Learned Helplessness – Harvard Business Review

Is the cat finally out of the bag? If you believe the following, then take action before your competitors take advantage first.

Learned Helplessness – Harvard Business ReviewThe rapidly growing use of term ‘Learned Helplessness’ would lead you to think it was just formed as a result of the world economic collapse. The following Harvard Business Review article has received a number of comments to suggest it’s now far to common an effect, and some might call it an incurable disease.

The term ‘Learned Helplessness’  (or as we shorten it to  ”can’t do”) was actually made famous by Martin Seligman over forty years ago.  Through a series of controlled experiments he discovered that when control is removed, a majority of people learn unconsciously and automatically to become helpless. This form of unconscious learning is unfortunately transferable and therefore can, and is often applied to other situations. Today we see it throughout many organisations and the people in them. Over compliance, apathy and in some cases a robotic mentality – not really a good place to work.

In the late 1990′s Graham Williams work in this field identified two other naturally learned states: Learned Powerfulness (can do) and Learned Defensiveness (won’t do) – published in his book  ’Personal Power – the power that drives performance’. He discovered that in reality, people tend to fluctuate between all three states depending on the context and the situation that they are in. Unfortunately today, many have got stuck in the two negative states – each one potentially thrives and/or drives the other thus perpetuating the situation. In recent Gallup and MORI research it puts the level of disengagement (the negative states) at over 80% ….. you may be surprised to hear the British workforce are less disengaged than the Germans.

The change in the world economy has driven other behaviours where some companies have blindly/desperately cut costs to stay alive, to other organisations where the drive for greater efficiency through implementing lean processes has caused them to lose sight of the need to be effective as well. Either way they have forced themselves into a position where they believe that there is now no room to move. It may be considered as adopting a survival mindset which has subsequently rendered them impotent or helpless.

As entrepreneurs we believe there is always a solution and to find it people need to develop a growth mindset. They need to learn to use their innate assets of the mind and grow initially within their current resources.

We may know that the world has changed and that the changes today are taking place at an unprecedented pace yet how many organisations and their people are fit to handle these changes? Clearly the article and the comments would suggest many aren’t fit.

Remember, people drive organisations and people need to learn to become Mind Fit because people with a positive mindset are engaged, resilient, more productive and where relevant, more profitable.

As Martin Seligman discovered, people can and do recover from ‘Learned Helplessness’.

The advances in neuroscience continue to improve the Mind Fit process and now with  over 14 years of proof, in public and private sector, large and small companies , the Mind Fit process will dramatically speed up that recovery – in fact improvements happen very quickly and within 24 hours.



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