Dr. Edwin Locke’s pioneering work in the field of goal-setting and job satisfaction has greatly enriched our understanding of motivation and changed the way many leaders think about their roles. For this episode of The TalentGrow Show, I made an exception to the format, allowing it to run over-time, so that we don’t miss a thing. Drawing from his renowned Goal-Setting Theory, Locke discusses questions such as how to set rational, achievable goals for your team, what many leaders misunderstand about extrinsic motivation, and which visionary questions leaders should ask themselves to inspire their team and ensure job satisfaction. Locke also gives us a glimpse into the fascinating research and ideas behind his latest book, The Illusion of Determinism. Plus, what did visionary leader Steve Jobs get right that Elon Musk seems to be getting wrong? Listen and find out!
ABOUT DR. EDWIN LOCKE:
Edwin A. Locke is an American psychologist who is internationally known for his research on goal setting. He has published more than 320 chapters, notes and articles in professional journals on such subjects as work motivation, job satisfaction, incentives and the philosophy of science. Among many other distinctions, he has been elected a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychological Society, the Academy of Management, and has been a consulting editor for leading journals. Dr. Locke is an author, co-author, or editor of thirteen books.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
- Why it’s important to find something that you love doing, even when it means trying a lot of different things (6:30)
- Dr. Locke explains one big reason why many students choose a career-path that they end up hating (8:09)
- Halelly shares her own story about finding her passion in university (9:21)
- Why Dr. Locke thinks that it’s easier to experiment with different career-paths in America than in any other country (10:48)
- The most important insights you should know when it comes to goal-setting (11:15)
- Commitment is based on the fact that you value what you’re doing (12:07)
- How Dr. Locke discovered his own career passion (12:33)
- Dr. Locke gives some examples of how his theories have evolved over time, and talks about how he clarified the long, confused history of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation (13:16)
- Three categories for living happily: intrinsic motivation, achievement motivation, and extrinsic motivation (14:28)
- What are some ways that leaders can use Dr. Locke’s research to help direct their goals and actions? (18:07)
- Dr. Locke explains through examples why all organizations must be goal-directed (20:21)
- Dr. Locke uses the example of Tesla and Elon Musk to highlight the importance of achievable goal-setting (20:59)
- A leader has to inspire his or her team with the values and vision of the company (23:04)
- Dr. Locke makes a comparison between Elon Musk and Steve Jobs to highlight his points about goal-setting and inspiration (23:24)
- What happens when you give your team irrational goals (26:01)
- How to use “stretch-goals” productively (26:16)
- Dr. Locke recommends a new book on goal-setting, titled Measure What Matters by John Doerr (28:52)
- Halelly introduces the topic of Dr. Locke’s latest book, The Illusion of Determinism, and the neuroscientific findings that can inform leadership (30:29)
- Why consciousness itself poses a deep problem for determinists (33:03)
- Dr. Locke explains why he thinks that consciousness is an ‘emergent property’ of the brain (34:27)
- Sense-perception is automatic, but the process of thought is not; it requires the process of integrating perceptions into concepts (37:00)
- Dr. Locke shares an example of perception vs thought-processes, or automatic vs volitional processes (37:48)
- The evolution process that separated humans fundamentally from chimpanzees and made civilization possible (40:37)
- Why many believe that all causality is mechanical, and the contradiction that this belief leads to (42:25)
- “Free will doesn’t mean the absence of causality; it means a certain kind of causality which is self-controlled.” (45:06)
- What’s new and exciting on Dr. Locke’s horizon? (45:22)
- One specific action you can take to upgrade your own career or leadership effectiveness (46:21)
- Get Dr. Locke’s newest book, The Illusion of Determinism
- Check out Dr. Locke’s website
- Get the book that Dr. Locke recommends on applying goal-setting to your business: Measure What Matters by John Doerr
- Listen to Episode 3 of the TalentGrow Show with Caroline Adams Miller, where Caroline and Halelly discuss how to set good goals and why the S.M.A.R.T acronym is misleading
Episode 95 Ed Locke
TEASER CLIP: Ed: A great life would be if you can combine the three kinds of goals – love things you’re doing, either in the job and outside the job like hobbies and a field of art, do well in some reasonable standard tied to your own capacity, and third, do things that make your future more secure and better. We’re hypothesizing the best combination is all three of these together.
