Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Yorkshire Powerhouse Score: 7/10
This is absolutely not written as a business book … but the lessons and thinking within apply to us all and are wide reaching and truly fundamental to the core of our being.
The book is based on the first-hand experiences of Viktor E. Frankl during World War 2 when, over the course of 3 years was incarcerated in 4 different Nazi Concentration Camps, including Auschwitz. Frankl was a young, dynamic Viennese psychiatrist at the time and, despite everything, was able to look at his experiences with an objective view, considering various aspects of life for himself, his fellow prisoners and the guards and rulers around him.
The resulting view for Frankl is that unlike Freud (who’s approach is fundamentally based on our search of pleasure) and Adler (who believed that we search for power), Frankl believes that the ultimate driver of humankind is to find meaning in their life.
Clearly, this is an easy message to convert to business and entrepreneurship – to look at your motivations and drivers with this knowledge allows self-reflection on the ‘purpose’ of your business and the ‘cause’ that you seek to support / fight / help … or not!
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Who will gain the most from reading this book?
If you own a business, manage people or generally feel lost or listless, this is a great read to give you pause to think deeply and consider what’s important to you.
Core Content of Man’s Search for Meaning
Clearly, life in the concentration camps was brutal. Frankl does not glorify any of it but also does not dwell on the horrors … delivering, instead, a terrifyingly cold, factual description of camp life, the imposed tortures, the hierarchies and the various emotional states of the prisoners – describing the stages that tormented them including electing to run at the wire (electrocuted barbed wire) to commit suicide or smoking a cigarette and refusing to work!
Frankl clearly understood that some prisoners submitted to their ultimate end when others did not – causing him to construct his theory which he called logotherapy. The fundamental driving force being ‘man’s search for meaning’ but then explaining that this meaning can come from three possible areas:
- Work – by doing significant or challenging tasks
- Love – the act of caring and loving
- Courage – showing strength in the face of fear
Frankl was very clear to also explain that ‘suffering’ in itself is meaningless (despite it being inevitable from time to time) … it is how we choose to respond to suffering that defines us and gives us strength or weakness. So, a core principle of logotherapy is to understand ‘why’ you are choosing to view a situation in your current way and to then look at the alternatives to allow a better understanding.
The second half of the book is heavy going and focuses on explaining logotherapy as carefully as possible for a relatively short book. If you only read the first half you won’t miss much.
One of the suggestions Frankl makes, is to assess things with the following question … is this ‘thing’ meaningful to me? The three measures of meaningfulness being Work, Love or Courage. If it is not meaningful then don’t do it. However, Frankl also points out that for something to be meaningful, it doesn’t necessarily have to be enjoyable!
Could a Yorkshire perspective improve this book?
In truth, Frankl could have been a Yorkshireman if he wasn’t a Viennese psychiatrist. He tells it straight, dispassionately and offers his opinion – who doesn’t appreciate that? Also, just to head off any sexism comments, clearly this book was written back in 1946 when the world was a very different place – here at Yorkshire Powerhouse Towers, we think Victor could have altered the title to ‘A persons search for meaning’ which would have been just fine!
Read this book, then read it again and read it regularly to centre your thoughts on your own true meaning and purpose in life. The subject matter is so ‘in your face’ that the first read tends to be all about the context and it takes the ‘multiple reads’ to pick out the bits that can be applied to our own lives. Read it!
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