to service design. First, most business folks do not understand what service design is.  Actually, it is worse than this. Most business folks do not accurately what makes up a ‘service’.  As such, the world of business is mostly a barren place when it comes to opportunities for service design. And yes, there are a small number of small organisations doing great work on service design.  Why are these organisations small?  Could it be due to the lack of listening for, receptivity towards, service design?

In the course of our conversation I shared my experience. And it occurred to me that the same applies to the field of Customer Experience.  First, it is not well understood.  Second, where business folks do talk about customer experience they are pointing at that which occurs in the Customer Services function.  Third, the majority of talk on customer experience takes place via a relatively small community of people who are passionate about customer-centric business and the critical role of customer experience.  Where, perhaps, there is a difference it is that the IT vendors are looking to make hay in the customer experience space.  They are not doing the same in the service design space.

What does the Michael Lowenstein say?

Sitting in this place I came across this recent post by Michael Lowenstein. In this piece Michael is reflecting upon the findings of the recent Oracle study.  I want to draw your attention to the following paragraphs:

… over 90% of executives said that improving customer experience is a top priority over the next two years …. and a similar percent said that their companies want to be customer experience leaders. However, just over one third were only now beginning with formal customer experience initiatives, and only one-fifth considered their customer experience program advanced.

In the Oracle study, fewer than half of all executives surveyed thought that customers would defect due to negative experiences, nor did they think that customers would pay for great experiences. That finding is yet another huge divide between ‘conventional wisdom’ of executives and the realities of customer behavior.

Reasons identified for not moving forward on these initiatives include inflexible technology, siloed organizational structures and systems, low investment, and inability to measure initiative results. This slow adoption, or non-adoption, seems to be not so much a reflection of stagnant international economy as it is of significant, historic corporate conservatism and risk aversion.

Is there hope for Service Design and Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that Service Design fits under the umbrella of Customer Experience. And as such it is not a surprise that they are facing similar issues. By now you should also know that I am passionate about the need for and value of taking a customer-centric orientation in doing business. And customer experience has a huge role to play in a customer-centric orientation.  So how am I left being?  Yes, a part of me does from time to time become downhearted with what is so in the business world.  And there is another part of me that gets me present to the wise words of Werner Erhard:

Life never needs to turn out predictably. Human beings have the capacity to intervene in the orderly unfolding of circumstances, to produce an outcome which is basically unpredictable given those circumstances. Most of us don’t know that…..

Clearly,  Vernon Hill, the Chairman of Metro Bank in London, and the retail-oriented entrepreneurial executive who made Commerce Bank a regional marketing force in U.S. banking for several decades get this.  Why do I say that?  This is what Michael Lowenstein writes in his post:

In his recent book, “Fans! Not Customers” (Profile Books, London, 2012), Hill stated: “We want our customers to be passionate about doing business with Metro Bank, to become Metro fans. Our philosophy is more than just a corporate mission statement: it’s a way of life. Our corporate spirit – something we’ve made a unique part of our social fabric – enables us to succeed. We are fanatically focused on delivering a unique customer experience. Over-investment in facilities, training and people, a focused geographic management, and countless mystery shops a year ensure that we always exceed our customer’s expectations”.

As Hill observed, “You don’t have to be 100 percent better than the competition in order to beat them. You have to be 15 percent better, and you have to get better all the time. It’s all about standing out from the competition…..”

What does it take to generate/deliver great service?

It is Christmas time and I want to give you, my fellow human beings and the readers of The Customer Blog, a gift.  What kind of gift?  The kind of gift, which if embraced, will give you access to great relationships – with your family, with your friends, within your community, at work, with your customers…

The gift of ‘service’: is this the greatest gift that you can give?

It is Christmas time and what I notice is that it is a time of concern – a concern with gift-giving.  And this year as I think about gift giving I am immediately taken to Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I am confronted with this question: what is the greatest gift one human being can give to another?  It occurs to me it is ‘service’.  What?   When I speak ‘service’ I am pointing at the kind of service being pointed at in the following quote:

“My notion about service is that service is actually that kind of relationship in which you have a commitment to the person. What I mean, in fact, is that for me what service is about is being committed to the other being. To who the other person is.

To the degree that you are, in fact, committed to the other person, you are only as valuable as you can deal with the other person’s stuff, their evidence, their manifestation, and that’s what’s service is about. Service is about knowing who the other person is and being able to tolerate giving space to their garbage. What most people do is is to give space to people’s quality and deal with their garbage. Actually, you should do it the other way around. Deal with who they are and give space to their garbage.

