In part 1 of this post I was talking about how, when continuous improvement does work, it always strikes me as a much less stressful way to work and I was wondering why that is.
Although there may be conceptual parallels between Thorndike and AGILE, I don’t feel I have yet gotten to why continuous improvement feels like a more forgiving and easy environment. I was thinking maybe the work of Martin Seligman can shed some light on this. Seligman (and Steve Maier) put dogs into situations where there was nothing they could do to avoid painful electric shocks. They found the dogs behaved in much the same way as depressed people. Other dogs could stop the shocks by pressing a lever. Still other dogs were not shocked at all. After this, Seligman and Maier put the same dogs in boxes (there they go again with their animals and boxes) and experimented with making them shuttle from one side of the box to the other. He motivated them to move using electric shocks. If they jumped over a small partition they escaped the electric shocks. I find this pretty grim stuff and am not at all clear this was worth it. Still, it is interesting to note that the dogs who had not been shocked and the dogs who had been able to do something about it were able to escape by jumping over the partition. The dogs who had been helpless sadly laid down and were shocked. They did not try to escape.
I am wondering if learned helplessness goes some way to explaining why continuous improvement environments are less stressful. We always feel we can try something new.
There is an interesting take on learned helplessness in people here