[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.
Halelly: Hey there TalentGrowers. Welcome back. This is Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. In this episode of the TalentGrow Show I was faced with a little bit of a conundrum. What do you do when you have a professor, very, very esteemed in the world, one who you admire, who has had a very long career and has done many significant things in his career, and you have a 30-minute format for your podcast? Well, you might do what I did, which is let it go longer. So, this particular episode definitely veers form our usual 30-minute format, and an experiment of sorts. I hope that you will enjoy it, because it is full of very thought-provoking stuff from Dr. Edwin Locke. He is an amazing person. I will be reading his bio to you at the beginning of our interview, so no need to repeat it now. But in this particular episode, we discuss his background, his advice for all of us for career decisions. We talk about goals because he is the originator of goal setting theory and he knows a lot about how to set goals. We also talk about what leaders should do, especially when it comes to goals and motivating people and setting an aspiring vision.
Then we talk about something that is a little bit out of the typical realm of things we discuss here on the podcast, slightly more philosophical. That is about the distinction between determinism and free will. This is something that personally interests me and I’ve been seeing it creep up a lot in literature in this idea that maybe humans don’t have free will and Ed definitely has a very strong opinion about this. He has written a book about it and I thought it would be wonderful to have him on the show to talk about this topic. Of course as always, he shares actionable advice, so I hope that you’ll enjoy this episode with Dr. Ed Locke and stick around, although it’s a little bit longer than usual. As always, I’m very open to your feedback, to your comments, to your reviews, to your suggestions. Here we go.
TalentGrowers, welcome back. I am so excited to have Dr. Edwin Locke on with me. He has such a distinguished history and so many accomplishments that it is truly an honor to have him on the show. Let me tell you just some of the things that he has accomplished. He’s internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership and other topics. He has won so many honors from the likes of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Behavior, Academy of Management, things like Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. Along with Gary Latham, he has spent over 50 years development goal setting theory. That is ranked number one in importance among 73 management theories. He’s published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books. Dr. Locke, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.
Ed: Thank you for having me.
Halelly: It is my pleasure. May I address you as Ed or Dr. Locke?
Ed: Ed is fine.
Halelly: Great, welcome to the TalentGrow Show. I’m so honored that you’re here and we’re going to try and cover – you have such an illustrious career that it’s going to be hard to deliver all the value that you have to share in the amount of time that this show is aired for. But, my goal is to share some of the juiciest bits of your goal setting theory as well as your latest book. Before we get into that, I’d love for you to share a very brief overview of your professional journey. It’s been a long and interesting journey, but where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?
Ed: Almost all my career was spent at the University of Maryland. About 34 years. Before that I was two years at a research institute. In undergraduate school I was mainly exposed to experiments on rats and Sigmund Freud. Neither of which excited me very much, but I was interested in psychology in general and business. And my advisor suggested I consider industrial organizational psychology as a graduate program, which I had never heard of. He said it combines business and psychology, so I applied to Cornell University and was accepted. It turned out that I loved the field very much and that’s where I became interested in goal setting. Two of my professors had written a textbook on industrial psychology, the first one written. It talked about one study done in England 25 years before, on goal setting. His name was Professor C.A. Mace, who I was very happy to meet before he died because he was excited about my work. That’s how I got the idea for studies of goal setting, which I did my dissertation on, because I liked the field. I thought I had a good approach to motivation and because what I did seemed to work. I spent my career with the help of Gary Latham – who is now at the University of Toronto – in studying goal setting. I think one thing that comes out of that is it’s really, really important to find something in your career that you love doing. Sometimes you have to try things, because you don’t know if you’re going to like it. I didn’t know if I was going to like industrial psychology, but it turned out I loved it and I didn’t know I was going to enjoy studying goal setting, but it turned out that I loved it, and was good at it. The love for that and the ability to do it are what kept me going for I guess 50 years on this topic and I’ve also talked about other topics too.
Halelly: Right. It’s true. You’re not just in one narrow path. You’ve done a lot of interesting projects and taught about a lot of different other topics as well. Thank you for sharing that, and by the way, University of Maryland is my alma mater. I got my bachelors and my masters degree from that University, so of course we have that connection, although I missed out on meeting you when I was there because you hadn’t hit my radar yet at that point.