Keep interacting with them as if they were God. And every time you get garbage from them, give space to garbage and go back and interact with them as if they were God.”  Werner Erhard

Which business brands provide this kind of service?

In the business world there is one brand in particular that gets the kind of service that Werner Erhard is pointing at and illuminating.  Can you guess who it is?  It’s Zappos.  Which is why I am not at all surprised to read that Zappos Set An Insane Record For The Longest Customer Service Phone Call Ever.  How long did this phone call take?  9 hours and 37 minutes!  Here is what, in particular, caught my attention:

On July 16th I received a call from Lisa about 2 hrs. into my shift. We talked for 9 hours, 37 min. I took one bathroom break about two hours in. Kara Levy [another team member] took care of me by bringing me food and drinks. We talked about life, movies and favorite foods.”   Shaea Labus, the Zappos Customer  Loyalty Team member:

“Sometimes people just need to call and talk,” she [Shaea] said. “We don’t judge, we just want to help.”

What does it take to generate/deliver great service and make a difference?

The question that calls to me and asks for an answer is this one: what does it take to generate/deliver great service – the kind Werner is pointing at and which is being delivered by Zappos?  What is your answer?  Is it technology – the latest state of the art CRM/customer service system?  Is it CX blueprint that sets out the ‘process/script’ that the Customer Loyalty Team Members have to follow?  Is it the KPIs that Zappos’s management team have set?  Is it perhaps the people – the special people that Zappos employs?  Is it the pay/rewards that Zappos gives to its employees?

Let’s listen to a master of the human condition, one who strips away our rationalizations. What does this master have to say on the matter of service, of making a difference?

“All it takes to make a difference is the courage to stop proving I was right in being unable to make a difference… to stop assigning cause for my inability to the circumstances outside of myself …… and to see that the fear of being a failure is a lot less important than the unique opportunity I have to make a difference.” Werner Erhard

Summing up

Zappos generates/delivers great service because the Tops (starting with Tony Hsieh) are committed to delivering great service.  Great service is not something that they do.  No, great service is who they are in the world.  Did you get that?  The folks at Zappos ARE great service; their being – how they show up for themselves, each other, customers, the world at large – is great service!  Put differently, for the Zappos folks great service is not a question of doing it is a question of existence.  And, yes, existence does require a viable ‘business model’.  That is something that the folks at Zappos figured out after they formulated their commitment to being the brand  that is synonymous with great service.  And they kept tinkering and tweaking to get the business model right.

What does it take for you and me to make a difference in our showing up in the world – to our family, our friends, our community, our fellow employees, our customers?  A reconceptualization of ‘service’ along the lines set out by Werner Erhard AND the courage to stop proving that you/I are unable to make a difference. Put more simply and bluntly: you and I need to stop playing small!  Look around you and you will find that many businesses generate poor/indifferent service because the people in them – starting with the Tops – play small.

What does it take for ’employee engagement’ to show up? (Part VI) v2

This post is an update to the earlier version (released yesterday) which I published before it was ready to be published by pressing the wrong button.  I apologise.

The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear”  Herbert Agar

In this post I continue sharing with you what shows up for me as I grapple with ’employee engagement’.  Given that some of you may have not read the earlier posts, I will first cover some essential ground and the move forward with the ‘new’.

It all comes down to the “concept of persons” and how one should treat one’s fellow man.

I came across this quote which pretty much sums up the humanistic school’s stance on human being and how man should relate to and treat his fellow human beings:

“If you don’t find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further.”  Gandhi

Wow!  That occurs in my world as a massively powerful assertion and I can only imagine the love that gives rise to this assertion, this stance, uttered and lived by Gandhi.

Whilst the words of humanistic philosophers (e.g. Rousseau) and psychologists (e.g. Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers) are nowhere as poetic, the underlying stance is remarkably similar: a ‘romantic’ notion about the beauty, the goodness, the nobility of the human being – every human being.  Which is why Gandhi and the humanists, as I understand them, are labelled ‘idealists’.

The world that you and I are dwelling in is shaped, ruled and peopled by ‘pragmatists’: philosophers like Hobbes;  and psychologists like Freud and Skinner.    Pragmatists look at the same reality and come up with a radically different “concept of persons”.  They say that the being of human beings is brutish and that left to their themselves people would turn our life into a brutish one.  Recent examples of this brutishness include Rwanda and Yugoslavia.  And who can forget the WWII concentration camps.  And given this dark side lying at the centre of human being, human beings need (and can be) controlled.  Who is to do the controlling?  Those who have always done the controlling:  the elite who hold/exercise power and get to determine what is good and what is bad.

