Erik Fernholm on how fulfilment can build a more sustainable future

What is success?

Really, if you stop to think about it. What does it mean in the whole scheme of things?

We all know how easy it is to get sidetracked in life to what we think a successful life is.

But what happens if you reflect on when you feel fulfilled? What does that look like? Is it the same as what you imagined the definition of success to be?

Today I am speaking with Erik Fernholm, co founder of The Inner Development Goals, a global framework defining the skills needed for us to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. And 29k.org, the world’s first free platform for practicing self-leadership, mental health, and inner development through evidence-based programs which has measurably transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Today we ask some big questions.

What is the root of unsustainability?

When do we feel happiness and connection?

And what needs to happen to build a more sustainable society?

We talk about the power of shared experience and common humanity.

Corporate metrics.

And we end on the Nordic Secret. If you haven’t heard about it already, you need to. It’s the future, and how I end my up-and-coming book.
I could have talked to Erik for hours. And when you listen in, you’ll understand why. There is so much overlap with what we are both doing.
So grab that favourite beverage or throw on those running shoes, and enjoy this conversation with Erik.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

00:00:02:05 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving lights around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:00:32:13
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed.

00:00:35:04 – 00:01:06:07
Philippa White
What is success really? If you stop to think about it, what does it mean in the whole scheme of things? We all know how easy it is to get sidetracked in life to what we think a fulfilling life is. But what happens if you reflect on when you feel fulfilled? What does that look like? And is it the same as what you imagined the definition of success to be?

00:01:07:16 – 00:01:47:02
Philippa White
Today I am speaking with Erik Fernholm, who has dedicate did most of his life’s thinking time to understand the story of inner development in happiness and how we get there. Eric is an award winning keynote speaker and serial social entrepreneur with a background in cognitive neuroscience and happiness research. His work focuses on increasing awareness of and giving access to inner development at scale needed for us to collectively create the systemic change needed for a sustainable society.

00:01:48:01 – 00:02:16:14
Philippa White
He is the initiator and co-founder of two nonprofit initiatives, The Inner Development Goals, which is a global framework defining the skills needed for us to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and 29 key, the world’s first free platform for practicing self leadership, mental health and inner development through evidence based programs which has measurably transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

00:02:17:15 – 00:02:32:14
Philippa White
Now, this is a hugely inspirational conversation, and I could have talked to him for hours. There’s so much overlap with what we’re both working towards, and you’ll know what I’m talking about when you listen. So throw on those running shoes or grab that favorite beverage. And here’s Eric.

00:02:34:02 – 00:02:38:19
Philippa White
Hello, Eric. Thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

00:02:39:14 – 00:02:41:11
Erik Fernholm
I’m great. Thanks for having me. Thanks a lot.

00:02:41:13 – 00:02:55:15
Philippa White
Well, it’s such a pleasure. Now, I love this part of the conversation because I speak to so many people all over the place and I haven’t spoken to someone from your region before. So tell our listeners where you are, please.

00:02:56:01 – 00:03:07:02
Erik Fernholm
So I’m in the north of Europe. I’m in Stockholm in a snowy Stockholm today, working in a network around these topics on development and sustainability.

00:03:07:07 – 00:03:24:18
Philippa White
Yeah. Nice. Nice. Yeah, I was just. We were just saying before we started recording how I grew up in a very snowy place as well. And I had not seen a snow storm in years. But it’s funny because when you’re in a snowstorm, it’s like, Oh, look, it’s so much snow, isn’t it Summer yet? It’s April, come on.

00:03:25:02 – 00:03:52:05
Philippa White
But yeah, living on the equator where we basically just have to two seasons, it’s either raging or it’s not raining. That’s basically it. So the grass is always greener. So, Eric, I’d love to understand more about your work and what you do, obviously. We met a few weeks ago and I’ve been told, obviously put us in touch and there’s so many overlaps with what you’re doing and what I’m passionate about and what we do as well, and I’m just really looking forward to hearing about it.

00:03:52:05 – 00:04:10:08
Philippa White
But before we get into all of that, let’s just back up because it would just be really great for me and for the listeners to just understand a little bit about you and your background before the IGs and before. 29 K How did you get into this space and why does it interest you?

00:04:10:14 – 00:04:36:13
Erik Fernholm
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, for me, that, that question actually, it kind of goes straight back to my family and like that constellation. I don’t know. From really early on, I always felt like an observer. It was sitting up in the helicopter observing what is happening around me, observing adults and wondering why they are so crazy. So my father was a rational athlete and Olympian and discus and shot, but he was quite successful at what he did.

00:04:36:14 – 00:04:56:17
Erik Fernholm
Like he decided when he was 12 years old that he wanted to be the best discus thrower in the world, and it was his entire life path. And for me it was a weird experience because I could see everybody around me looking up to him and he was this kind of hero and my surroundings. But at home he was very unhappy, a lot of anxiety.

00:04:56:17 – 00:05:15:18
Erik Fernholm
He was stuck in steroids, painkillers, a lot of drugs. So there was this huge discrepancy between what people thought success looked like and maybe even felt like and what I was seeing. He was in rehab. He actually passed away when I was 12. He was 37. I’m 37 now.

00:05:15:23 – 00:05:16:22
Philippa White
He died young.

00:05:16:24 – 00:05:36:14
Erik Fernholm
He was he died really young. I mean, now I realize how young that was really early on, way too early on. I was reflecting on kind of what is the purpose of life, what makes life worth living and how easily we can get sidetracked, and how many kind of roads don’t lead up the mountain. That is a fulfilling life.