Ed: What year was that?
Halelly: I got my bachelor’s degree in 1992 and my masters degree in 1995.
Ed: Okay, well, I was there. I retired from Maryland in 2001.
Halelly: I know, I definitely feel the burn that I missed out on meeting you! But I have yet hopes, I think I’ll meet you at a conference where you’re speaking coming up in July. I look forward to seeing you there. Before we get into a little bit maybe more about goal setting theory, just in terms of career advice since you just offered a little bit, what do you think is a big myth or a misconception that a lot of people have about how they approach career advice?
Ed: I think a great many people choose it out of conformity. For instance, huge numbers of students go into law because their peers are going into law. All the studies that I’ve read show that most lawyers hate being lawyers. A huge percentage hate it, so you wonder maybe they would have liked to be a veterinarian, which is not as status-seeking, but something they really loved. I think it’s really, really important to choose what you love. Many grad students in my graduate program at Cornell weren’t enthusiastic, and they dropped out. But at least they had the gumption to try things. When I was professor, many of the grad students we admitted dropped out, and others loved it and did very well and had good careers. Sometimes you have to just try and see what happens. See if you like it, and see if you’re reasonably good at it so you can earn a living.
Halelly: Yeah, definitely. When I was at the University of Maryland, I had no idea what I wanted to do at all. I at first, based on my father’s advice – which seemed reasonable enough – I went into the business school track, and business school at University of Maryland is very competitive. The first two years are weed out years, and I survived those two years, and was actually at the time I think it was like 25 percent of people that try to get into business school make it, and I was one of those. As soon as I got that letter of acceptance into business school, I changed my major because I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t enjoy those two years. I was like, “This is not for me.” And I went into communication instead.
Ed: Well, it’s good to learn what you like and see what happens. Some people, we had graduate students as old as 50 at Cornell in my doctoral program, and we had students as old as 50 when I was Maryland as a professor, who entered as a doctoral student. Many of them flourished, because they’d said, “I’m tired of what I was doing. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to try this,” and many really had good careers, even at that age.
Halelly: That’s amazing to hear. You are a perfect example of how even though our time on earth is short, we have so much time to use to make ourselves fulfilled, and to use our gift. It’s never too late, even if you think you made a mistake early on, or if you’ve tried it, you’ve done it, you’re done with it and want to do something different.
Ed: America is a good country. A lot of European countries, you’re sort of locked in early. In America, you can reboot anytime you want and still succeed. I think it’s easier in this country than any other country. You’re not put on a track and told that’s where you are for life. You have lots of second and third chances.
Halelly: It’s true. I appreciate that we can savor that. That is something not to be taken for granted, because it’s not necessarily a given everywhere. One of your most cherished contributions to the world of work is definitely goal setting theory. What do you think are, especially if our listeners are not as well aware of it, what do you think are the most important insights they should know when it comes to goal setting?
Ed: In terms of our research, here are a few key things. Number one, the goal should be clear. If the goals are vague, if you tell yourself, “I’m going to do your best,” you don’t. It’s too subjective. Goals should be clear, as clear as possible, either quantitative or deadlines, and if you want to achieve a lot, make your goals challenging. You don’t have to make them pretentious or ridiculous, but challenging so that you’re pushing yourself. Specific, challenging. You need to get feedback to see how you’re doing. You need commitment. Commitment is based on the fact that you value what you’re doing. If you claim you want to be a writer and set goals, you have to really value the process of writing. It has to mean something to you. And then you have to have some degree of confidence that you can perform the task required in your career. Like I was very, very good at math, up until calculus. I didn’t get calculus. I don’t know if I had a bad teacher, but it didn’t sink in right, so I learned statistics but I knew a field in the hard sciences was not for me, because I just didn’t grasp enough of it. Psychology I could grasp, and also I was capable of designing experiments. I was capable of figuring out what would be important and what’s trivial, and I wrote well. So those are things that worked in my favor for my career.
Halelly: In terms of goal setting, since you’ve written about it for so many years, is there anything that’s been maybe discovered in more recent experiments or that’s come to light recently for you, as a realization that’s caused you to change your mind about any part of what you used to prescribe?