Where do I stand on this matter?

As an “idealist” I can see the beauty/wonder of human beings and as such I say that “pragmatists” have a dim/dark view/unduly negative and possibly self-serving view of human beings.

As a “pragmatist” (I do have a BSc in Applied Physics) I see that human beings are so addicted to and run by the ‘four prime directives’ (you have to read my earlier post to get what these are) that human beings will slaughter life including millions of fellow human beings simply to be right, to dominate, to look good.  And if we those of us who have killed (including those of us who have stood by whilst the slaughter took place) are questioned about what we are doing/have done, we get busy enthusiastically invalidating others and justifying ourselves!

I say, I can see the value and limitations of both of these distinct “concept of persons”.  They both disclose as well as hide stuff about human being.  Taken together they provide a fuller/richer picture of human being.  Now lets move on with the main thrust of this post.

What is the underlying context that fuels our organisations and management practices?

As I have said before, the dominant concept of persons is that of the pragmatists.  Why?  Because  it is the pragmatists that won the fight, who hold positions of power and shape our world including shaping us, human beings.

If you get this then you may be able to hear and be with what I am about to say.  And which I say   gets to the heart of the matter of ’employee engagement’, ’empowerment’, creativity and innovation.  That is to say, it spells out why these phenomena/qualities are not present in almost all organisations and especially not in large/established organisations.

I say that organisations are prisons. Please note, I am not saying that organisations are like prisons.  No. I am saying that organisations are prisons.

When I say that “organisations are prisons” I am pointing out that the people who commission, fund, build and run prisons are primarily concerned with control: controlling the prisoners so that they become docile and do what they are told without asking questions, without questioning the power of those in power – in short without being troublesome.  And this elite use the tried and tested philosophy and practices of command and control that originated in the military which consisted of a small elite officer class and the much larger class of conscripts who were expected to do the fighting, killing and dying upon orders from the officer class.

Crucially, the people who work in organisations (the employees) experience themselves and show up (for themselves and each other) as prisoners.  They speak as if the organisation is a prison and they are imprisoned in it from 9 to 5.  They do not speak even when what is being asked of them shows up as being ‘stupid’.  They do not challenge bosses that show up for them as being incompetent and/or sadists.  In short, they show all the signs of  learned helplessness: people who, no matter what they do or do not do, cannot affect their circumstance and organisational practices.

This helplessness and the docility, compliance and doing the least that is necessary to get through the prison day is understandable – at least I understand it, I have lived it!  Think back to prisons, what shows up in prisons?  One group of people, the prison guards, are relatively small in number and exercise power over a much larger number of people who are deprived of their freedom and are powerless to decide how they live. The fundamental design and operating practice is to get the prisoners to get present to their powerlessness, their helplessness.  Deming totally got this: one of his 14 points is “Drive out fear”.

How much prisoner engagement, creativity and innovation shows up in a prison?  To date, I have never heard of anyone expecting these phenomena to show up in prisons.  Nor have I read or heard about great prisoner engagement, creativity and innovation in prisons.  Which leads me to believe that these phenomena – engagement, creativity, innovation – are not expected and do not show up in prisons.

What does show up in prisons?  The exercise of power and the compliance with power.  And the acceptance/resentment that goes with one set of people exercising power over the lives of another set of people.  I get that from time to time, characters like  Lt. Colonel Nicholson (from the movie Bridge on the River Kwai) show up who get fellow prisoners to be more, to do more for the sake of themselves, their morale, their dignity.  And this engagement, creativity, innovation dies when people like Lt. Colonel Nicholson lose face, lose power, change roles and/or leave the prison.

If you get, can be with, that organisations are prisons then you will stop wondering why there is a lack of employee engagement, why empowerment rarely works out , why there is so little creativity and innovation.  And you will stop listening to and taking seriously those who peddle ’10 steps to employee engagement’!

I ask you, who truly wants the prisoners to be creative/innovative?  Not those who run the prisons!  Creativity and innovation are threats to control in a number of ways including the fact that they embolden the prisoners who may then act beyond their station. Saddam Hussein engendered is downfall by his prison guards (the USA) by becoming creative/innovative and thus beyond the station assigned to him by the USA.

