If work isn’t ‘driving your bus,’ then what exactly is motivating you to act with purpose in a world where emotional labor matters more now than ever before.
Louis C.K. and the Cortez Problem
There is a story (probably apocryphal) that the comedian Louis C.K., burns his jokes, his stand-up material, and his writing after successfully delivering it at the end of each year.
This story reads like a corollary to the idea (popularized through the constant repeating of the alleged actions of the explorer Hernando Cortez upon arriving in the New World) of burning the boats on the beach.
This idea of creative (or not-so-creative) destruction, as a motivator to either exploring further (because there is nowhere else to go) or rebuilding (because everything you built before is destroyed), can be scary for some.
Even for those who believe that they’ve already burned the boats…and the jokes.
What’s never talked about is developing the will and the courage to look at what you have accomplished in the past (i.e. a successful negotiation, a big project, a positive relationship) and ask the two following questions:
What about this could be better than it is now?
Who here will have the courage to change in order to make this thing better?
Having the will to destroy what’s already been created in the pursuit of a better future is the first step toward realizing that better future.
Who Are You Outworking?
When the answer to the question is “Nobody,” we’ve got to reexamine what the inherent messages are in the funnel of school to work.
When the answer to the question is “I already work hard enough,” we’ve got to redefine the term “hard” away from breaking concrete in the sun for 40 hours a week and move it toward breaking up other people’s emotional resistance to needed organizational change.
When the answer to the question is “I’m tired and don’t want to think about it,” then we’ve got to reexamine motivation and morale.
When the answer to the question is “Myself,” then maybe we have the beginning of creating a new paradigm of work and labor for the future.
But too often, the answers to the question are less about the question and more about the response.
Ingredients are Baked In
Most, if not all, of the problems and conflicts in organizations, stem from cultural issues, baked in before you started working there.
“This is how we do things here.” (Status quo)
“Isn’t everything going great here?” (False expectations/Poor feedback loop)
“Don’t say anything and it’ll just get ‘better’ on its own.” (Silencing response)
“It’s always been thing way here. Why are you trying to change things now?” (Shaming)
“The last time someone tried that, not only didn’t it work, but they also got fired.” (Threats/Retaliation)
“The pot always gets stirred around here about something.” (Fake/False Conflicts)
The statements represent the issues that can be overcome with courage. But, especially in organizations where the status quo needs to be preserved for people at the top of a hierarchy to “win,” more often than not, statements like those above represent organizational cultures where courage is in short supply.
Baked in fear, power misuse and abuse, failures of courage in leadership, ignoring and avoiding real issues, and denying reality—these are all based in, supported by, and encouraged within cultural milieus that must change.
Or else the future of work, leadership, innovation, and growth will remain far away indeed.
Disconnect as the New Standard
The disconnect between what people know about how the Internet (and by extension social media) “works” (choices, behaviors, options, etc.) and what people use the Internet (and social media) to accomplish (tasks) is underrated and massive.
Part of the disconnect comes from a lack of interest and caring about how the world of communication (and the tools in it) work, not only for the people with whom we are immediately communicating but also for the people not part of the communication.
Part of the disconnect comes from distractions that exist in the world of social interactions between people, and differing filters of awareness and attention. Individuals pay attention to all kinds of things that other individuals believe are unnecessary, irrelevant, uninteresting, or even unknowable. And then, because the human mind seeks order out of chaos, individuals, make judgments, create attributions, and create frames and boxes for language and ideas that further the disconnect.
Part of the disconnect comes from a lack of curiosity and even a lack of education about what to pay attention to. Lack of curiosity is endemic in discussion around the Internet (and social media) because our communication tools have prioritized lack of curiosity as the “new normal” in social interactions. Lack of education comes about when the market responds to a lack of curiosity as a new standard, and then complies by providing less nourishing meat (education) and more easily digestible milk (displays where people advance by how well they kiss).