Ed: I wouldn’t say change my mind, but I’d say my knowledge, I love learning and I love reading, so my knowledge has increased over time. Let me tell you some examples of that. Latham decided to start a program of his own with his students with learning goals. We think of goals as performance goals, like I’m going to increase output in my sales job by 10 percent. I’m going to increase profits by eight percent. But you can set goals for learning, which work the same way if you have challenge and specificity, and when you learn new things of course, that gives you skills to achieve outcomes. That’s an important benefit of Latham’s research, which I certainly embraced. I only did a little of that myself, but that was a learning thing.
A recent paper, I’ve also started to divide goals in a paper in a way that might be helpful to people, into three sub-categories. This is based on clarifying a long but confused history of what’s called intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I won’t go into the confusions, but here are the three categories that I think are great for living happily. Intrinsic motivation, I would define as loving doing stuff. In other words, loving the process and the action. Divorced from any particular outcome. As Howard Roark say, in your create the unique, love the doing. For me it was doing industrial psychology and motivation. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it makes your life kind of sad, because you may be working hard at something that doesn’t give you joy, so you really want to find intrinsic pleasures in your work and of course outside of work.
The second kind is achievement motivation, which is also confounded with intrinsic but is not. Achievement motivation is wanting to do well. So it’s wanting, in some form, excellence. The first is doing what you enjoy doing. The second is enjoying doing well at it, and improving your skills and abilities. This is a wonderful combination when you can like what you’re doing and be good at it.
The third kind is called extrinsic motivation, which again is confused in the literature. What extrinsic means is your motive is outside the task. It’s a means to an end. Take an example of brushing your teeth. Most people that’s a pain in the butt. Who wants to brush their teeth everyday, twice a day, or three times a day? But you do it because you want to keep your teeth. Exercise. Some people love it, some people don't, but it’s good for you to do it even if you don’t love it. As a means to an end, to make yourself healthier and your heart and your brain and your muscles. Saving money. Maybe you’d rather spend it, but you need to save some long-range so when you’re retiring or want to do some later project in life you have capital to use. If you spend it all today, you’re really in very bad trouble next year or next decade.
So, this paper we wrote, we’re thinking our great life would be if you can combine the three kinds of goals. Love things you’re doing, either in the job and outside the job like hobbies and a field of art, do well in some reasonable standard tied to your own capacity, and third, do things that make your future more secure and better. We’re hypothesizing the best combination is all three of these together. That’s a new paper I just wrote with a colleague, that’s kind of interesting. I suggested if the journal accepts this, a whole research program on this because so many questions come up that can be studied.
Halelly: Interesting. So it hasn’t been published yet?
Ed: No, we just submitted it, so I hope it will be accepted.
Halelly: Wonderful. I look forward to reading that. It does sound interesting and I tend to agree based on what you just described. It makes a lot of sense.
Ed: I think it does.
Halelly: As it relates to our listeners who are in current leadership roles – they have teams they’re leading or they may be aspiring to move into a leadership role – what do you think are some important ways in which they can use this information to help direct their actions and goals?
Ed: Let’s talk about leading a profit making company, to start with. The first thing you have to have is some vision, which you have to discover by your own thought processes, of what would be a good business. What would be a viable business that you can succeed at and make money off of? That’s thinking of what would work in the future if you did it? Of course every great discovery in business is based on a vision such as, “Gee, if you bought a car, would people actually drive it? If we made a computer that can do email and do calculations, and you could use it right at your desk, would people buy that? How would we make such a thing? If we introduced email, would people use that? If we had a machine that would copy documents, like the Xerox machine, would people use that?” That’s the visionary aspect of it. If you can’t think of anything that would work, then your business isn’t viable. And you may have to do lots of work, trial and error, experiments, thinking, failure, trying again to come up with something.
Halelly: Sorry, let me interrupt for a second. What I meant – because I appreciate what you’re describing is sort of starting a business. But I’m thinking, if you’re leading people, leading a team, especially as you talk in your book about regulating emotions or interpreting information or seeking to validate it when you have perceptions about your reactions to people and so forth or even just acting in a goal-directed manor, I would love to focus more on that aspect of leadership.
