Sunday, July 10, 2011

Toward a Higher Quality of Life

There are many different views of what produces a good quality of life (QoL) for individuals, teams, and organizations. These views have sprung up over time and have been championed by various proponents. After summarizing some of the major approaches, I'll add my own $0.02.

  • Is QoL Productivity? For many years the singular definition of the "health" of a Nation has been the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. GDP has the benefit of reducing all the inputs to a single number that goes up or down and can be tracked over time. Taken as a proxy for economic health, the GDP has been useful, if flawed. Many economists point to some inconsistencies (e.g., mass casualties cause a paradoxical increase in GDP--ambulances rushing to the scene and doctors helping survivors, etc.). 
  • Is QoL Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? This tripartite goal is the basis of the Declaration of Independence (and similar documents from other nations), yet it strikes me as hard to measure or score. Some have said that the United States of America has succeeded as a Nation for so long precisely because the founding documents are sufficiently vague.  That may be true, but it would be hard to prove. 
  • Is QoL Character? Aristotle said the purpose of life was the development of character. As water seeks its own level, we should commit ourselves to being the best version of ourselves possible. When we try to do more than we are able, we get frustrated and disappointed. When we lack sufficient challenge, we feel unfulfilled. Challenges and obstacles are part of the struggle of life and we fight the good fight to prove our mettle and improve our character.
  • Is QoL Sweet Nothing?  Buddhists cultivate a life of the mind free from want. The way to be happy is to eliminate suffering. The way to eliminate suffering is to be happy with what we have, to stop wanting more, to essentially live a low-amplitude life where the peaks and valleys both cancel out in a flat line of peace and serenity.
  • Is QoL Happiness? Well, yes, of course. Sentient beings seek pleasure and avoid pain. If happiness is another term for well-being, then I like it even more, because well-being seems a more inclusive and less trivial term. But individuals will have very different (even competing) definitions of happiness. The challenge here is to aggregate the happiness or well-being of individuals into teams and organizations in a way that remains useful. 
  • Is QoL Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll? Anarchists, Nihilists, and Hedonists have opined that God is dead, religion is for the weak and worthless, and he who dies with the most toys wins. These opinions may be valid, but it seems that fame, power, and riches often have negative consequences, too. Paradoxically, a life devoted to pleasure rarely produces sustained high QoL.
  • Is QoL Awareness? What if everyone were truly self-aware, i.e., intimately aware of their own knowledge, skills, abilities, preferences, motives, and habits? What if this awareness included a tolerance for the differences between individuals in teams and organizations? And what if the tolerance further enabled an ability to either harness the power of the differences, or compensate for the gaps left by the differences?      

One explanation for why there are so many seemingly competing models for QoL is that they are all "correct." In other words, defining and measuring QoL is complex, and the right answer will look different to different individuals and groups. For this very reason, I find the Awareness model most appealing of the seven mentioned above.

  • Productivity can be confused with busyness. 
  • The Pursuit of Happiness is too vague.
  • Character is going to be defined differently for everyone and very hard to aggregate to groups
  • Sweet Nothing to me is playing not to lose--I would rather play to win and take my lumps
  • Happiness, like Character, will mean very different things to different people. 
  • Rock & Roll, like Sweet Nothing, is avoiding, or escaping unpleasantness
  • Awareness is the one thing that can be measured and improved across individuals, teams, and organizations.

I am motivated by helping people increase their perceived levels of Awareness as a means to making the world a better place. QoL comes from Awareness because Awareness reduces uncertainty and brings clarity. It helps people (individuals, teams, organizations) understand what is, and is not, within their ability to influence. I propose to help people increase their levels of Awareness (and thus enhance their QoL) by capturing, analyzing, and presenting their responses to penetrating questions such as these:

  • Where am I / are we headed? Clarify the Fundamental Objective
  • How will I / we know when I / we have gotten there? Define the Means Objectives
  • If attainment of each Means Objective could be scored on a scale of 0-100, what is my / our score today? Develop a value model, and metrics, evaluation measures, and value functions. 
  • Is my / our score trending up or down over time? Connect data to the value functions, use the model to sum up the means objective scores to a single fundamental objective score, and take periodic (monthly?) snapshots.
  • If the trend needs improving, what is the best use of constrained resources (time, talent, treasure) today? Use Monte Carlo simulation to test the impact of various alternatives on the fundamental objective score. 
  • What bad habits of mind (a.k.a. LifeTraps) may snare or derail me / us? Identify and manage threats and weaknesses.
  • What beneficial habits of mind (a.k.a. LifeSprings) might give me / us a boost? Seek out and leverage opportunities and strengths.

What is the aim of people and groups of people? How will people and groups of people know whether they are making good progress on their chosen (or given) road?  My way of making the world a better place is helping people answer these questions.