The disconnect is massive and troubling, for two reasons:
In the market’s breakneck race to monetize every human interaction and behavior, combined with the alarming reduction in human economic productivity, we have a recipe for a society and culture where the very tools of educating, enlightening and uplifting are being monetized and controlled by a select few individuals—or organizations.
Which would be fine if those individuals and organizations were angels, but like most people, they’re just people.
The second reason is economic in that we have prioritized facility and adaptation as ways to get ahead in a world of Internet-based (and social media based) communications where competition for attention and awareness is fiercer than ever. But if the average individual is non-curious (or too disinterested or disconnected to care) about where their future dollars to pay their future electric bills are going to come from, then we have opened society to the wavering whims of every political, social, cultural, and economic demagogue (both individual and organizational) promising to make such important decisions “simple.”
“Simple” of course meaning, “Simple in a way that works for me, my power base, and my tribe, and creates distractions, confusion, disillusionment, and disengagement, for you, your power base, and your tribe.”
Which would be fine if those individuals and organizations were angels, but like most people, they’re just people.
A standard of anti-intellectualism comes from a standard of non-curiosity, which combined with the disconnect between people and how they use their new communications tools, leads to the creation of a world of communication, rhetoric, persuasion, and power, we should all be wary of.
To resist the new standard, we need to fight to establish access to education about how to use our new social tools across the disconnect, eliminate distractions as a way to encourage disillusionment and disengagement, and re-establish curiosity about the unknown (or about blind spots) as an alternative “normal.”
Otherwise, the conflict outcomes could be disastrous for everyone.
Dissatisfaction Times Vision Times First Steps Must Be Greater Than the Resistance
The equation that drives change is simple:
Dissatisfaction times Vision times First Steps must be greater than the Resistance to the impact of all three combined or else change efforts falter.
There are plenty of dissatisfied people in your workplace, your work group, or even just your organization.
There are people who insist that providing negative feedback is the only way to encourage organizational growth and they provide it liberally.
There are people who have been dissatisfied for years in your organization; who have made brief, or even faltering, attempts at change, but have been stymied and have now surrendered.
There are people inside your organization who claim they are dissatisfied, but who are mimicking the sounds of dissatisfaction as a political power move to angle for a better position at the organizational table.
There are people with vision in your workplace, your work group, and your organization. But this vision is hazy, or they are easily distracted by the next “hot” leadership initiatives, or their vision can be compromised with just a little more money or promotion.
There are people who take first steps and attend training, workshops, and seminars.
They read books and articles, combing the internet for advice and guidance about how to overcome the organizational ennui that holds back change.
There are people who take the same first steps, but their enthusiasm doesn’t go anywhere.
They stop at memorizing the “how-to” listicle and when trying to apply the emotional jujitsu against the resistance in their organizations, they experience limited success.
But these elements, dissatisfaction, vision, and first steps, must be greater than the sum of the organizational resistance to them. Or else, the changes that you are seeking inside of your organization, your work group, or even the team that is inside your sphere of influence, won’t happen.
The resistance to change is pernicious, persistent, and it never gives up. The resistance to change is sneaky and sly and sometimes comes in the form of well-meaning people and situations that appear as though they are helping your cause of change when in reality they are hurting it.
No great change happens without conflict. And no great conflict can happen without the resistance being overcome.
And if you think that it can, then you are bound to wind up stuck in the same place of dissatisfaction where you initially began your change journey.
There Are Easy Solutions to Complicated Problems
The two most difficult roadblocks to success in resolving hard problems are the presence of real trade-offs and considerations of power.
Most complicated problems and difficult conflicts have simple solutions. We often confuse what we believe is a hard solution with a complicated one. What makes solutions to hard problems not easy are the presence of trade-offs (scare resources in scare environments) and power.
In a world of scarce resources (the two scarcest being time and attention these days…even more than money) the trade-offs that must be made to create the space for solutions to your most pressing conflicts can seem insurmountable.
