There is an old Chinese curse that says: May you live in interesting times.
If interesting means socio-political mayhem; wilful destruction of much beauty in the world; greedily extracting and overusing the planet’s natural assets, then we’ve probably never had it any more interesting then now.
I normally like things to be super interesting but I’d happily trade some of this in politics and socio-economic areas for a bit of a modest, regenerative boringness thank you very much.
It does feel that with so much in disarray, something new and alternative is much needed. Sadly, I don’t think that many people will embrace it as quickly as I’d previously hoped.
What is also interesting about our time, is that:
- on the one hand, we’re overwhelmed by more information at our disposal than in our short and turbulent history, and
- on the other hand, in that mighty stack of data, lies some of the most enlightening, inspiring and profoundly helpful realisations that we really could be on the cusp of something beyond our previously pioneering but also damaging industrial might.
So for this post, I’m not referring to the agitation we feel about the climate change we know is impacting the planet, nor the horror we feel at the awful destruction of fauna and wildlife, nor the abhorrent way we have industrialised how we treat animals as food and clothing items.
I’m using this post to share my realisation that we may not all be #ready to embrace the alternatives just yet, but when we do, we will realise something profound: We are meant for more:
- More than the acquisition of wealth
- More than denigrating those not like us — mainly people we don’t understand or seem to dislike for their difference to us.
- More like the educated, compassionate and kind people we know we can be at our best. Just more regularly so.
- More like the challenging and strong but considerate and gentle balanced individual we can learn to be.
- More like the designers of humane experiences in education, health and social care, and yes, even work.
I have experienced what I can honestly describe as enlightenment over a gradual period of about 10 years.
Firstly within HR — finding my place in a professional field that sparked my every neuron of curiosity.
Secondly outside of it — in what I describe as the “alternative work movement”. Be it from the Ricardo Semler exploits in Brazil, to Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia and latterly to Jos de Blok in the Netherlands, Rich Sheridan in Michigan to Julian Wilson at Matt Black Systems and Kim Jordan at New Belgium Brewing, to Matthew Gonnering at Widen Inc, to Matt Perez and Roberto Martinez at Nearsoft, and Ev Williams at Medium (!).
And to illustrate the state of being #ready, on the evening of Monday 11th March, some of #TeamPTHR and I joined a good crowd to hear Aaron Dignan talk about his new book Brave New Work. He told a familiar story of the way work is designed and delivered is pretty busted. It’s an early 20th century construct still with a vice-like grip on the 21st-century world of work in all but a few pioneering — maybe even buccaneering — places.
And I came away from that still inspired by those people in companies like Morning Star, Handelsbanken, Haier and others. And also slightly frustrated that the expected rise of more of the “alternative” crew should mean there are more stories to tell. Alternatives though, I suppose, are still outliers and even rarities.
Yet, on reflection I recalled how many people and organisations seem #ready to take their own journey to alternativism just in their own — maybe discreet — way.
Take the amazing work C-J Green did at Servest. Creating an internal “gig-economy” platform for work instead of shift patterns and spreadsheets run by HR or Ops. A strong example of a range of things she did in that organisation worthy of being alongside Handelsbanken.
Take the fabulous work of Sam Betts at Salford City Council. Did they out-Spotify Spotify with their use of agile, autonomous Squads? Pretty much. From a stuttering digital transformation programme to Digital Council of the Year in 3 months is some going.
Take Susannah Clements and the amazing work Anglian Water do to involve, engage and enable their people. Best Places to Work winners 2019 — and involving a utility service and sewerage. Who says it’s all trendy Shoreditch start-ups that have all the meaning, purpose and engaged people?
So are we #Ready for new things in work? In some ways, we are and in many ways, the sclerotic leadership shown in many companies is a tragedy almost as sad as the political mess the UK finds itself in.
Work — demonised by many as a toil that shatters the human soul — is though, still in need of significant rebooting, reengineering and recalibrating.
Aaron referred to the work “operating system” in need of an upgrade or installation of something new. He’s right of course. And the metaphor of computing is not lost on me. We are apps running in a complex series of platforms and with an infinite game with levels and tasks.
Work is too significant a part of our lives, increasingly our identity and esteem and character building, and is there to save us from boredom, need and vice (HT Voltaire).
Therefore we can, should and even must do our part to be #ready for the alternatives. Not a sweeping movement to happen in 2 years time, but more a gradual upgrade of how we work.
Some will still be on old operating systems and that’s something to look at (if you’re a business leader) and go “is this enough?”
If no, you should really upgrade your OS. Brave New Work, along with Reinventing Organisations, Firms of Endearment, Exponential Organisations, Lab Rats, Freedom Inc, Conscious Capitalism, Joy Inc and more point the way. Not knowing is not a good excuse — if you’re not #ready for these alternatives, you’re clearly very comfortable where you are.
Like in the computing world some low alternative-investment companies are akin to running themselves still on WinXP; some pioneering free-thinkers are like they’re on Linux; some using Ruby-on-Rails whilst others stick to Java Script.
I’ve accepted there will be no new “big-bang” new norm though. And we’ll always talk of outliers and smaller gestures towards alternatives.
I’m playing around with technology-influenced alternatives in the way I vision my work and advice — using Stacks; Products; UX; Agile— we’re all in a game of different needs and demands and therefore different configurations. Some organisations have an operating system, platforms, apps and players more #ready for alternative ways of working than others. Some may survive, some may thrive some may become obsolete.
I guess the point of this piece is to not only make sense of people and organisations being #ready for alternatives but is also a piece about a pledge to make.
I’m going to pledge to continue to help clients with good intentions; leaders with enlightened and alternative spirits; practitioners and professional colleagues with desires and dreams of different to upgrade, adapt and operate as best they can in alternative ways.
And ensure they are #ready for that as the best and right thing for them to do.
I’m setting out to help those people I hold dear to be aware of alternatives and be #ready to make choices.
Aaron Dignan’s The Ready stands for something different and to provide alternatives. Brave New Work is trying to shift us, systemically, towards the alternatives. Bravo for that. That is brave.
So in your company, with your practice, and your dreams, are you #ready to be an alternative? Because if you are, you might always be an alternative, but that’s OK. Be brave in being so. Being an alternative could be the differentiator to the best people coming to your workplace.
In my lifetime, I still hope to see that those operating in alternative ways BECOME the norm; so we won’t even notice it anymore.
For now, I’m comfortable and excited all over again about being #ready as an alternative.