Taking the Stage as things change around us.

 All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,

William Shakespeare. As You Like it.

Smart man, our William. The challenge for us today I think is that we’ve forgotten the last line.

Our education, training and organisations suggest we are best to concentrate on one part, and that the part takes place in the context of the work we do. Specialise. Focus. Perform.

It used to more or less work, not so long ago, within my lifetime, when the “job for life” was a notion. Within the scheme of things, it has collapsed quickly – within a couple of workplace generations. Boomers were brought up to it, Millenialls, rightly, ridicule it.

There is a wealth of great work considering the parts we play. C.G Jung explored it at great depth at a personal level with his archetypes. Torbert and Rooke did seminal work on leadership styles. There’s a whole industry offering different flavours and colours of psychometric offering to demystify who we are and how we best fit. The part we do / should play on stage.

The challenge is that we have developed a fixed notion of the stage. Not just Capitalism, but Shareholder Capitalism. The last decade has politely called it into question, but not so much as to offend it let alone notice it is crumbling. After all, our economy has been built on it, and if it crumbles, it’s more than a nuisance.

Shakespeare knew better. Our current model had it’s entrance around two hundred and fifty years ago, and its on its way out. It will take a few more decades perhaps, but all the signs are there. Academics from John Bagot Gubb to Yuval Harari to Niall Ferguson have been noticing it for a while as the rest of us have just been busy carrying on regardless.

There’s a lot been written on archetypes from the brain achingly complex to the simplistic, and I find the most valuable those that honour the original work of Jung and make it accessible, rather than those that try to reinvent and package it. (I use two books in parallel – Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – the original which requires effort, and Archetypes at Work which adds interesting angles and is a more practical approach).

The trick I find is to balance them, to attend to the mystery of Jung, and at the same time apply the essence of his wisdom. We need to think – really think. (and if you’re in the reading mood, Adam Grant’s latest Think Again is a good companion).

Archetypes at work breaks them down into five broad categories – Order, Action, Change, Creativity and Relationships. It’s a good basis for thought.

The last century, as the Industrial age peaked and then moved inexorably into decline, favoured Order and Action. As it dissolves into uncertainty and leaves the stage, Change, Creativity and Relationships become the leading characters. That’s not what most of us have been brought up and trained for, and it’s disorienting.

We have been allowed to regard creativity and relationships as somehow “soft” and optional, and change as something to be managed. We couldn’t be more wrong – creativity and relationships are fundamental and build the stage upon which order and action take their part for a while. Change, the liminal process which reconfigures the stage and those on it, is a fierce and uncompromising animal. More creative destruction than HR’s poodle.

The challenge facing all of us now is what part we want to play, and on which stage. As individuals, we have all the archetypes (and their shadows – another story) within us, but most of us are characterised by only two or three. In this period of change, we would do well to access and understand the others. We are going to need them.

For organisations, it’s a much more challenging issue.

As individuals we can make choices, do the work, and harness our innate humanity within a lifetime. Organisations cannot make choices, and do not recognise their lifespans until the Administrators call. They tend to have extended zombie phases, haunting the stage and frightening the audience, but doing little of value.

The corporate stage is crumbling, being eaten away by a combination of hubris, greed, short sightedness and technology. Not a good place to be.

This is a time of creativity and relationships. Time to be an artisan, not a functionary. To create our own part, on a stage we choose.

To quote Seth Godin, a time to choose ourselves, not wait to be chosen.

To develop your own Practice.

To do the work.

More on this over the next few blogs. I think, as we leave (hopefully) lockdown, it’s going to be important.

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