Here are a few (of many) trade-offs. Each one can either represent a zero-sum trade-off or an even exchange trade-off:
Conflict or Apathy
Attention or Ignorance
Awareness or Ennui
Momentum or Slowness
Going Along or Resisting
Reassurances or Courage
Change or Status Quo
Focused or Distracted
Power is the consideration behind most forms of fear. Either a lack of power or power focused in an area that doesn’t benefit getting to a solution. That power is often cloaked in reassurances and comes with a healthy dose of resistance.
We often confuse easy with simple in our own minds. Easy solutions to conflicts usually involve the kinds of solutions that favor whatever trade-off benefits us and validates our perspective.
Easy solutions also preserve our power (maintaining the status quo), or grow our power in each conflict situation. Hard solutions take away or diminish our power, as well as go against whatever trade-off we’d like to have honored.
What makes solutions hard to simple problems is that we are often blind to what is hard, and are aware of what is easy.
Be sure that you are making trade-offs you can live with, in a search for complicated solutions to hard problems.
Change Comes Upon Us Gradually
Change comes upon us gradually.
Change comes in our organizations when we hire one person, and then two, and then more, who think differently about the mission, vision, values, and goals of the organization.
Change comes when the people (or persons) at the top of a hierarchy choose to give up their power over and engage in power with; and, not as a marketing ploy or with lip service.
Change comes when a person in an organization, decides to take a risk, stand up, challenge the status quo respectfully, firmly, and consistently.
Change comes when technology creeps into systems that we once believed were sacrosanct, but are now revealed to be hollow.
Change comes when we are lamenting the things that have passed and are looking with fear at the future that has yet to come.
And then, change is upon us all at once.
And we collectively can’t remember a time when the change wasn’t the norm.
Resistance to Change is Pernicious
The resistance to needed changes in your organization is insidious, pernicious, persistent and determined.
And if you are committed to making changes by grappling with the resistance, your approach to resistant people, resistant systems, and resistant attitudes should be as well.
We Don’t Need More Political Solutions to Leadership Temptations
Organizational inertia is exacerbated when leaders succumb to the strong forces of temptations.
Temptations for organizational leaders include (but are not limited to) maintaining the status quo, keeping the bureaucracy in place, and making sure that the can gets kicked far enough down the road that any consequences from that act of can kicking won’t sully their future reputation.
Bureaucracy is a temptation.
Maintaining the status quo is a temptation.
Practicing avoiding looking at trendlines is a temptation.
Focusing on the wrong changes at the wrong time (or the right changes at the wrong time) is a temptation.
The struggle for people who have not been designated “organizational leaders” is that there are all kinds of changes that need to be made, processes that need to be upgraded, and solutions that need to be advocated for within organizations.
But tragically, there appear to be no leaders interested in anything other than being tempted into continuing to be the politicians they maybe always were in the first place.
People not designated “organizational leaders” have been inculcated since at least grade school into the idea that being picked, being chosen to make a change, rather than independently choosing to imagine, take a risk on, and advocate for a new paradigm, is the only way that changes can happen.
But with the current level of systemic failure in organizations everywhere around us (from governments to small businesses), and with the dearth of leadership interest or experience evidenced in leaders who were picked, we don’t need more preservation of temptation.
We don’t need more political solutions to leadership temptations.
Instead, the people not designated “organizational leaders,” who are trapped in organizations (and trapped in systems at a higher level) should choose to put on the mantle of statesman—or stateswoman if you prefer.
A statesman chooses themselves (and their allies), raises their hand, says “I will take responsibility and accountability if an initiative fails, and will give away credit generously if it succeeds,” and is not tempted away from the course by bureaucracy, maintaining the status quo, avoidance of trends, or distractions.
A statesman calls the bluff—respectfully, firmly, but clearly—of the resistance.
This bluff calling—in all its varied forms—requires persistence, courage, self-awareness, a high tolerance for risk, and, of course, a strong dose of candor along with clarity of vision and purpose.
We need more people not designated “organizational leaders,” with the courage to choose themselves to be the statesman in their own sphere of influence.
We need fewer people designated as leaders (who behave like politicians) succumbing to temptations in our organizations and systems.
And we need them today.