Ed: That’s part two. Because if you have a vision, you need goals to implement it. So organizations have to be goal directed, and an aspect of that is given that I want to, say, build – I’m making it sound too easy – a desktop computer, what goals do I have to achieve to bring that about? Then you have to hire smart people. You have to train them. You have to do problem solving. You have to do experiments. You have to use incentive programs. You have to seek expert advice. So, goal setting is critically involved in making a company work. If you know what it is you want to achieve, goal setting is what brings it about.
Let me bring in an interesting modern, semi-negative example. Tesla, Musk is a very visionary person. He has all kinds of visions, including the eclectic car. Let’s give him credit for that. But, he hasn’t been able to get the car done. And he’s in very serious financial trouble. He can’t get it made. Henry Ford, when he did the Model T, had brilliant production people, some who later left him for General Motors, but early on, he had brilliant production people. He could get the car out and was the world leader in automobiles. Tesla can’t get the car out. And even his main engineers are now resigning. He’s had to shut down the assembly line, he’s had to reboot the robots. It’s a terrible mess and now he’s running short of cash. If he makes it, and nobody knows, he’s going to have to get goals that are actually going to be achievable in getting the car out. So far he hasn’t been able to do it. That’s the implementation issue in business. That’s where goals are very, very critical.
Halelly: Got it. As we’re thinking about, for people when they are leading themselves and leading others, one of the things that I definitely talk about a lot in the workshops that I lead about how to communicate, how to be emotionally intelligent, how to connect with people in a way that motivates them to follow your vision, to want to follow you as a leader, because a lot of times leaders just think that just by the fact that you have the title, people are going to blindly follow you. As you said, people have free will and they choose what to follow only based on what seems to be in their own self interests and what makes sense.
Ed: That’s a very good thing you brought up, because a leader among many, many other duties, which I haven’t gotten into, has to inspire. He has to inspire, or she, the followers with the values and vision of the company. And if they don’t do that, then people will not get excited. Steve Jobs, although he was very, very demanding, interestingly compared to Musk, Jobs was a little bit abusive, and helplessly demanding. But he kept people with him who were brilliant, because he inspired them. They stayed with him. And they said, “He made me do goals which were ridiculous. Nobody in his right mind would have tried the things he told me to do. And I did it. I couldn’t believe it.” So, he inspired. Now, I’m kind of worried Musk is uninspiring people, and I don’t know what’s going on in the company. But inspiration is very critical, if you’re going to be an effective leader. And that’s an aspect of your vision. Why is your vision good? Why is it important? Why would anyone want to do this? You’ve got to select people who can tie into that.
Halelly: It’s an interesting comparison, because in a sense you said that Musk had a vision that couldn’t be implemented.
Ed: Not so far. Making a car from scratch is not easy, because these car companies have been in the business for decades, or even generations. He hired one big time guy who just retired. Another guy just resigned. Why don’t they want to stay? He made bad mistakes in his robots. So, I don’t know what’s going on. It’ll be in a book someday. I hope he can turn it around, because he is a visionary. But you can push people but you have to make clear that what they’re doing is really exciting and important.
Halelly: As you said earlier, it needs to be a stretch, but it needs to be within reach. Because if it’s impossible –
Ed: Maybe not! It may sometimes seem to be out of reach. Jobs did this all the time. Everyone said, “I can’t do this.” He said, “Yes you can. Get it done in a month, or in six weeks.” Impossible! He said, “Do it in six weeks,” and they would. He was confident in them, I think. Inspired them. I don’t know what Musk does, but if he simply uses insults and threats, it’s not going to do it. You can do goals which seem impossible, and which are actually not, but you’ve got to be careful to judge that appropriately. You have to have good judgment. Now, if you give people totally irrational goals, what you’re going to find is, number one, they’re going to cheat, number two they’re going to quit, or both. And they’re going to become demoralized.
There is another technique in business, which was used by good companies including General Electric, called stretch goals. Welch used stretch goals which were deliberately chosen to be impossible. Not just hard, but impossible. The goal Welch had was to say, “Look, I have my own minimum goals and you have to reach those, otherwise you’re in trouble in your division.” But stretch goals are to stimulate your creative thinking, and the purpose of that is to think way beyond the context in what you’re thinking now. Now let’s take the MRI machines. We’ve all been MRI’d, right?
