Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

We’re not good at endings. That point when narrative reality collides with the story we’ve been telling ourselves.

I’m sure that somewhere within P&O Ferries, somebody said “oops” or somesuch and then found themselves suddenly available for employment whilst others, in a fit of wilful blindness, convinced themselves it is all just a squall.

I noticed it this morning in a local law firm whose story has encountered narrative reality. I’m sure the acquisitions of competitors and overheads looked like a great idea at the time. A really great story.

Reality is that every company has a lifecycle, and those lifecycles are getting shorter the more complex our interdependency and the more vulnerable we become to a systemic shock somehere we’ve never paid attention to.

I watched a BBC documentary last night on Rolls Royce here in Derby. It’s a local icon, and generations have worked there creating fantastic products. I found myself thinking that the number of future generations who will do the same there is very likely limited. I don’t know what their brick wall will be, though I’m sure it will find them. In current conditions, it’s a simple matter of probabilities.

What I wonder are the implications for those of us who are passengers in these organisations, and others like them?

Our education and politics have encouraged us to see them as leaders and ourselves as followers. Subjects to their Sovereignty. For many years – certainly most of my lifetime, that story worked. Even as the money being made came less from what they produced and more from speculation on their future values via all manner of financial derivatives. Companies as very fungible tokens to be traded, rather than autonomous organisations.

The story of the benign employer and the importance placed on “jobs” as a measure regardless of the quality of experience they represent has left us in a place of dependency. The metric of “performance” measured in money rather than societal contribution has removed texture from the workplace. It is coming into contact with the brick wall of social, economic and environmental reality, and our relationship with our work is changing.

We are faced with organisations dominated by those of us who Seth Godin yesterday described as “lurkers” (and we are all lurkers in some aspect of our lives) .

Those who says that they’re a contributor/member/supporter/fan/long-term customer , but don’t show up

Seth Godin’s Blog 22 March

Lurkers though find themselves increasingly, however unwillingly, having to become a form of “activist” of their own lives.  To show up as ourselves and make ourselvrs known.

It’s how we show up that matters.

In his book “Citizens” Jon Alexander talks about our communities falling into one of three categories.

Firstly, “subjects” – as I’ve mentioned above – controlled by a “sovereign ruler”. CEO as benign despot.

Secondly, “consumers” where our place is determined by what, and how much we consume,

And lastly as ‘citizens” where governance is cooperative and collaborative, and most difficult of all.

It’s a simple but powerful taxonomy, and it strikes me that a consumer society became a comfortable place for lurkers – neither responsible, nor accountable, and it’s unsustainable

Consumer. etymology: early 15c., “one who squanders or wastes,” agent noun from consume. In economics, “one who uses up goods or articles, one who destroys the exchangeable value of a commodity by using it” (opposite of producer), from 1745

“Lurkers” are having to choose between being subjects, who allow others to shape their lives, or citizens. The notion of the unaccountable consumer is no longer viable. It has encountered its own brick wall. It is over.

Becoming a subject is easy. Drink the KoolAid. Consume social media. Comment rather than act.

Becoming a citizen though is hard work, full of risk with no guarantees as we enter this next period of our lives. It requires independent thought, making a contribution, supporting others . More generating and less consuming. It’s a beginning.

There’s nothing wrong with endings. We wouldn’t have beginnings without them.


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