To sum up, creativity, innovation and authentic empowerment are seen as disruptive – threats to the orderly running of the prison and the maintenance of the status quo in power relations.  And thus are not given the space to show up and if they do show up then they are suppressed.  Those that don’t get the rules and play by the rules experience what Saddam experienced.  Yes, he was tyrant and he was not deposed because he was a tyrant.  He was deposed because he acted beyond his assigned station: he got too creative/innovative in deciding to conquer/rule and reattach Kuwait to Iraq.

How do you call forth ’employee engagement’, creativity and innovation?

Werner Erhard coined an insightful stand/possibility: “a world that works, none excluded”.  Notice, that Erhard got that the current design and function of the systems of power is such that the world does not work for all and many are excluded.  I say this is the same for organisations and organisational life as lived.

Stealing from Erhard, I say that the foundation for employee engagement, creativity and innovation is creating/living/operating from the context “an organisation that works, none excluded”. That means that the organisational play is designed so that it works for everyone in the organisation: shareholder, management, employees, customers, suppliers and regulators.  And that there is an wholehearted authentic commitment to this context by all especially those who wield power and thus see only threat/risk (to themselves) from putting in place and operating from such a context.

What goes with such a context?  What is necessary to enable such a context to take hold and operate?  I say authentic communication.  Jurgen Habermas calls this “undistorted communication” and he spells out four conditions for communication to be undistorted:

1. Symmetry condition – every single person has an equal opportunity to talk and duty to listen;

2. Sincerity condition – every single person means what s/he says;

3. Truth condition – every single person discloses what s/he believes to be true; and

4. Normative condition – every single person says what is right morally.

If you are going to create this context “organisations that work, none excluded” and a context where “undistorted communication” is called forth and is kept in existence then you need to get present to conflict.  And you have to be a stand for peaceful conflict resolution.

Before I share these guidelines I have a question for you.  How many “leaders” do you know that are authentically up for creating/embodying the kind of context and practices that I have spelled out here?  Put differently, how many want to see/be with this truth?

Now you know why I opened this post with that quote by Agar.  Pretty much everyone who writes, and is listened to, by the business world, about these topics ignores this elephant in the room: the fundamental imbalance in power relations and organisation as prison.   Hence, the profusion of banal recipes/checklists for employee engagement, empowerment, creativity and innovation.  Which also explains (at least to me) why  these banal, even idiotic, 10 step checklists fail to deliver on the promises they make.  And some 80% of the people who work in organisations are alienated/disengaged from their work and the organisations they work for/within.

An even bigger idiocy is to put your faith in technology to bring about employee engagement, empowerment, collaboration, creativity and innovation.   Why?  Because prison guards always use technology to further their needs to control/enslave/restrict the little freedom that the prisoners experience themselves as having in organisational life. I was there when sales force automation hit the corporate scene.  I saw and experienced how those of us involved in actually doing the selling saw the technology for what it was and is.   And we used ‘guerilla tactics’ to ‘fight it’.  The fight continues and which is why social technologies have failed to deliver ‘social behaviour’ that the software vendors peddle and managers want.

I have another question for you: how likely is it, really, to get any significant and enduring employee engagement without moving from the existing context (organisations as prison) to the context that I am proposing (“organisation that works, none excluded”) in this post?  

If you think I push this too far then I ask you ask yourself this: why did so many people live normal jobs in large/established companies to start their own companies or join dot.coms when the internet hit the business world in a big way!

Guidelines for peaceful conflict resolution

I came across these guidelines at the Montessori School that my children attended.  When I saw these guidelines it struck me that every family, every team, every organisation can dramatically enhance ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ by embodying the following maxims:

Respect the right to disagree

Express your real concerns

Share common goals and interests

Open yourself to different points of views

Listen carefully to all points of view, all proposals

Understand the major issues that are involved

Think about probable consequences

Imagine many possible alternative solutions, at least several

Offer reasonable compromises

Negotiate mutually fair cooperative agreements

And finally

Montessori School stops here in the UK at age 11.  Which means that I saw no option but to put my children into the normal/traditional schools.  For my children traditional schools (they went to two of them, first was so bad I took them out after a year) showed up as prisons.  Prisons where the students have no voice, no say on the clothes they wear, nor the behaviour of the teachers or the quality of their teaching.  Prisons where the teachers are prison guards intent on dominating/controlling the pupils so that they became docile and do what teachers want them to do.  My children hated these schools and did not want to go to school.  So I made frequent trips to these schools and was seen as a troublesome/difficult parent.

