New Year – New Work


Phew! I got so much momentum going in December, that it unexpectedly took me ’til New Year’s day to wind down! Now, I am finally getting the creative burst I so enjoy once I take a break… aaahhh. And so I find myself awake when I could be sleeping in, composing a New Year letter to you, to share what’s crystallizing out as I stop to reflect. So, here goes!

I’ve spent the three years since our initial Stoos gethering in Switzerland, networking with people who want more from their work lives. More money? Perhaps: in some cases, remuneration is uneven, skewed along various discriminatory lines as: profession, gender, and race among others. But the New Work is much more than that: it is work worthy of the human spirit.

Dan Mezick introduced me this summer to Tavistock and socio-technical theory, which I have run into again and again since then. The rhethoric is academic and (yawn) dry, but it resonates:

Rational approaches ignore the psychological and social needs of the workers when introducing new technologies, and tend to overformalize the worker’s activities and interactions in forcing a fit between the worker and the technology… repetitive, undemanding work undermine commitment and performance motivation… At the work group level, competition and close supervision causes stress, petty deceptions, scapegoating, and low morale…

Researchers, notably at the Tavistock Institute in London, with a background in the behavioural sciences (Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology) suggested that what was needed was a fit between the technical sub-system and the social subsystem which together made up an organization…

The cornerstone of the sociotechnical approach, as the work of these researchers became named, was that the fit was achieved by a design process aiming at the joint optimization of the subsystems: any organizational systems will maximise performance only if the interdependency of these subsystems is explicitly recognised. Hence any design or redesign must seek out the impact each subsystem has on the other and design must aim to achieve superior results by ensuring that all the subsystems are working in harmony.

Er, yeah. One of those “subsystems” is also better known as “us humans”. The Wikipedia entry feels a little more balanced toward human-friendly language:

Sociotechnical theory … is about joint optimization, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people’s work lives.

Quality of life? Yeah, that’s where I’m headed! But how do we get there? That’s the question we considered at the initial Stoos event. What is at the center of “New Work”? And: what is it that drives this movement forward? After three years of wandering the web and the world, talking to people passionate about all this, what’s important to me is now surfacing.

Together with colleagues I’ve been experimenting, observing, and considering these issues, and my answer is as simple as it is complex: the secret of the New Work is

Vibrantly alive human beings.

Sounds good! But be warned: this “new work” is not for the faint of heart; those satisfied to follow directives and fulfill the plan should probably just ignore it, and hope it goes away. Because, really, traditional work is hard work, too, and brings well understood rewards.

For some of us, though, traditional, plan-driven ways of working ring hollow. The human mind is curious, inventive, a perpetual fountain of connection-making and what-ifs. Focus on fulfilling a plan will always be yesterday’s work – our minds move on to newness each day, each hour. To ignore these flashes of insight, to pretend that what we’ve learned this morning does not change the afternoon’s possibilities seems, in these competetive, fast-moving times … well … imprudent, don’t you think? At very least, the source of missed opportunities.

Our organisations and plans are slow to adapt to our new insights, new possibilities … and yet their slowness is somehow comforting, too, as they promise us protection from risk and embarassment. It’s false advertising, of course, as we subsist within a chaotic global ecosystem, an interconnected world so much bigger than either plans and organisations, where the pace of change is fast-and-furious – and out of our control. No wonder we feel stressed, if we’re counting mainly on plans for success:

No plan survives contact with reality

I’m here to remind you that we have a wonderful resource, more responsive, more intelligent, and so much more insightful than those machine-era plans and “best practices” … which brings me back to:

* vibrantly * alive * human beings *

Or better yet, a network of vibrantly alive humans: learning together, sharing information in real-time, and enhancing one another’s ability to make real their emerging visions of what’s important and worth doing.

“Sounds like a dream,” you say? Yes, now you’re on the right track! Dreaming is an under-utilised mode of human brilliance. I’ve heard that Albert Einstein dreamt his theory of relativity – then spent the rest of his life maming it real! There are hidden, background processes at work in all of us, taking in the information overload around us, sifting and sorting it,.and throwing up gems of insight and intuition … if we’re not too busy to catch them as they float by…

The fact is, though, that this dreaming goes on in the background whether we “allow” it or not. It is what underlies our stress: we’re internally “doing the math” and we know when things just don’t add up: we’re isolated, overwhelmed, under-valued, our work lacks meaning. Despite our rationalisations, on a gut level we know that life doesn’t need to be like this. That’s actually good news: your heart may already contain the wisdom you need to move forward more joyfully, more effectively. Are you ready to let your heart set the direction?

Do you dare to dream your future?

When you’re ready to say yes, here are a couple of suggestions from my archive, to help you tune in to what you already know about what’s good for you:

  • think about what it would feel like to be “pulled” by your vision, rather than pushed by everyone’s expectations. This article includes suggestions for reflecting on what matters, and shifting your expectations of yourself.
  • download and print my values card-sort exercise, to help you think about where you draw the line on what matters to you. or buy the cards online
  • Sign up for my mailing list to be reminded about this topic again later.

Or, if you, like me,  prefer to work interactively with partners:

  • Join Steve Holyer and i for the first online “Coaching Cocktail” of the year – a personal restrospective to help you celebrate the successes of 2014, and redesign for more satisfaction in the coming year.
  • my “sample” offer is available to you whenever you are ready for it: for a complementary Personal Vision Session on the telephone.

And here’s one last thought as you head back for your holiday afternoon nap… what if you looked at 2015 from a “World Work” perspective?

“…the world is here to help us to become our entire selves, and … we are here to help the world to become whole.” 
Arnold Mindell


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