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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

Generation zero error

The demand for a successful error culture can be heard in most companies and yet dealing with errors and ignorance still seems to be a challenge for most of us. Why? What prevents professionally trained and intelligent colleagues from openly speaking up in meetings when they do not understand what colleagues have to say?

Non-knowledge in times of insecure working conditions

Surely the fear of consequences is the first thing that can be thought of. Particularly in hierarchically managed teams and in insecure workplaces with fixed-term contracts, there is a dependency, experienced as fragile, about being evaluated by superiors and colleagues.
But the fear of embarrassment and exposure goes far beyond such actual dependence. Even colleagues with stable working conditions, talking with colleagues after work do not ask simple questions. Insecure contracts of employment and employment relationships therefore only seem to express an already existing mood.

Generation Zero Error

This kind of mood is described by the well-known sociologist and journalist Heinz Bude, who calls it the basic mood of our generation of 35 to 45-year-olds, which he calls “Generation Zero Error”. He says that it is a generation which is wealthy and rich in options and possibilities in life and yet is ruled by a subtle fear and a strange discomfort. It is the finely trickling fear of mistakes, wrong decisions and evaluation that makes the people feel uncomfortable and in some places also depressed.

In order to better understand the fear of mistakes, it makes sense to deal with the narcissism of our generation in a world of increasing digitalization. Generation Zero Error grew up without social media. Our frame of comparison was the peer group and of course our parents. And last but not least, there was enough free time for us to be ourselves. We had to make an effort to feel, define and motivate ourselves from within. The possibility of locating and comparing ourselves and our lives today in social networks creates a pressure to compare ourselves and an external perception that only very few can escape. Thereby we experience our life, and not only our professional life, in constant comparison.

As Bode writes, the basis of our fears is an anxiety of multiple options, the inability to deal with the innumerable possibilities and a dull feeling of failure. The comparison we are exposed to not only encompasses all areas of life, but goes beyond them. It also touches our way of being in relationship, being with friends, with our children and in our relationships. There is always someone who has achieved more, who is more calmly when it comes to love, who is more successful in life and shows us on social media. The option to have failed has become our constant companion.

Psychodynamically, this constant comparison creates a narcissistic fragility. We find the resonance for our lives and our decisions less and less in ourselves. Certainly, important people are still shaping our lives and even early relationships give us a framework for our way of building attachment to ourselves and to others. But the dependence of our self-esteem on external affirmation is greatly enhanced by the omnipresence of public appreciation. The need to adapt constantly and to be flexible is enormous. Psychoanalysts like Heiko Maaz speak of a narcissistic society. A society that is characterized by the desire for a perfect external effect, by self-optimization and thereby the withdrawal from oneself and from the real other.

Time for introspection

In order to locate oneself in groups and teams in a self-guided and stable way, a clear resonance from the inside is needed. Important are one’s own values and the ability to regulate uncertainties within one’s psychic system. Surely the mirroring we experienced in our early childhood is still the basis for our style of attachment towards ourselves and others. By experiencing it we have learned, at best, not only to experience our perception and our feelings, but also to validate them. But even the best foundation is of no use, if we do not take the time to experience, understand and accept feelings, moods and impulses independently of evaluations and comparisons.

Taking influence independently

Such a paradox can also be found on social media platforms themselves – while on the one hand they can create an enormous pressure to adapt and they can strongly promote the inner dependence of the user to an evaluative outside, it is nevertheless the less adapted voices that most strongly shape the formation of opinion in social media. Influencers are seen as young, independent and authentic in their communication, often they are young people without graduation and without straight biographies. On Youtube, Instagram and Twitter, they ask questions that reflect on ourselves, and they dare to state the fears and worries of young people in a nutshell, which they don’t dare to do anymore in order to not appear in bad light. Influencers dare to successfully use their questions as a frame of reference.

The naked truth

Generation Zero Error seems to be stuck a little bit in the fairy tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes by Andersen. We stare at the narcissistically bloated self-staging of others and we don’t trust our own perception. No one dares to ask whether the emperor might be naked after all. Like the colleague in the meeting, who expresses himself in a very complicated way and whom no one understands, might simply didn’t say anything relevant.

Error culture is more than the lack of sanctions

In this context, a study from Vienna found that people who are exposed to less pressure and less unstable working conditions bring more initiative and ideas into the company, which doesn’t come as surprise for sure. It is the independence of external pressure that allows people to become creative and proactive.
They begin to trust themselves and their own system of reference again. They simply ask when they don’t understand something. Anyone who tries, experiences amazing things. We get surprisingly directly to the (sometimes previously unconscious) core of problems and stagnation. We see the topic in a new light. And finally, we become more who we are.

Andrea Wurst




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