January 19, 2016

The Curious David Bowie Effect

Few can have missed the outpouring in the news and social media about the passing of David Bowie. As with many a famous performer – many would say cultural icon – there’s been a lot said, some of which appears to have divided opinion. Mostly this seems to have been extremely positive/supportive/appreciative of his work and life, but not all. Indeed one Facebook friend of mine got extremely agitated about the amount of coverage and as a result ended up deleting his Facebook account!

Of course this phenomenon is not unique to David Bowie. It’s just that his passing creates a recent example of how uniquely individuals create their experience. 

It’s down to a process that’s going on day in, day out for all of us. And here’s the thing: we think we’re feeling the way we’re feeling because of external events. For example ‘I didn’t like Bowie’s music, so now that there’s so much in the news about him I feel angry. It’s the fault of the news.’ But we now know that this is actually an illusion, and one that catches most of us out most of the time.

Get out of the way!

At the first public showing of a motion picture, back in 1896, the audience ran for safety when they saw the short film of a train, taken in such as way that the train was moving towards the camera. After the viewing the audience were shown that there was nothing behind the screen.

They didn’t understand the nature of film.

The experience of ‘that train is going to run me over’ came from inside of them, generated by their thinking. And we are no different: we create our own experience of reality through our thinking in the moment, but we don’t understand the nature of thought.

"Thought creates the world and then says 'I didn’t do it'" David Bohm, Quantum Physicist

Whilst it appears to us that our experiences are generated from the outside - through external events - the reality is we live in a thought-generated, experiential reality: 100% of our experience is coming from our thinking in the moment. From inside of us. Our experiences are never generated from the outside, though it appears that way. As David Bohm concluded after applying his understanding of quantum physics to social science, ‘Thought creates the world and then says ‘I didn’t do it.’

So what?

Ok, so maybe that is how experience is created. So what? Am I really telling you that, for example, some of the nasty things that have happened in your life didn’t really happen? No, not at all. Stuff happens. At the same time, the only way we can experience it is through our thinking. Let me give you an example or two.

My son is scared of spiders. This weekend he started playing Minecraft for the first time, and for those not in the know, Minecraft has a lot of spiders in it (something we didn’t realise when we downloaded it…)

One minute he was playing happily, the next he was racing across the room for cover, shrieking, because a ‘spider’ had appeared unexpectedly. Now this spider was only (very blocky) pixels on a screen, not even that real looking, but it was sufficient to have him run in terror. Why? Because of how he was creating his own reality: a huge black spider with red eyes (probably all blown up way out of proportion) about to jump on him; just pixels on a screen to you and me. 

Last year I fractured my pelvis, though I didn’t know I had. The doctor thought it was a trapped nerve and muscle spasm, and so did I. I continued riding my bike for 3 weeks during long training sessions, and whilst the pain seemed okay, I sensed something was not quite right. However I could get around just fine. A scan then showed the source of the discomfort, and as soon as I knew it was a (pretty big) fracture, I was hobbling around like an old man, barely able to bend down to put a shoe on. Good job I found out the source of the pain, and at the same time, notice the impact of my thinking on my behaviour.

So for people getting all worked up about the focus on David Bowie, what should they do? Watch some YouTube kitten movie to cheer themselves up? Well they could, but if they realised it’s not the fact that there is a lot in the news about Bowie that’s getting them hot under the collar; it’s their own thinking that’s doing it, then there’s no need to do anything. Going and watching a kitten movie is like trying to trick your mind with another trick. Far better to understand how thoughts work and save yourself the time. The ‘monster’ that the media and social networks may be only really exists in our own minds. 

When you take a step back, whether you like David Bowie and his work not, few can argue that he made an impact. RIP David.

And what’s this got to do with leadership and work? Well, everything actually. Fundamentally, this is what’s behind everything that prevents us realising our full potential: things like stress, overwhelm, anxiety, office politics, levels of busy-ness, baggage from previous encounters and so on. The performance of an organisation is a function of the quality of its people’s thinking. When the quality and clarity of thinking improves, great things happen. To find out more about how this approach is starting to bring about huge improvements in organisations’ performance and in personal quality of life, drop us a line. 

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