I went to see the head teachers.  At each school, the headteacher  listened politely to my exposition of the Montessori philosophy and how it could be practiced in their school and the benefits for all.    Each headteacher told me that his/her school was not designed for such a philosophy, that the Montessori philosophy is disruptive, and it would not work in their school.

Each told me that their mandate is “to run an orderly institution, in a standard manner, treating all children the same’.  And this meant ensuring that they teachers had the power to control 600 unruly students.  Which meant ensuring that the student knew the rules and stuck to the rules.  And any students who created trouble were acted upon quickly.   When I pressed for the need to respond intelligently, taking into account the needs of the child/the circumstance, I was told categorically that exceptions to operating rule risked the orderly running of the school and the loss of their jobs.

School is the first organisational prison (in our society) that acts on the creative, innovative, empowered, energetic, enthusiastic, alive human beings amongst us: the children.  And it’s hidden design function/purpose is to turn these children into docile creatures who take orders from those in power and carry them out in the prescribed manner and timetable set by the powerful.  In short, to prepare them for organisational life.  And life in society.  

What do you say?

 

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part III)

This is the third post in series of posts centred on the human side of the enterprise and ’employee engagement’ in particular.  In the first post I shared the story of the millwright and drew attention to what Max De Pree calls the ‘concept of persons’.  In the second post I shared with you what I say is the dominant ‘concept of persons’, as practiced in just about every organisation, and how it fails to hold up to reality of the human condition.  In this post I want to continue the conversation around the ‘concept of persons’ and bring Maria Montessori into the picture.  Why study her?  Because she achieved extraordinary results by generating extraordinary engagement in the process of learning.

What can we learn about/from Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori was an italian physician and educator who is famous today for her educational philosophy (and method) that bears her name and is being used around the world.  She is famous because she achieved extraordinary results with the least promising material: ‘idiot’ children that society had locked up in ‘insane’ asylums and normal children from deprived backgrounds:

“Such indeed was her success that a number of idiot children from the asylums learned to read and write so well that they were able to present themselves with success at a public examination taken together with normal children.  A chorus of applause greeted this seeming miracle….”

To get present to this miracle it is necessary to get present to the children she was working with:

“To this school were brought, from the various day schools in Rome, all those children who were regarded as hopelessly deficient.  Later on, to this same institution were transferred also all the idiot children from the insane asylums in Rome.” 

Think about your business.  Are the people in your business as ‘deficient’ as hopeless as the children that Montessori worked with?  No, then why are you not generating extraordinary results through extraordinary engagement?  Could it be that the issue is not with your people but with your ‘concept of persons’ and your managerial/organisational practices that arise and are in tune with that ‘concept of persons’?

How was Montessori able to achieve these extraordinary results?

Montessori as able to achieve extraordinary results for a number of reasons.  First, she was a physician and not an educator.  And as such, she had not been indoctrinated into the dominant educational concepts and practices.  Second, as a physician she literally saw the world differently.  Third, she used her heart as well her head.  Here is an example:

In one of the lunatic asylums she came across a number of these unhappy children herded together like prisoners in a prison like room.  The woman who looked after them did not attempt to conceal the disgust which she regarded them.  Montessori asked her why she held them in such contempt.  “Because,” the woman replied, “as soon as their meals are finished they throw themselves on the floor to search for crumbs.”  Montessori looked around the room and saw that the room was in fact absolutely bare.  There were literally no objects in their environment which the children could hold and and manipulate in their fingers.  Montessori saw in the children’s behaviour a craving for a very different and higher kind than for mere food.  There existed in these poor creatures, she realised, one path and only one path towards intelligence, and that was through their hands. Instinctively the poor deficient mites had sought after that path by the only means in their reach……. It became increasingly apparent to her that mental deficiency was a pedagogical problem rather than a medical one……”

I invite you to open yourself to the possibility that the lack of ’employee engagement’ is not to do with ‘deficient’ employees but to the managerial/organisational practices that you have put in place.  I urge you to get present to the unity of the context and the behaviour that shows up in that context.  Put differently, situations matter, they shape human behaviour without us even noticing that human behaviour is being shaped by situations.  As Werner Erhard put it so elegantly “The context is decisive.”  Put bluntly, stop working on the ‘deficiency of your employees’ and start working on the context/situation that calls forth disengagement rather than engagement.

