Developing a Gung Fu Work and Lifestyle

Creatives have custom needs that differ from more "procedural," hands-on contributors. Elevating their mindsets is the name of the game.

With each day, a growing part of the world steps closer toward a Creativity Age, where assets are increasingly found within the minds and motivations of people. Think of this as the true final frontier where know-how is king. In fact, even in many resurging manufacturing companies, workers may be as likely to monitor and direct machines as they are to handle products manually.

In some organizations, this results in more people sitting, watching, thinking, and deciding. And their subsequent physical actions may be small movements that control larger processes, or machinery, or computers.

Such Reality Creators workers generate tangible products from their thought processes. They may work in offices, cubicles, or labs, in front of computers; planning, writing code, testing quality, identifying problems; alone or drawing others toward common ground -- and in a wide range of industries. While it's obvious that pharma, high-tech, scientific, and financial services are driven by Creatives, it seems that every company -- from heavy industry to oil to transportation -- has an important share of such people.

And just as dispersed/remote workers have different challenges and exposures than plant-based ones, Creatives have custom needs that differ from more "procedural," hands-on contributors. With these employees, elevating their mindsets is the name of the game. Leaders have to adjust their strategies and communications to support these more-mentally-than-physically-exerting workers in order to elevate overall performance. In fact, caring for their health, safety, and well-being is essential for nurturing and eliciting knowledge and developing creative approaches.

To give a hint on how to approach them, management guru Peter Drucker wrote in "Management Challenges for the 21st Century," "More and more people in the workforce -- and mostly knowledge workers -- will have to manage themselves." But how to reach these people, especially where many managers are more attuned to the conditions and needs of "old-style" industrial worker? We've found that it's critical to first tap into the natural motivation of such workers. Further, while they might not initially identify risks to their health, safety, and well-being stemming from their work environment, many are motivated by mastering stress and high-grading their off-work hobbies and activities.

Not surprisingly, many geeks and other knowledge workers are intrigued by and drawn to martial arts. After all, what they and martial arts masters do is similar: drawing on their internal resources to change physical reality. Perhaps to balance their being less physically active at work, many Creatives are drawn to the idea of personal power (whether interest in superhero shows or video games, etc.) But what they may not know is that they can go beyond game fantasy to actually access and apply these powers to live a more creative, charged, healthy, and high-performance work and lifestyle -- with the right methods and techniques. And this doesn't require decades of hard training getting bruised and battered.

Such workers are often intrigued by a "Gung Fu Life -- and Workstyle." By the way, "Gung Fu" is not just a family of martial arts; in Chinese, it really refers to learning any skills for becoming more effective.

In this light, here are three (of many) keys for motivating and changing actions of Creatives through internal martial arts principles that come from our decades of worldwide experience in many sectors:

  • Develop Stress Power for more available energy. I define stress as "the feeling of being out of control." Any strategy that elevates personal control strengthens Stress Power -- from better sequencing of task items to decreasing others’ resistance; same for techniques, from Breath Power to Dynamic Relaxation to methods for safer lifting or walking across a slippery parking lot. Negative stress can erode mental and physical health. When it is positively controlled, stress augments excitement, creativity, and engagement. This goes well beyond being a hypochondriac; numerous studies in the field of psycho-neuroimmunology clearly show how mental approaches and practices can either considerably weaken -- or greatly strengthen -- physical health.
  • Self-control attention. It's critical to be able to clear the mind from external fears and concerns in order to attend to critical tasks. Like internal martial arts adepts, Creatives have to be able to shift at will between the four dimensions of attention: Broad External (scanning around to see what is going on overall), Focused External (homing in on a computer screen or other target), Focused Internal (retrieving a piece of information from memory), and Broad Internal (mentally assembling disparate data into a cohesive new approach.) Concentration/focusing penetrates; awareness/broad attention notes and accepts. The right and controlled mix of all four attention patterns is critical to highest performance.
  • Boost balance. Physical balance in any position means using minimal muscle strength to overcome the pull of gravity by being internally aligned and relaxed. If a person is but 15 percent off balance, he is using about 15 percent more strength than needed. Internal martial masters see all actions and exchanges as energy to be directed; frittered away or tied-up excess physical energy can drain away from the power to pierce through persistent problems. This applies to sitting, too. Sitting well, on balance, promotes mental alertness and also entails reducing shearing forces that build up from being stationary for protracted periods; this can distract attention from thinking and planning. And cumulative tensions from even slightly leaning or overfighting gravity also can wear down energy reserves better applied toward performance. It's essential that Creatives learn to unload tensions in simple and invisible-to-others ways.

The above skillsets can be relatively quickly learned and developed with the right practice. By moving toward a Gung Fu state of mind and Gung Fu state of body, Creatives -- in fact, everyone -- can heighten their "superpowers" to better analyze, identify problems, develop creative options, craft specific solutions, and attain amazing, status-quo-bending results.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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