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Unshrinking - the Manifesto

By Max McKeown and Philip Whiteley

A book I particularly recommend is called "Unshrink: Yourself - People - Business - the World" by Max McKeown and Philip Whiteley. To 'unshrink' means to restore something to its natural dimensions. Applied to ourselves, and for other people and businesses, unshrinking leads to radical change without going back to the beginning. "Unshrink" is a book that exposes the deep-seated myths that keep people and businesses from fulfilling their potential and replaces them with a set of principles that make us better people, that make businesses more profitable and that make the world a more decent place to live.

This excerpt is from the Introduction...

"We are condemned to choose," wrote Jean-Paul Sartre. To choose, however, one needs a rationale. Perfect knowledge of information is rare, so our reasons for exercising a certain choice involve faith. We are condemned to believe. But to believe in what?

In this book we will argue that our beliefs have shrunk us. We have been shrunk. Bad news isn't it? The potential that we had at the start has been diminished. We and our world are less than we should be.

We are astonishingly intelligent. Our genius is not new and is not confined to an elite. It can be seen in the ghetto and in the boardroom. We are also curiously prone to superstition. The scientist designs a space rocket but knocks on wood before the flight, just to be sure.

We are interdependent. Our modern world cannot function without the assistance of others. This is our human species then: intelligent, superstitious and dependent upon one another. So why do we demean and compete against each other? Why do our economic theories portray us as either coldly rational or stupid? Why do we suffer depression and stress in silence? Why do we display indifference towards 'them' and illogical loyalty towards 'us'? Our shrinking myths tell us that we are what we do, that work is more important than life, that capital creates value, that people are stupid, that people should do as they are told, that all change is good, that plans must be kept secret and that the organization is a machine.

These myths cause good people to do harmful things. In this book, we will meet the sports coach who thinks that leadership means shouting, the companies that think that long hours boost profits and the campaigners who think that to give to some you must steal from others. No research, no logic supports these approaches. We have assembled a case that demonstrates the opposite - that virtue is the friend of success.

Why do such myths retain their force? Typically, they are presented as authoritative and factual no matter how much they are at variance with natural law or ordinary experience. And they are generally only obvious from the distance of another society, time or - occasionally - from outside individual businesses or relationships. Distance gives us clarity that is not enjoyed by those close to the problem. Dominant myths are rarely questioned for the simple reason that they are accepted as true and are not debated since they are assumed to be factual and "just the way that things are."

Myth has existed in every society. Indeed, it would seem to be a basic constituent of human culture. Because the variety is so great, it is difficult to generalize about its nature. But it is clear that in both general characteristics and details myths reflect, express and explore people's self-image.

Within the same country, political party, business or team, there may be competing, conflicting myths that distort reality differently for those who believe them. Attempts at improving our organizations or our societies will struggle unless they are based on reality rather than on myths.

This book makes a bold claim. It seeks to identify, expose, defog and debunk the shrinking myths that educate the way that work is carried out and managed in our world and reduce the world's capacity to serve its inhabitants. The study of myths provides insights into the true nature of human society and the study of the shrinking myths will provide insights into the true nature of work and its place in life.

Unshrinking is different from growing potential because we believe that people are stopped from reaching their natural stature and ability. People don't have to be forced to grow. Growth is not the gift of educators, managers, social workers and politicians. It is innate and vigorous at birth. The trouble is what happens between birth and death. So often, lives can be termed the shrinking years.

Time to dig deeper.


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