00:05:36:15 – 00:05:57:17
Erik Fernholm
I kind of dedicated most of my thinking time to that. And there’s a lot of I don’t know, maybe in retrospect, I understand that it’s kind of experiential learning process of kind of testing out. So if that doesn’t bring happiness, that the story of happiness and society doesn’t doesn’t not always deliver. When do I actually feel connects and when do I feel love?

00:05:57:17 – 00:06:21:11
Erik Fernholm
When do I feel happiness? So I kind of iteratively tried to formulate what was the point of it all. And of course that was very painful. Like a lot of the times I was depressed and didn’t really feel that I was part of the normal life in Sweden. So my parents actually met in the States. I’m half AmErican and he was Swedish and my mom was or is AmErican, but she was Mormon.

00:06:21:11 – 00:06:48:12
Erik Fernholm
So was actually raised in a semi Mormon family. My father was atheist and then we moved to Sweden and she left that behind. Coming to Sweden, five years old, having a mormon background, having parents from different it was really I kind of got stuck in my helicopter feeling like an alien. Like, I’m really glad for for those perspectives and those experiences because it kind of led me down the path of psychology, of inner work, personal development.

00:06:48:12 – 00:07:08:05
Erik Fernholm
And eventually what I studied was cognitive neuroscience and happiness research. So I like those heavily into just the research, the evidence base, which is all the personal development stuff. It always felt manipulative and I always felt like this is a tool you can use on yourself or others to become more successful. And then and for me, that never did it.

00:07:08:05 – 00:07:37:06
Erik Fernholm
Like I knew that that wasn’t the point. It was a meaningful life. That was the point. So all the tools of self development of like stress reduction or or happiness acts or even performance hacks, I always felt that they were a little bit of a very shallow, but also quite manipulative, and I was always kind of losing a sense of connectedness to the world, to others, to responsibility, to responding to what we care for or what we see that we are part of.

00:07:37:08 – 00:08:09:06
Erik Fernholm
So it’s kind of disillusioned by the inner development space. And then when I moved into to cognitive neuroscience, I was like much more first principles approach to how the mind works, how consciousness is developed, and also how wisdom eventually can unfold. And then especially what’s happened is research that kind of honed in on course not. How do I have this Pollyanna version of happiness, of disconnecting as a, you know, like the easiest way to become happier to sell positive emotions is disconnect from anything painful and just focus on yourself.

00:08:09:09 – 00:08:31:15
Erik Fernholm
So that would be a narcissistic psychopath, and I wouldn’t say that that’s a great it’s not a great recipe. But a lot of people use gratitude and even mindfulness to actually disconnect from suffering in the world. And to just focus on themselves and their own success. I would reflect a little bit deeper on that to see if that’s a road we want to travel.

00:08:31:18 – 00:09:01:10
Erik Fernholm
But then the research on relationship, on connection, on especially purpose and meaning I found very, very interesting. So from then on, I kind of became a little bit of an activist. I even started a project, a nonprofit called Happiness Activist. And and basically what I did was how do I take all the knowledge and wisdom that the research already shows is impactful and meaningful for people’s lives and not tell them about it, because all research shows that information isn’t transformational.

00:09:01:22 – 00:09:30:09
Erik Fernholm
So you have to have some other component. How do you make it a lived experience for them so that they draw the conclusion that the research already shows? So that kind of bridging knowledge into a lived experience has been the theme of my entire professional life, I’d say. So it started off with me grabbing strangers on the sidewalk, basically, and giving them to $10 bills or the equivalent of Swedish money and saying, Spend one of these on yourself and spend the other on somebody else.

00:09:30:09 – 00:09:53:10
Erik Fernholm
And then just sounds in and reflect which one of these had the most meaning to you, which one has the most emotional power and impact? And then just ask yourself kind of how are you spending your resources or time, your money? And that was it. Like there wasn’t a study. This was this was just making research that already already has happened and making it real for people.

00:09:54:06 – 00:09:54:09
Philippa White
To.

00:09:54:16 – 00:10:30:11
Erik Fernholm
Even. Yeah, from there on, like people started calling me and said, Can you please come and talk to us about this research and can you please do a keynote? And that kind of grew to me starting working with schools, work with other types of social impact organizations. And eventually I was working with the head of the Swedish Armed Forces, biggest corporations in Europe about sustainability, leadership, social impact, etc. So it kind of moved from happiness activists to a more systemic approach of how do we build a sustainable society that is generative.

00:10:30:17 – 00:10:48:21
Philippa White
Oh, fascinating. Gosh. And I mean, beautiful, because it’s going to take us to so much of what we’re going to talk about today. Let’s very briefly talk about 29 K. I’m keen to talk about the ideas and things like that, but I do feel like that’s a good way in. So could you just bring to life that initiative?

00:10:48:21 – 00:10:49:16
Philippa White
Yeah, I think so.

00:10:49:16 – 00:11:14:13
Erik Fernholm
So along that pass, I actually had a philanthropist I met who had Thomas Bjorkman, who’s the founder of the Oak Island Foundation, which is also the co-founder of that disease. So we met up and I’m going eventually and we did a lot of projects together, and eventually we actually met up with an additional philanthropist called Nicolas Art Albert, the founder of a payment service called McLaren and all three of us have had these kind of transformational experiences of inner development.

