A quiet revolution

It’s been said that we don’t know there’s a revolution going on ’till it’s over.

Up until that point, we see anomalies, departures from our familiar norms and are slow to come to terms that this is the new normal.

We can see this at a variety of levels, although where I am noticing it most is in the relatively mundane day to day working of organisations, particularly small and medium sized ones.

They don’t have to be very old – twenty years is plenty – for those who founded them to have lived through a quiet but profound change in the relationship they have with new talent.

Twenty year ago, organisations still had the power to choose. More people wanted jobs than there were jobs available. Clear job definitions and qualifications gave them a menu of people to choose from. Over the last twenty years, those jobs have become commodities. Lots of people can do them, from many locations, for ever decreasing prices. And where that isn’t cheap enough, machine learning, AI and automation steps up to the plate.

Lots of options for employers, but the results are increasingly asymptotic. Price may go down, but quality does not go up. Same output for lower input.

Which means that we now have a whole new tribe to deal with. Not just some easy label like “millennial”, but a whole new demographic. People not just with skills, but opinions and purpose. People who want to do something unique, something that matters, something to be remembered for. People with a voice.

Artists.

Artists comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They are a real challenge to employ on conventional terms, because it’s not about the conventional metrics of pay and conditions. They are looking for fellow travellers.

Artists are super empowered. Given the right vehicle, the right environment and the right company they can can help those they work with to achieve “escape velocity” from the mundane to the remarkable. to escape the “soggy middle” of price based competition to building loyal followers who get what they are about.

Look around you. How many artists do you see? Those who do not have to be with you, but are there from choice because it’s where they can do the work they want to. Those who will make a real difference to other than the cost base. Those who are in a race to the top, not the bottom, of their potential.

If you don’t see any, then the revolution may just be passing you by.

The people who can make the difference you need have a choice.

..….and in the way these things work, this from Seth Godin just dropped into my inbox.

The Power of Reflection

We can only live our lives looking forwards and understand them looking backwards.

The faster the pace of life and change, the more we pay attention to where we are going, without necessarily reflecting on why.

Every complex system has a reflective capability, a feedback loop.

For us, our bodies have the parasympathetic system to balance the fight/flight dominated sympathetic system. It’s there to protect and inform us.

We however have an (almost) unique appetite for overriding it.

The work of B.F. Skinner shaped a generation. We have designed behaviourist reward systems – bonuses, appraisals, SMART goals etc. – that really work, although their real power is not long term performance, it is short term rewards seeking or punishment avoidance.

We can reward people to death. We can create systems so powerful, so addictive, that both animals and people can be induced to work till they drop dead.

The Japanese even have a word for it. Karoshi. The main cause is heart attack due to starvation diet and stress. no balance and no feedback (although I guess death is an extreme form of feedback)

Organisations are no different. We are seeing organisations around us suffering from Karoshi every day. Death through overwork and resource starvation brought on by lack of reflection.

Taking time out to reflect, to notice, to listen to our own, and our organisations bodies is not inefficient. It is the stuff of development, contribution and survival.

We all have a choice of two futures. The one we’re living that is designed for us by others, or the one we choose for ourselves.

The difference between the two is reflection.

Emergence

Right now in the UK, we are preoccupied with what will be seen in retrospect as no big deal. For the last 50 years we have been sat in a liminal space between being a country with an empire, which we believed we had a right to, and whatever we are going to be next.

In this liminal period, we have assembled all the ingredients of what we will be next – technology, diversity, enforced humility and the like and although some think this is a loss, more know it’s a natural system.

We could of course fall by the wayside – none of us have a right to prosperity – but it is far more likely that we will become a differently powerful force in the world. Not through some ego trip of trade deals and independence, but through an understanding of what our past has given us, what our future requires, and an awareness of who we are becoming.

We have been shaped by the generations behind us, just as we are shaping the ones emerging now. They have to be different form us – it’s called progress and evolution and they are no more right than we were previously, and will make different mistakes.

Progress is not linear. There are necessary bumps in the road. Sacrifices to be made. No caterpillar knows it will be a butterfly, nor the butterfly that it was a caterpillar, and the intervening process of Chrysalis and Imaginal cells is at best messy.

Liminal spaces and Chrysalis have much in common. They can only really be understood backwards. To make them happen, we have to walk into them forwards.

We have the gift of consciousness. We may not know, but we can imagine who we might become. That’s worth leaving false certainty behind for.