Halelly: Or have seen or known about someone, yes.
Ed: They’re very noisy. They’re scary for some people because you’re inside. And they take a long time. Now, I don’t know what Welch did, because he had a big health division, but let’s make this up. Please try to make the MRI work twice as fast and half as noisy and reduce the cost of the machine by 50 percent. I don’t know if they did this or not, but that would be an example. Let’s say you couldn’t achieve that, but let’s say you could get huge improvements, even though they didn’t reach that goal, by thinking differently. That’s the stretch goal. He judged you on whether this stimulated your creative thinking, even if you didn’t reach the goal. So, that’s another way you can use goals. You need below that level. You need goals which have to be reached, which are challenging but not unreasonable. So you could do both levels with success.
Halelly: And you use them simultaneously, or?
Ed: Simultaneously, yes.
Halelly: Interesting. By the way, listeners, we talked a lot more about goal setting in episode three, which was with Caroline Adams Miller. I don’t know if you know her?
Ed: I don’t.
Halelly: She mentions you in her books. She’s very fond, and she talks about how to set good goals, and she says one of the things she really bemoans is that people use the SMART acronym and try to make goals attainable and she believes and was sort of saying that you have to actually push yourself outside your comfort zone with goals.
Ed: The SMART acronym was not from us. That was done by somebody else. I don't necessarily hold to that. I will recommend a new book. This just came out, I just got it like two weeks ago, and they used my work but it’s on goal setting in a company. It’s called Measure What Matters, by John Doerr. He introduced goal setting to Google. To the co-CEOs, and they used it. It was also used, by the way, not due to him at Intel, where he worked some of the time, by a previous CEO. Don’t know if they still do, but Andy Grove. This is really how leaders can use a goal-setting program to make sure they achieve results. The whole book is on that, and they’ve discovered, gone way beyond even what Latham and I discovered, into a lot more detail on how you do this. So, I think it’s a terrific book. If somebody running a business wants to use our work in running a business, I would recommend using the Measure What Matters book.
Halelly: I will look it up, I will link to it in the show notes, and I will actually contact him. Maybe he’ll want to come on the TalentGrow Show.
Ed: I tried to email him. I can’t get through.
Halelly: I’ll try too! I want to think about what you’ve been working on lately, and it came across my radar that you were working on a new book that just came out. It is titled The Illusion of Determinism, why free will is real and causal. Now, listeners to this show know that I geek out on neuroscience a lot. I’m very intrigued by this relatively new field where we can actually see brain patterns and start to interpret behaviors that used to be just observational, but now we can see a little more of the science behind it, plus excretion of hormones and so forth, and reaction to all kinds of stimuli. Also, in this field of neuroscience, as you say in this book, there’s some debate, I guess, about whether there is free will. I know that you feel very strongly about this, and the opposite of free will is at least as you say, is determinism. The feeling that we’re sort of in a path and we don’t have much choice about it. So, I really wanted to talk with you a little bit more about what motivated you to write this book, and let’s first help people understand. I just described it very briefly, but you have a much better way of explaining this difference between free will and determinism.
Ed: Let me go back a little bit in history. The issue of whether an individual can control their choices and their lives as opposed to not doing that has been with us not so much with the ancient Greeks, but primarily more after the ancient Greeks, and it’s been debated throughout history, even within Christianity, there’s debates because you have a situation of God says you have free will, and therefore if you sin, you’ve done wrong. At the same time, God is omnipotent and omniscient, and therefore has to know what you’re going to do, which implies you don’t have a choice. So, this has been debated for decades, centuries. Then you have the modern science, the gradual discovery that the body – I’ll get to consciousness in a minute – but the body is a form of machine. For instance, your blood is pumped following the laws of physics to various parts of your body. Electrical signals affect everything in your body. If they didn’t work right, you’d be dead. So your brain sends signals within itself, and to other parts of your body all along. Now, neuroscience has progressed a lot in recent years. It’s still in its infancy, but neuroscience looks at the brain and has observed correctly that the brain is a physical entity, with trillions of cells, which communicate through chemicals and electricity, and without which you couldn’t think, you couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t control your actions, couldn’t make any choices at all. Your brain is critical to survival.