00:11:14:18 – 00:11:36:22
Erik Fernholm
We came from the research side. He had had his own personal experience. We said, What if the digital tools that are available on our phones could enable just a fragment of the transformational processes that are available for the kind of high end, exclusive leadership courses that we know really help people develop their sense of responsibility and connectedness to the world.

00:11:36:22 – 00:12:17:09
Erik Fernholm
And eventually that also, of course, manifests in their projects and their actions. So what if we could take just a just a small part of that and distribute it and democratize and make it free for the world? So we started that nonprofit foundation and made it to an open source Creative Commons initiative. So it’s an online platform that gathers the most powerful psychological tools and processes into courses where you actually take these courses online in your phone with other participants, and you share that process with them through the live video calls and the amazing thing was, after a lot of iterations a couple of years to iterate on this, we actually found that this is

00:12:17:10 – 00:12:41:01
Erik Fernholm
working equally powerful as therapy, but it’s free. We have had researchers like this in there for I mean, top researchers from around the world who actually gift their interventions and their programs to us because we’re a nonprofit, and then we can just offer them freely to the world. So now it’s been translated into English, Portuguese, Spanish seems to be coming soon.

00:12:41:01 – 00:13:13:20
Erik Fernholm
Swedish, of course. We also when the when the war hits, we translated and we created courses for coping with war anxiety into Ukraine and into Russian. Like the vision is really what would happen at scale to society if everybody had the tools to cope with trauma, grief and development not only not only problems of life, but also how these aspirational capacity is of, you know, perspective, taking empathy, feeling meaning and connectedness to others.

00:13:13:20 – 00:13:39:03
Erik Fernholm
Like if we could do that at scale and you could I mean, imagine if you can have five or 10% to make significant, meaningful changes that could actually shift a norm in society where that development becomes not something that’s exclusive and expensive for leadership or therapy, but something that is normal. And in these times that are very disruptive to say the least.

00:13:39:04 – 00:14:10:08
Erik Fernholm
100 years ago, these changes happened between generations, like these major shifts moving from agrarian to industrial society. But today they’re happening within our lifetime. And that means that we as individuals have to adapt and change, or we will tend to be left behind to build a more sustainable society is building the resilience and the capacity to lead a meaningful life that’s not only focused on yourself and your success, but in giving those skills and those experiences and mass to as many people who want to be participants.

00:14:10:17 – 00:14:12:04
Philippa White
Yeah. Oh, my gosh.

00:14:12:11 – 00:14:34:14
Erik Fernholm
So we’re in 200 countries soon. We’re moving up to half a million downloads. I mean, we have changed. We know measurably that we’ve changed tens of thousands of people’s lives. We’ve had people contacting us like nurses during the pandemic in the States were saying, like, I’m living in my car, I have no social support at all. I’m so grateful that I have this place in my life like that.

00:14:35:07 – 00:14:36:00
Erik Fernholm
It’s so.

00:14:36:10 – 00:14:39:21
Philippa White
So incredible and just so I understand connects people. That’s what it.

00:14:39:21 – 00:14:41:02
Erik Fernholm
That’s that’s the core.

00:14:41:22 – 00:15:05:17
Philippa White
Of it. So I mean, that’s the whole thing, right? So I mean, that’s I think that’s that what we find with our work is what is so powerful is that ability to connect, connect with people who you wouldn’t normally connect with, people that you are in different worlds, different cultures. Having that opportunity to bring people together. And we know that if we’re having a thought, if we’re just in a really bad place, what makes us feel better is that connection to people, conversations with people.

00:15:05:17 – 00:15:15:02
Philippa White
It’s not split. That’s what unleashes all of that emotion and just sort of power and together with other people. And so that’s that’s I guess, the core of what works.

00:15:15:02 – 00:15:35:18
Erik Fernholm
And it’s so like for the listeners, like if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from building this platform and working with all these top researchers in the world, I mean, the capacity to be part of a healing process for yourself, for somebody else is it’s almost always about the relationship. I mean, if you look into the mental studies around where therapy works, it’s always about the relationship.

00:15:35:18 – 00:15:56:09
Erik Fernholm
It’s not about the method as much the majority of the impact comes from is this a safe and trusting relationship? And the easiest way to create that space is don’t try to fix the other person. Don’t give them advice, just be quiet. Let the other person talk, be heard and you know, just say thank you afterwards. And that’s basically all you need to create.

00:15:56:09 – 00:16:24:11
Erik Fernholm
A kind of social container is like no advice giving. And don’t interrupt. And I mean, it’s so amazing. Like what will happen if you if you just bring that into your life or into a video conference or whatever. I have friends who are taking part of this process. And and they said this is changed. Not only do I now have friends for life that I found in this group that I had no clue that I was so similar to this common humanity aspect that we are surprised by.

00:16:24:12 – 00:16:49:06
Erik Fernholm
Every time we hear that people are sharing honestly, we’re like, Wow, I thought you were so different. But now I just realized we’re the same. Which is interesting that we’re so shaped by these ideas or these individualistic ideas that we disconnected ourselves from each other. And this is such a beautiful item to see that again, right? You are also a me and we’re longing for very much the same things.

00:16:49:15 – 00:17:00:03
Erik Fernholm
We have a different culture, we have a different background, we have a different experience. And of course we want to honor that. But at the core, the common humanity almost always comes through. If I know that there’s common humanity, if I know that.

00:17:00:03 – 00:17:01:05
Philippa White
There is thing that.

00:17:01:14 – 00:17:12:15
Erik Fernholm
Actually I’m not afraid, then there’s nothing to lose. There’s something to gain from being vulnerable as strongly. And it’s such, such a pivotal idea.

