Re-imagining the workplace: Science compels us to reduce opinion and increase knowledge


Science compels us to reduce opinion and increase knowledge.

If we took the subject of performance seriously, we would perform at the level of miracles. 

Sadhguru, the founder and head of the Isha Foundation, based in Coimbatore, India, established in 1992, that operates an ashram and yoga centre and carries out educational and spiritual activities, has this to say about science,

If we want humanity to enjoy the fruits of science and technology rather than use them to destroy ourselves and the entire planet, the most important thing right now is to raise human consciousness.

If we, as a nation act in unity, awareness and focus, we can take a huge segment of humanity to another level of living. May the nation move into an era of new possibilities.

We can add a rejoinder here to say, ‘May the workplace move into an era of new possibilities…’

Science is one of this columnist’s favourite phenomena and for the reason that it comes with the possibility of big and truthful things. I believe that Jesus was talking science, which of course extends to deeper issues of spirituality when he said in the gospel of John 8:32, ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I also understand what the God of the Bible meant when he said, through the book of prophet Hosea, ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge… And in my language, a proverb summarises this aptly, Ukungazi kufana lokufa, meaning ignorance is as good as death.

Based on this principle and the understanding that knowledge and scientific knowledge, are important, it is imperative that we have a working definition of happiness.

We have made claims on a number of our articles that there is a relationship between happiness and performance and a scientific one.

Maybe we need to even take a few steps backwards and consider some definitions of science and scientific knowledge, so that when we then explore the issue of happiness and attempt to relate it to science, we make more sense.

What is scientific knowledge? Such phrases and words as empiricism, scientific research, data, data analysis and findings come to mind. Academics and researchers in all fields do scientific research when they do masters degrees going up to doctoral studies and publications. While there are all sorts of views they explore, they are expected at that level to present evidence and not just throw ideas around that have no scientific basis. They also do not waste time doing a lone journey but have to read other scholars’ works and review them and show an understanding of what the other scholars explored and found before they make an undertaking to add their voice to a specific debate on a specific subject. An academic, whether doing research in drama, Ndebele, or Shona as languages has to conform to the principles of scientific research, and their first step is to convince the reader that they have a problem they need to explore, a research question they want to answer through a clear scientific process. This is done through a research proposal.

One who has no respect for these knowledge-creation processes finds it easy to make sweeping statements and declarations that have no basis. They may push an idea based on belief and talk about it as if it was sacrosanct truth.

Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American author and alternative medicine advocate and a prominent figure in the New Age movement, whose books and videos have made him one of the best-known and wealthiest figures in alternative medicine has challenged belief as a weaker method of knowing through his book, How to know God. Religion has been one of the most difficult knowledge areas because of that very issue of being told something by someone based on their experience and running with it as if one has experienced it themselves, hence Sadhguru’s famous challenge to the one who believes in heaven and talks as if they know without a doubt that it exists.

He says; ‘If you know that you are going to heaven why don’t you go now?’ and the reason behind his challenge is that humanity needs to treat this place where we are now as heaven and stop postponing their experience of heaven to after death.

Pure science has gotten to great heights now with technology coming in to explore and measure some complicated and delicate things such as thoughts. It is Deepak’s institution, for example, that has done research and found that as humans we think between sixty and eighty thousand thoughts per day, 95% of which are recycled.

One who has no penchant for research will wonder how that happened. Scientific research and discovery now show that there are hormones in the body that get secreted when certain things happen and we think certain thoughts.

Transcendental meditation researchers for example, have had sensors connected to meditators to check internal, biochemical activity as they meditated and it has been found that cortisol, a stress hormone, dropped as they meditated.

Principles of correlation would come into the process before conclusions are made about such phenomena but one can see how thorough researchers are in knowing the truth, the cause and the effect or things. Generalising stuff and making declarations with no empirical evidence is robbing us of quality knowledge and living.

These principles of scientific research are applied on even the arts and can be used to arrive at reasonable conclusions about social matters by doing literature reviews, coming up with a compelling scientific methodology and going on to implement it and presenting conclusions. Data is important in this regard because conclusions cannot be made from a distance with no clear footprints.

We have renowned researchers such as, Casandra Brené Brown an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host who is known in particular for her research on shame, vulnerability, and leadership, and for her widely viewed TEDx talk in 2010. If someone can explore such soft issues as shame and vulnerability using scientific research, it goes to show how potent scientific inquiry is and how we can use it to break down and unpack happiness and show how it relates to performance, a critical matter in the workplace.

The reason for being or to put it in French, raison d'être, is performance and productivity. As human capital specialists we are saying that to facilitate this, we need to be happy and that happiness is an important part of this critical issue. We can argue, therefore, that happiness is a bottom-line issue. It is one of the fundamental and most important issues and cannot be ignored and our challenge then is to unpack and break it down so that it is understood and when that has been achieved, we then go on to sell it to the workplace as a performance and productivity promoter and we change the face of our workplace. Our task next week is to define happiness not in a wishy-washy manner, but from the point of view of science. We have a very interesting path to walk with you dear reader.

Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as head of human capital, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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