Montessori makes a remarkable discovery

“The world that Columbus discovered was a world without; Montessori discovered a world within – within the soul of the child…. her method is but a consequence of her discovery ….

What exactly did Montessori discover about children ‘under her educational care’?  She discovered that children possess different and higher qualities than those we usually attribute to them.  This is how she described it in her book The Secret of Childhood:

“I set to work like a peasant women who having set aside a good store of seed corn, has found a fertile field in which she may freely sow it.  But I was wrong, I had hardly turned over the clods of my field, when I found gold instead of wheat: the clods concealed a precious treasure, I was not the peasant I had thought myself.  Rather I was like the foolish Aladdin, who without knowing it, had in his hand a key that would open hidden treasures.”

Is it possible that the people in your organisation also possess different and higher qualities than you usually attribute to them?  I refer you to the story of the millwright which I shared in my first post. Is it possible that you are also like the foolish Aladdin, who has the key to the hidden treasures of your people and yet  do not know it because you are gripped by the dominant ‘concept of persons’ which I described in my second post?

What did Montessori learn about young children because she was not trapped in the existing concepts and practices?

Allow me to share what Montessori got present to by working intimately with children free from the normal taken for granted educational concepts, settings, practices, tools and traditionally trained school teachers:

Amazing mental concentration.  When the children worked with that which interested them and were allowed to get on with it, they showed amazing mental concentration.

Love of repetition.  Young children tended to repeat the same thing over and over again, an exercise that they already knew, could do and enjoyed doing.

Love of/for order.  “Montessori realised what they really wanted was to put the things back in their places themselves.  So she left them free to do it.”.

Freedom of choice.  “She realised that these children, who already knew how to use the materials, were – just because of that knowledge – in a position to choose some materials in preference to others”.

Preferred work to play.  Montessori was gifted some costly toys including elegant dolls, doll’s house, crockery and kitchen.  And she discovered that the children never chose the toys even after they were taught how to play with them.  The children showed an interest for a time and then went back to work, they preferred work that absorbed them.

No need for rewards and punishments.  The children were good and orderly as long as the work was stimulating and they learned how to work.  Naughtiness was found to be due to constructive energies not finding an appropriate outlet. It was found that punishment did not work.  Allowing the naughty child to pick the work that attracted him/her worked.  Put differently, the right work was its own reward and punishment was rarely required. And where it was, it was enough simply to not allow the child to use the materials and have to sit and observe other children working with the materials and enjoying doing so.

Lovers of silence.  The popular conception is/was that children love to be noisy.  Montessori found that “deep down in their souls, children have a great love for silence.”

Children refused sweets.  After particularly arduous tasks Montessori rewarded the children with sweets. Time and again she found that the children refused them.  And she was moved to remark “Was it from a feeling like that of monks, who flee from ease and such outward things as are useless for the true good of life, once they have risen in the ladder of spiritual life?”

Sense of personal dignity.  After showing the children how to blow their noses Montessori received heartfelt applause from the children.  Montessori got that adults had constantly been putting the children down on this matter.  And yet no one had ever shown the children how to do it without criticising/attacking them at the same time.  Through similar kinds of experiences Montessori got that even very small children have a profound sense of personal dignity and if adults failed to respect this need then “their souls may remain wounded, ulcerated and oppressed in away adults seldom recognise.”

Spontaneous self-discipline.  “As the weeks went by and the children became accustomed to this new mode of life, a happy and extraordinary change came over them….. They began to exhibit an extraordinary self-discipline; and with it a serenity of spirit, and a great respect for the rights of others.”

What is it that I am striving to point out?

Am I telling you that what Montessori found to be so for the children under her care is true for the folks that turn up at your place of work, your employees?  NO.  Young children differ from older children and adults differ from children.

My central point is that Montessori was able to cultivate extraordinary engagement because she:

  • was open to and able to see what others indoctrinated in the existing way of conceiving of children and educating children could not see;
  • she expanded her ‘concept of persons’ when it came to the persons of young children as and when new stuff showed up; and
  • she modified her behaviour and developed educational practices and materials that were in tune with / worked with the modified ‘concept of persons’.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that some of what Montessori found to be true of children is also true of us adults.  For example, it occurs to me the issue of human dignity is not given sufficient attention/consideration.  In the next post I will layout what I consider to be a richer/truer ‘concept of persons’, one if embraced will allow you to generate the context, the conditions, for ’employee engagement’ to show up effortlessly.