00:17:12:15 – 00:17:37:14
Philippa White
It is. It’s so funny because, as you know, I’m writing a book and and just even yesterday I was talking about just this, you know, we had a program recently with a whole lot of really senior professionals around the world. So Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, London, chief people officer, M.D., M.D., Regional Creative Director. And they were working with the CEO of this organization in Kenya.

00:17:37:14 – 00:18:11:16
Philippa White
So, I mean, you have this amazing group all together and that’s exactly what came out. And it’s so funny because I literally was writing it last night at 10:00 at night saying it’s unbelievable. We are all from so many different places, but I suddenly realized we’re all the same. Yeah. And that realization for anyone, if everybody said it and we realized that the world would be such a different place because that it’s such a different place because you suddenly realize, oh, we are so, you know, there are so many things like that.

00:18:11:16 – 00:18:17:10
Philippa White
And when you grab on to those commonalities, it doesn’t mean, you know, we’re a global community. We’re all human.

00:18:17:13 – 00:18:44:19
Erik Fernholm
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it does have deep implications to what is the story of my life or my corporation. Is it the customers are also human beings, like for first and foremost they are these common human beings just like me with their longings and their fears and their stresses, and to just see them as metrics or to external allies, you know, our impacts, our negative impact on society.

00:18:44:19 – 00:18:50:07
Erik Fernholm
And just to get our metrics done, it has a different meaning once you can’t disconnect them that way.

00:18:50:09 – 00:19:18:06
Philippa White
And it’s interesting to that point, if you flip it around you as well as the leader, you have insecurities, vulnerabilities, doubt. And to try and pretend that you don’t and to have the people who work with you to not see that as well isn’t doing any favors to anyone. And I find it fascinating when people, great senior leaders and they go through our program and they’re suddenly put in a situation that is is difficult and it’s definitely pushing them in new ways.

00:19:18:14 – 00:19:37:18
Philippa White
And they kind of feel like they have to own this position of knowledge and power, but yet actually they have to show vulnerability to be able to get to the next stage. And it’s a real struggle. And again, it’s that we’re all human. Yeah, we’re all in this together. And actually the people who are working with you, they are human.

00:19:37:18 – 00:19:41:19
Philippa White
And actually they need to know that you’re human, too. You can help each other, actually. You know.

00:19:42:00 – 00:20:08:00
Erik Fernholm
Obviously, I mean, this is a big topic is the way they were structuring a lot of our corporate world today. The easiest way for me to climb the corporate ladder is to care about less things other than the metric. So who gets to be the CEO in that world? What are we incentivizing for leadership in that world? It’s not a surprise that we then have to add on our add on values that I like.

00:20:08:06 – 00:20:29:06
Erik Fernholm
Like how come a company today has to talk so much about their values? If you fully lived your values, you wouldn’t be talking about them. You’d be living them. You’d be talking about the problem with realizing them, not talking about how much you love them. Like if I were talking to you and say, like, I’m a super trustworthy guy, I’m such a trustworthy guy, you’d be like.

00:20:29:22 – 00:20:30:03
Philippa White
What?

00:20:30:18 – 00:20:52:22
Erik Fernholm
But why is he talking about? Why is he talking about? Why should I trust them instead of just acting in a trustworthy way? Why earn your trust? Right? We have a tendency to talk a lot about what we are lacking or what we feel is missing, what is not integrated into our systems. Right? It’s not in the structure of the process because the structure of the process is usually focused on other things.

00:20:53:10 – 00:21:24:03
Erik Fernholm
We’re coming back to the fundamentals of existential risk, like how come we have built the unsustainable system? What is at the core of that? And that’s that you will be faster if you care about less. So we have these kind of what Dennis Berger talks a lot about, these multipolar traps that nobody wants these incentives to happen. Nobody wants us to, you know, chase down the brainstem or to deplete the environment or to have created the six animal extinction.

00:21:24:12 – 00:21:53:13
Erik Fernholm
But it is an effect of how we are kind of playing this social game. And I think seeing that game, reframing it, also seeing that it is socially constructed so that we can actually change this through corporates, through individual leadership, leadership actions. This is something that we are constantly creating and co-creating, so we can also change it. I mean, the most hopeful thing I’ve heard is, you know, the human beings are at the core because of all the global problems today.

00:21:53:15 – 00:22:09:22
Erik Fernholm
For me, that’s a hopeful message, because that means that we are also in the driver’s seat. We can change and become the solution for these big issues. And it’s mostly about coordination and it’s about seeing the system caring enough and then acting on it.

00:22:10:08 – 00:22:22:23
Philippa White
So that is a beautiful segway to the ideas and I would love to understand for our listeners, can you bring them to life? What are they about? How do they come about?

00:22:23:04 – 00:23:01:09
Erik Fernholm
So the inner development goals came about a couple of years go like in the Oak Island Foundation. We’ve been working with the link between inner development and societal change for over ten years, with the top researchers on hand projects, youth camps, etc. And there is a long tradition of that in Sweden as well, or in Scandinavia. But we were struggling, struggling a lot with like how do we get people to understand this, to talk about ego development and an inner outer system change like it’s such a complex topic, nobody really there’s no attractive point to it because you have to kind of understand it to understand the importance of it, and nobody makes that upfront

00:23:01:09 – 00:23:24:11
Erik Fernholm
investment. So I was struggling a lot with getting philanthropists actually to be on board 2910 to invest in that and to see that with a dollar, I can change somebody’s life forever and they will continually go on as better parents still agents, leaders, whatever. That’s such a leverage point for social change. But if they hadn’t had an experience of it in development, they didn’t get it.

