Cognitive Dissonance: Where Have All the Workers Gone?

Futurist David Houle talks about adapting to cognitive dissonance, COVID-19 and its unpredictability, and the evolution of a new normal.

Segment One – What is Cognitive Dissonance?

We are living in two realities. One of those realities is the desire to go back to the pre-covid world, the “normal” we used to have. The other is COVID-19 is here to stay and the world we live in changed forever. That is particularly evident when it comes to work and jobs. The workforce is vanishing from workplaces. An apt description of the current job market has been called The Perfect Labor Storm. the war for talent, and an employment meltdown. Fewer people are joining the workforce and more are dropping out, leaving employers mighty uncomfortable. The gradual shift of power from employer to employee was not the result of the pandemic but most of the trends started over three decades ago. COVID-19 just dismantled the remnants of a 20th-century product distribution model.  By 2030, around 1 billion people are expected to become digital nomads. COVID was a wake-up call and a learning experience. It forced the world to find new normalcy that is different from what was perceived to be normal. Businesses that can and will survive the disruption are the ones that have dared to look beyond numbers and invest in culture. It’s the culture that has helped them migrate to Zoom or remote work. The certainty to which human beings are accustomed crumbled in the pandemic and duality is the new normal. It’s this duality that has created cognitive dissonance. The workforce and business must adapt. To do that requires new skills.

Segment Two – Adaptability Skillsets

One’s character and personality affect how and why people adapt to change.  It’s not a good or bad character, just different. For example, extroverts need to talk about and act on the changes while introverts can learn, think, process, and listen. As long as managers and individuals accept the differences, both types can become change agents or Luddites! To facilitate the adaptation, there are five abilities one must work on in these critical times. They are mental flexibility, grit, resilience, growth mindset, and unlearning. One example of where adaptability skills are required lies in the debate and controversy over remote work, hybrid work, and going back to the office. While the best solutions evolve, everyone will need grit, resilience, and mental flexibility along with a willingness to explore and unlearning old behaviors and assumptions.  

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Quotes Segment One:

1. “A whole lot of transformation on a personal level then transfers onto the workplace.” 6:28

People have been confined to their homes for an extended time due to the first wave of COVID and now the delta variant. This has given them ample time to rethink their lives, work on their personal selves by working out, meditating, learning a new skill, re-prioritizing their time, and more. Millions of people have experienced a significant evolution in how they approach work and life. This transformation is impacted jobs, work, and the workplace.

2. “Covid 19 is a bicycle with training wheels.” 18:03

COVID19 as a pandemic has disrupted the world. But in the long run, it will become one of those training sessions that force people to adapt to change, that could not have been achieved any other way. It’s like learning to balance on a bicycle. You fall, skid, and get hurt the first few times your ride. But once you learn the act and art of balancing, you can never forget that.

3. “Be Water, my friend.” 19:03

Water takes the shape of the container in which it is kept. When external circumstances change, being flexible like water is the only way out. Learn to fill the shape of the “container” in which we live but retain the power to flow and adapt. Water at first finds the path of least resistance but over time, has the power to change the landscape. Being like water can make one flexible, resilient and patient.

4. The daylight in which you enter the tunnel is not the daylight in which you exit the tunnel.” 23:05

Going back to normal is a pretty popular conversation these days. There is an unhealthy and even dangerous belief that we have to power to unwind time and return to life in a pre-pandemic world. For work that means a newer workplace, where hybrid will be the norm. Office spaces could be physically reduced, the 5-day work week abolished, and flexible work schedules a productive and robust way to do business. IF COVID19 had been a tunnel, the light we left behind when we entered would be far different that the light we see after we emerge. 

5. “Humans are addicted to certainty and the challenge to that is we need a duality or a choice.” 26:03

Human beings are addicted to certainty and predictability. COVID forced all of us to go cold turkey. COVID disrupted our routines, our independence, our mobility, and our work. It forced us to in a duality, moving to an unfamiliar future while our beliefs and assumptions are still grounded in the past.  That in a nutshell is cognitive dissonance.  

Quotes Segment Two:

1. “Approaching change in different ways” 36:36

The changing work culture has to be accepted by both extroverts and introverts, though they will exhibit their adaptability to change in distinct ways. If you are extroverted you need to talk about what change is gonna be. If you are introverted, you want to think about it, then process, read, learn, and listen. Neither is good nor bad. Just different. What’s important is how different people approach change and adaptability differently.

2. "5 abilities needed to survive the change." 36:48

To survive exponential change, one needs to have five essential adaptability skills. 

  •  Mental Flexibility
  • Grit
  •  Resilience
  •  Growth Mindset
  •  Unlearning

The first of them is Mental Flexibility, which allows one to embrace cognitive dissonance.

Grit and Resilience are quintessential skills required to achieve long-term goals because disruption will be part of our normal.

Growth Mindset- An attitude that embraces new situations, challenges, and change.

Unlearning – This is the most critical skill of all because the new normal is what the world has never experienced before. A lot of habits and behaviors that have been learned now have to be unlearned.

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