What determinists who are heavily neuroscientists these days, haven’t been able to figure out is what do we do with consciousness? Now, consciousness requires a brain. If your brain dies, you’re unconscious, and that’s it. You’re gone forever. But what’s the relationship between consciousness and your brain? Now, there have been some arguments that the mental life has no role in anything you do. That it’s just an expression of the brain and nothing more and how you think is irrelevant to everything. You’re really just a mechanical robot, run by brain signals. Now, the problem with that is that consciousness, though dependent on a brain, is not the same thing. So I call it an emergent property of the brain.
Why can’t you say, “It’s the same thing as the brain?” Well, think of it this way. The brain is physical. And physical objects have size, they have color, they have charge, they have intensity, they have the various aspects of a physical object like a block has shape, size, color and mass, etc. Now, a thought does not have these properties. A thought can be confused, clear, contradictory, insightful, logical, illogical. None of these attributes apply to neurons. So, if entities have completely different attributes, they can’t be the same thing. They have to be related, if they’re the brain and the mind, but they can’t be the same. So, as I said before, the mind is an emergent property of the brain, but isn’t exactly the same thing. It’s the capacity and an attribute which doesn’t exist in the inanimate world. It’s unique to the animal kingdom and unique especially to humans because humans have the capacity to make choices to guide their actions, to guide their values, to guide their thinking, to guide their plans and the like. This kind of activity is just not applicable to robots. Robots are programmed. They don’t initiate thinking processes. They don’t form concepts. They don’t do long-range thinking. They do exactly what they’re told to do. Consciousness is a unique property of the animal kingdom, and in man, the unique property is that you have volitional choice. Something that the lower animals don’t.
What does that choice involve in a human being? Well, you can observe that your sense of perception is automatic. When you look at the room around you and you see books and tables and chairs and lamps and jackets and folders and cell phones and your eyeglasses and your computer, all this comes automatically without a process of thought. Because your sense organs are triggered into your brain, and the brain integrates them into perceptual material. Now, the process of thought is at a higher level. The process of thought requires you to integrate your perceptions into concepts. Let me take my favorite example of the difference. Let’s say you’re a student and this example is from observing students for decades. Let’s say you’re a student and you’re assigned to read chapter one in the textbook. You open the book. Your eyes glance over the page. They see the print. It’s black on white. They see the print. You start moving your eyes down the page. You get to the bottom of the page and you say, “Oh my God. I have no idea what I just read.” And you have to go back and start over if you want to understand. What’s the difference? To grasp the meaning of the words, you have to think. You have to grab obstructions or concepts, look at their interconnections, look at how these sentences flow into one another, how they’re logically related, and then you can understand it. So, that does not happen automatically, unlike perception. You have to exert mental effort. That’s the distinction between perception and thought process. The thought process you need to form and grasp concepts. And, you need to validate your ideas because thinking, perception, in a way can’t be wrong. It just is. You can’t say, “I perceive the cat.” That’s wrong. You can conclude the wrong thing by maybe the cat is in a shadow and you thought it was a dog, but perception is a given. Thinking can be wrong. You can say, “Two plus two equals five. Oops. That’s wrong.” I’ve got to validate that equation, and that's something that requires a thought process. When it comes to thinking, you have to validate that something is true and know the processes required to show that something is true. If you don’t validate, then you’re conforming to random emissions from the culture. But you won’t have any coherent knowledge of any subject matter. That’s what volition involves. You have to choose to raise yourself to that level. If you don’t, you won’t understand things.
Halelly: Yeah. It seems so self evident to me. It’s amazing to think that there are people that say that’s not a requirement, or that we’re not capable of that?
Ed: If we’re not, we’re in deep trouble. Because civilization would collapse. Some psychologists love to glorify the chimpanzees and say they’re just like us, because they can do problem solving and make weapons and solve problems and make tools, but it’s ridiculous. Observe that when the human race separated off from the apes, probably around six million years ago, the apes never, ever progressed. They’re exactly the same now as they were six million years ago. They’ve never achieved a single thing. Now, humans went through an evolution process in which the early stages died out. We were left with the most advanced stage, homo sapiens, and we created civilization, which now number seven billion people, whereas chimpanzees are in grave risk of being exterminated by humans because of habitat loss. But humans have flourished, due to the conceptual faculty, due to thought process and discovery of agriculture, of science, of government. So the whole conceptual level is quite possible in human civilization, whereas chimp civilization never was and never went anywhere. This discovery of the conceptual faculty and the process of grasping abstractions made possible human civilization, and it’s possible to any other species.