00:23:24:11 – 00:23:56:04
Erik Fernholm
So I actually got to know No Control Back who is the designer of the SDGs? And it was kind of part of that process of the United Nations developing the Sustainable Development Goals. I asked him, shouldn’t we try to start an initiative that marks out the inner development goals that could match and that are kind of missing for us to reach the SDGs is like we’re not making enough traction towards the SDGs and people don’t seem to either care enough or understand them for us to reach their studies.

00:23:56:04 – 00:24:29:18
Erik Fernholm
What are the kind of core capacities, skills that we individually and collectively need to build to care about and have the ability to reach solve the sustainability issue at large basically, reads the SDGs The 17 goals. What we found was five broad categories and 23 skills. After doing a statistical analysis of all this data, and it’s basically a map saying these are the shifts that we need to work on so that we have the capacity and skills and care to reach this.

00:24:29:18 – 00:24:59:10
Erik Fernholm
That is it’s a hopeful message of saying, you know, we can change. There is this other dimension, the inner dimension of individuals and of cultures, of groups that we haven’t even spoken about when it comes to the studies. The funny thing is, I mean, I met with Achim Steiner, the head of the UNDP, two weeks ago, and it was so interesting because the last Human Development Report almost all of it is actually pointing towards human development being so important as an inner capacity.

00:24:59:10 – 00:25:31:08
Erik Fernholm
So they’re pointing towards this inner world. And it made me smile because that’s where we started a couple of years ago and we’ve come quite far. So now we have a lot of prestigious universities, researchers on board. And the evidence on Robert Keegan, the Sharma, etc. Peter Singer, who kind of are behind this and advise us a lot on the strategy, on the impact of what we can do, but also big corporations and even governments that are joining us saying so Costa Rica, for example, it said like customer, we love being client.

00:25:31:09 – 00:25:37:17
Erik Fernholm
Like we want to be pioneers and working with us to use that. But we also see that things aren’t moving quickly and we need to move faster.

00:25:37:17 – 00:26:27:12
Philippa White
So it’s really interesting just thinking back to just what you said at the beginning of the podcast. If everyone at school or everyone in society understands success to be what your dad understood, success to be, and what everyone’s sort of looking at success was. But inside he he wasn’t happy. And it has everything to do with the SDGs because if as a society all we are looking at is success, being money, the best car that we’re driving, all these sort of external things, how is that how is that a sustainable future if we as individuals are happy with who we are and that external stuff doesn’t matter and actually the world is more sustainable.

00:26:27:20 – 00:26:37:08
Philippa White
And so there’s a real connection there. And I just wonder because to your neuroscience background, what is that relation to then societal change?

00:26:37:18 – 00:27:09:09
Erik Fernholm
So what the research shows, these inner capacities are things that can be built learnable, teachable, but also like the research on wisdom or compassion, empathy, legal, adult development or ego development. It’s quite clear what both facilitates that, but also how that kind of means over time, because an individual’s lives were in the beginning of your life like teens, it’s normal to kind of try to find yourself as a mirror from the group.

00:27:09:14 – 00:27:35:17
Erik Fernholm
So as with your peers, is like, how do I fit into that group? And who are my within this group, right? So group oriented. But then eventually after the kind of socializing phase, what you’re not doing there is finding who you are, what your inner voice is, what does your body tell you when you’re actually happy? Even if you’re successful and you’re doing whatever the groups want it wants you to do that predetermined, like success story or story about love or connection or inclusion, even that.

00:27:35:21 – 00:28:10:17
Erik Fernholm
But if that never is a felt experience, you’ll always be lacking there. So when do you and I can flip it instead of saying like, if I get X, then I’ll be happy? Flip the question and said, When do I actually feel fulfilled? And then start seeing the patterns of the limbic Siberians and that is self authoring where you start authoring your own values, kind of find your, your autonomy, your self-directed mass and over time what happens is you start realizing that even if I’m authentic and this is where the self-help gurus, I think, kind of need to expand their horizons a bit, because a lot of it is around like, listen to yourself, stand

00:28:10:17 – 00:28:36:00
Erik Fernholm
up for yourself. Self-love, self-compassion and like being authentic is the overall goal and happy happiness like being happy? I think the question is really like, where do you think you end? Where do you aim for? And also like where does a corporation end? Does the corporation end with just like having the employees or does it include the employees being fathers and mothers and did they go to school somewhere and are they going to retire somewhere?

00:28:36:07 – 00:28:40:14
Erik Fernholm
How does the entire system of society work around those employees?

00:28:40:14 – 00:28:46:05
Philippa White
So the question, when you say where do you end, it’s back to your impact on others.

00:28:46:08 – 00:29:11:10
Erik Fernholm
Yeah, and it’s basically expanding the individualistic story of thinking that we are these bodily containers, isolation and isolation. Right. We’re disconnected individuals from the rest of the system. And if we start thinking about where to end, I mean, defining a flower without the B is nonsensical because they can’t survive without each other. Yeah, it’s an it’s a it’s a system.

00:29:11:13 – 00:29:38:17
Erik Fernholm
There it is. It’s us projecting separateness into the B and a flower. But honestly, it’s an interconnected whole like science is very clear here. The reality is this interconnected whole. But we project separateness and that’s where a lot of these externalities come from because we are with our industrial, linear, materialistic minds creating separateness because we’re acting as if that were the case.

00:29:38:17 – 00:30:02:16
Erik Fernholm
Right. Isn’t that the root of unsustainability? And the problem is it feels great. The problem is you can get into a flow state by just having a clear goal, full focus, full concentration and being challenged. That’s all you need to be captured by the game and then you won’t reflect that it’s playing Monopoly with your family and then somebody is actually getting angry and they’re feeling trapped like their heart.

00:30:02:16 – 00:30:21:11
Erik Fernholm
Their heartbeat is going up, like they’re throwing things like that happens because you forget that it’s a game. You forget you are captured by the game, right? And that happens, I think, like when we’re, you know, you’re thinking you’re haunted. You think like, I’m going to get through here and it’s a competition. You just forget that these are human beings probably trying to get home to their families, just like you.

00:30:21:14 – 00:30:47:00
Erik Fernholm
And when we are captured by the game, this is when we disconnects and we actually start acting in a more sociopath way and we create those results. And this is what ego development also shows, or the practice of wisdom. The cultivation of wisdom is one way of defining wisdom is solving problems without external maladies. We actually internalize as many externalities as you can into your solution of the problem.

00:30:47:07 – 00:31:07:21
Erik Fernholm
So it’s easy to solve a problem if you don’t care about the side effects. But if you start seeing it as a as an interconnected system, you must, of course, of course, wise people listen a lot, and of course, they’re a little bit more slow because it’s super complex and it’s not easy to determine exactly what the effects of everything will be.

00:31:07:21 – 00:31:33:23
Erik Fernholm
And it’s a lot of this iterative, emergent process, right? But there’s definitely a way of imposing ourselves onto a system where we make it less or more fragile, less antifragile. But maybe we got out the kind of single crop that we wanted out of the fields of monoculture, but we actually built that unsustainable system that can only, you know, live for ten years.

00:31:33:23 – 00:31:58:19
Erik Fernholm
And after that we have sold depletion or whatever. It’s it may seem a little bit abstract or ephemeral at its core. This is the kind of operating system that we are bringing into our lives or our relationships, even parenting or corporate world, political world. If we’re going to in 15 years or 50 years, look back and say, wow, now we’re living in a sustainable society.

00:31:58:22 – 00:32:16:03
Erik Fernholm
Like when we’re looking at our children or grandchildren eyes and you know, we feel that like we actually did it, like we struggled through and we actually did like to arrive at that place. First of all, I think it’s quite clear that we have to be different. We probably have to be different. We have to have different ways of operating in the world.

00:32:16:08 – 00:32:19:18
Erik Fernholm
And these, I think, are some of the core aspects of.

00:32:19:18 – 00:32:46:01
Philippa White
That, bringing it into the human centric leadership and corporate space. Just because as as, you know, I’m writing a book on that. And so much of what you’ve just talked about is it’s peppered with so much of it. But I’m just really keen to understand from your point of view, you know, how does a leader or a company become more human centric and why is being human centric important?

00:32:46:15 – 00:33:12:05
Erik Fernholm
And isn’t that the question of our time, maybe, at least in the corporate world, honestly, like corporations don’t exist other than in our minds. Like they don’t have feelings, they don’t have fame, they don’t suffer. It’s only people who do that. So any value that is actually created in the world has to be human centric. We’re playing a game that, you know, all these things exist in the real world, even though we know honestly that they don’t.

00:33:12:10 – 00:33:37:20
Erik Fernholm
Right, becoming more human centric, I think is it is a little bit of kind of seeing the game of not forgetting that we have this common humanity, that binds us to each other and that we are creating the future together. So everything we externalize, we’re kind of just gifting it to our children if we’re unsustainable practices in our lives or in our corporations, it’s just a gift to our kids.

00:33:37:20 – 00:33:54:01
Erik Fernholm
From the ADG framework perspective is working with deep listening systems, thinking, compassion, self-compassion. It does bring that kind of human perspective into why we do what we do and also what is possible moving forward.

00:33:54:07 – 00:34:17:03
Philippa White
I guess from the point of view of corporations, companies, they exist in our minds, but they don’t have feelings. They’re not human, but the humans that run them because they’re so obsessed with the metrics, because it’s this game that they are forced to, whether they know it or not, kind of block out everything else. And it is just that metric and that’s the only thing that they can focus on.

00:34:17:15 – 00:34:45:19
Philippa White
And so all this kind of human variables and this noise kind of just gets in the way of this metric. And unfortunately, unless it impacts that metric, they can see it. And even if they as humans see it, they as humans you go home and talk to their kids about climate change at the dinner table. But then they go back into this world and then they’re, you know, they need to sort things out for the next two years.

00:34:45:19 – 00:34:54:17
Philippa White
In the time that they’re going to be running the show, they can’t think about anything else. What is the return on being human centric?

00:34:54:23 – 00:35:12:18
Erik Fernholm
Who chose the metric and how are we choosing? Metrics becomes very important because of course, as soon as you have a metric and it becomes a goal, it doesn’t work as a metric anymore as it kind of corrupts itself. Of course, like students asking, you know, in the university setting or any school saying like, will this be on the test?

00:35:13:02 – 00:35:38:22
Erik Fernholm
And they’re not in the lesson to learn. They’re there to perform for the test. Yes. So they’re actually missing on the core value creation of the learning. They’re just trying to get the grade right. Yeah. So it kind of corrupts the entire endeavor of the school system because we added metric looking at which metrics do we have and is that the single way of estimating value, the value that we are creating in society?