Halelly: And in your book, it seems like you’re seeing very frequent denial of this, then?
Ed: Right. The hard scientists have – not without reason – have come to view causality as mechanical. Let’s forget man. All the natural world works by mechanical principles, the laws of gravity, electricity and cause and effect is very clearly mechanical or physical. Human body functions that way too. But, all causality does not work that way. The causality involved in human thought requires consciousness which enables you to have control over what you’re doing, what you’re thinking. And that’s a whole different ballgame. The problem with the neuroscientists, if you get into a hopeless contradiction, because what would they have to say if they wanted to assert all causality is mechanical, just like a rock or a pool ball moving across a pool table? Well, then they’d have to admit that they were compelled to believe in determinism because they couldn’t help it. They were regulated by brain activity, which they had no choice over, no choice to initiate or check, and they were forced to believe what they believe. If that’s true, how do they know they’re right? People who believe in free will, according to that view, are also forced to believe in free will, and therefore you have competing views, in their opinion both caused by mechanical means. How do you validate who is right and who isn’t? Well, you’re in a hopeless contradiction.
Determinism, the doctrine that you have no choice about your feelings, beliefs, actions, thoughts, leads to self-contradiction. You’re believing in something that you have no choice, based on mechanical pressures in your brain, and therefore there’s no means by which you can check whether it’s true. Even if you tried to check it, that’s determined by outside forces too. You can be checked by delusional mechanisms and you have no choice of resisting them or even knowing that you were delusional. So the whole determinist nexus gets into a hopeless contradiction of a situation where it’s impossible to know anything. That’s the problem with the theory of determinism. Free will doesn’t mean the absence of causality. It means a certain kind of causality which is self controlled. The ability to raise your mind up to the level of thought.
Halelly: Before you share one specific action with the listeners, what’s new and exciting on your horizon? What project or discovery has your attention?
Ed: I’ve just been contemplating, I’m 80 years old so I can’t do too many more books, but maybe one more book with my colleague Ellen Kenner, with who I wrote a romance book. The title of the book would be How to Achieve Happiness, which is a very, very difficult topic.
Halelly: And a very popular one.
Ed: Like a thousand books have been written on it and I think most people missing huge numbers of insights that we could provide. But it’s a very big topic, because it includes your whole life. If we can figure out how to manage that and get a publisher, that might be a project. It’s, like I would say, a five-year project.
Halelly: No kidding. That’s exciting.
Ed: It’s a possibility, if I can still keep writing.
Halelly: I hope that you will. So what’s one specific action that you recommend listeners take this week, today, tomorrow, this week, to upgrade their own career effectiveness or leadership effectiveness, whichever.
Ed: I would use that [inaudible 00:46:38] I mentioned. Try to make your life so that you get intrinsic pleasure, achievement pleasure and extrinsic pleasure which includes long-range thinking, all working in harmony, so you can really have a happy life.
Halelly: Amen to a happy life! How can people learn more about you and stay in touch?
Ed: I have a website, EdwinLocke.com, which has all my publications, handbooks, op-eds and my whole vita. They can log onto that if they’re interested. I think that has a way of getting in touch with me too.
Halelly: It does, which is one of the ways I got in touch with you. I also got our mutual colleagues to recommend me, but I did use your website as well. That’s Locke with an “E” at the end. Excellent. I’m so thankful you have given us some of your time and your wisdom, Ed. I know that listeners are definitely also sharing that with me, and I know that they will probably go and look to see what else they can learn from you, and stay in touch. Thank you very much.
Ed: Thank you very much for having me.
Halelly: That’s right, TalentGrowers. Not just advice for your career, but advice for a happy life from a very productive, very successful and very wise 80-year-old man. I hope you take his advise to heart. I hope you enjoyed this episode and as always, I look forward to hearing back from you. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. You’ve been listening to the TalentGrow Show, and until the next time, make today great.
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