00:35:38:22 – 00:36:18:12
Erik Fernholm
I think that’s very important. There is a problem with the metrics being bound to agency where if we have a monitoring metric and our corporation and our agency is sold by shares, so we have a commitment to fiduciary responsibility to just increase the shareholder value. That also means that we have actually sold our capacity to be fully values driven, because if we were fully value driven, we could act in a way where we in the short term don’t work on monetary rewards, shareholder value to actually make long term investments into society or into whatever the system that we see that we’re a part of, needs attention, right now.

00:36:18:24 – 00:37:06:06
Erik Fernholm
So we’re actually limiting our own capacity to move forward in a faster way in relationship to that core metric. That would then be monetary gains or profits, being very mindful of which metrics we choose and how we build redundancy in that system. So that may be actually have a shareholder structure that creates the capacity to be flexible, that creates the capacity to have redundancy in our system, where like for IKEA, for example, like they even moved away from working with business plans and now they’re just working with preparing ourselves for scenario in the future, they’re building the capacity of anti fragility into their core business structure.

00:37:06:10 – 00:37:09:02
Erik Fernholm
I mean, that’s an amazing way of looking at it.

00:37:09:05 – 00:37:20:01
Philippa White
That’s a really good point. Do you have any other stories to bring to life how what the ID guys are doing and how companies are understanding this?

00:37:20:01 – 00:37:37:03
Erik Fernholm
You could either do it like domain specific with each category of like, you know, being or relating etc. or the skills. But what I usually do when working with corporates, it depends on how far along they are. Like if I were working with Patagonia, I would have of course a different approach than I would working with the armed forces.

00:37:37:03 – 00:38:02:24
Erik Fernholm
But when I was working with the armed forces or when I am in Sweden, the Swedish Defense Force, I had the 350 highest heads of leadership in Sweden. And what I did was I did an experiment with them just to show them the importance of these in capacity and interstates. Because if the enemy becomes important at all in relationship to the metrics that they have, you know, the ability to defend Sweden’s, then it’s real for them before it’s just a distraction.

00:38:03:09 – 00:38:25:18
Erik Fernholm
And maybe if it if it’s not like if some if I weren’t telling the truth, if I wasn’t grounded in science, I would actually be a distraction for them if they would have pulled in a self-help guru who doesn’t know that in science and is like, work on yourself, they would rightfully be like super skeptic. So what I did was I split the group in two and I showed half of them without the other group knowing half of them.

00:38:25:18 – 00:38:43:11
Erik Fernholm
A short video clip, 60 seconds of something that put them in a very negative state, emotional state. Yeah. And the other has a problem with the positive clip. So they were in a positive state, of course. So we had a difference between the two states and then I gave them a complex problem to solve, but it was quantifiable.

00:38:43:17 – 00:39:08:18
Erik Fernholm
So then I counted lives with the audience. I counted how many solutions do we have negative response group and how many do we have for the positively time group? And I mean, this is not new research like this is around effective states, around creativity, innovation, perspective, taking it all of this, we know that this is highly, highly determined by your emotional state and the effect is huge.

00:39:08:21 – 00:39:24:13
Erik Fernholm
I mean, this is why you get your ideas in the shower, in your bed, falling asleep after a glass of wine or hanging out with friends. When you’re thinking about something else, when you’re taking a walk, that’s why that’s when you’re creative, right? So the research is already done. What I did was I showed them this and quantifying it just count.

00:39:24:16 – 00:40:06:12
Erik Fernholm
You have 400% more ideas in the positive prime group than the negative. Yeah. And then asking them, what does this mean to you in your leadership or in your corporation as a competitive advantage or to just solving the problem for the client or building the solution in the market that needs to take place? What does that mean? If you had 400% increased capacity for innovation, creativity, perspective, thinking, if you see that and you have that experience, it would be irresponsible of a leader not to consider how do we build these inner capacities at scale and how do you build a culture that is fostering this in capacity?

00:40:06:12 – 00:40:34:23
Erik Fernholm
I mean, that’s a that’s a responsibility of a leader if they know that this is something that really impacts their metric. And this also goes for, of course, corporations who just have the monetary metric. That’s the frame that they’re in. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that it can externalize problems. And worst case, but even for those leaders, of course, working with building psychological safety, building autonomy, ensure that people are challenged, are developing, feeling a sense of meaning and purpose.

00:40:34:23 – 00:40:57:19
Erik Fernholm
What I work with leaders. Usually it’s not about like they always ask them like, okay, Eric, so you’re expert in the psychology of motivation. Like how do we engage people? I’m like, that’s the wrong question. You need to be asking How do you deserve people’s engagement? Not how do you engage them as a puppet, but how they do frame what you guys are doing and actually doing in the world?

00:40:58:04 – 00:41:21:12
Erik Fernholm
How can you do something that is worth engagement? And that’s when you move towards the space of looking at what is the movers of our world today that really are pulling in these great talents, building capacities that nobody other agents in the market can touch. If you have people who are highly talented, they can be to x the capacity of the person sitting next to them.

00:41:21:14 – 00:41:35:15
Philippa White
When we spoke the last time you talked about the Nordic secret, you mentioned a story about Barack Obama when we spoke and the folk high schools. And I just wonder if you could just bring that to life.

00:41:35:20 – 00:42:00:15
Erik Fernholm
Taking the frame of the ideas is basically saying, like, if we work on inner development at scale, we could actually have these societal shifts. And the interesting thing about that for me personally is that so my my co-founder Thomas Bjorkman, he’s done research into this historically and seeing like where have there been big movers working at scale or have there been big movers that’s working at scale to foster this type of development?

00:42:00:15 – 00:42:24:24
Erik Fernholm
And what they found was mind boggling for me. Like, I had the pleasure to meet Barack Obama years ago and we actually had a conversation about about this because he had spoken to the heads of state in Scandinavia and said, I have a lot to be. This is a half quote paraphrasing here. So I have a lot to be grateful for from the Scandinavian countries because if it weren’t for you, I would most likely not be president.

00:42:25:03 – 00:42:44:06
Erik Fernholm
And then he went on to tell a story of how the Scandinavian folk schools had spread, which were places where 10% of the adult population went to for 3 to 6 months to work on inner capacity building perspective, taking latest technology and was really in depth processes work.

00:42:44:07 – 00:42:46:01
Philippa White
This was the early 1900s, right?

00:42:46:04 – 00:43:13:07
Erik Fernholm
Which was years ago, 150 years ago. So we had, you know, a couple of hundred of these in each of the Scandinavian countries, roughly. And what had happened was that there was this principle and an AC that I’d heard about, that there were democratizing these skills for agency and responsibility to the to the mass, to the masses. It wasn’t this elite class that only had this, but it was to the masses.

00:43:13:07 – 00:43:37:16
Erik Fernholm
And so he went over to Denmark community studied their some these schools researching them for a year and then he went back and then he started three schools. One was the Highlander Folk School and this is what Barack said. So he said that it was if it wasn’t for the Scandinavian folk schools, I wouldn’t have been president because both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King studied at the Highlander Fourth School.

00:43:38:01 – 00:44:05:07
Erik Fernholm
And there’s a quote from Rosa Parks in the book. Thomas Buchanan called The Nordic Secret, where she says she actually was at this folk high school. And a couple of weeks later, she said on the bus, like, I’m not I’m not moving my seat. I’m sitting here. And she said, like, if it weren’t for the support and, you know, the structure and the relationships and the capacities that she got from that from that process in the Highlander School, she wouldn’t have dared make that move.

00:44:05:13 – 00:44:28:09
Erik Fernholm
It’s not a blueprint. It’s not a plan. This is not something that can probably be scaled all over the world. But it is and it’s such an inspiration to see how if we enable people to at scale, develop their sense of connectedness, to themselves, others in the world, what can that lead to? It’s unforeseeable, but it’s most likely positive.

00:44:28:17 – 00:44:52:10
Erik Fernholm
It’s most likely generative, it’s most likely life and forcing or just of course, that’s a healthy thing to support. So so this is what we’re working on both in the communicate. It’s the importance of, I think, getting the corporates to align and to invest and maybe even choose their leaders based on these capacities. And that would be a really impactful thing to see in the world, but also just having a language for it.

00:44:52:10 – 00:45:03:18
Erik Fernholm
And then at 29 K is like, so how do you create a space and every city in the world where you can actually to sit down, have that support, work with yourself, with whatever you’re going through? Yeah, that’s what we’re doing.

00:45:04:14 – 00:45:16:14
Philippa White
Is amazingly inspirational. We have come to the end of the podcast, but before we do finish, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to tell our listeners?

00:45:16:23 – 00:45:39:10
Erik Fernholm
Being the father of three young boys, I can think a lot about the future, and I think that the magnitude of disruption that we’re seeing right now, both in our lives and then I in our democracies, I’m sad to say that I don’t think the disruptions are going to become less. I think that the speed of transformation is only going to increase.

00:45:39:15 – 00:46:01:04
Erik Fernholm
So today is basically the last day of our lives that things are moving too slowly. What people do in these kind of times between worlds, it really does matter. I honestly think that the choices that you make or that the people around you make, but maybe the people listening to this podcast will. I believe that they will definitely impact the quality of life of my children.

00:46:01:08 – 00:46:24:05
Erik Fernholm
I have a deep sense of hope that we have this capacity to, as Charles Eisenstein said, is to kind of to build the more beautiful world that our hearts know is true. There’s nothing more meaningful than to work towards that. And to kind of protect life and create more life and to hopefully, you know, wake up from the games that we’re playing.

00:46:24:05 – 00:46:44:16
Erik Fernholm
And just remember that, yeah, we have 29,000 days roughly in a lifetime. That’s where the name comes from. And at the end of that, again, nobody’s going to look back and think about their bank bank accounts. Nobody’s going to look back and think about their career. It’s only going to be about the people we love, the suffering we’ve been able to alleviate, great experiences.

00:46:44:16 – 00:46:46:10
Erik Fernholm
We’ve been able to share.

00:46:46:10 – 00:46:47:09
Philippa White
We’ve been able to help.

00:46:47:19 – 00:47:13:20
Erik Fernholm
People who we’ve been able to help and the people who have helped us. That’s I think we kind of there’s something we don’t use that word a lot. And I’m not really comfortable with it. But there’s something sacred there. But I think the market and individualism has kind of lost. Yeah. And we’re like taking care of kids and, you know, helping them become wise individuals and doing that ourselves is it’s so important.

00:47:14:07 – 00:47:14:16
Erik Fernholm
It’s so.

00:47:14:16 – 00:47:28:13
Philippa White
Important. Eric, this has been amazing. So thank you so much for your time, for your inspiration, for your knowledge, for your care in just everything that you’re doing. The world is a better place. Thank you for joining us.

00:47:28:20 – 00:47:32:06
Erik Fernholm
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

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