You can work alone, with your little ideas, keep your clients only to yourself, and intend to screw everyone else… or you can stop being stupid.
“His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he had existed, how he had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to remain — why he did not instantly disappear.”
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
All of us will face difficulty in the course of our lives. From birth until death, it is more like a series of crises that drives the rhythm of living and disrupts our existence, shakes and shapes who we are.
Whether or not you believe in the possibility of a greater power, you soon have to admit that most of it is out of our control. What triggers a crisis can be anything; what puts an end to it is often unrelated to the catalyst.
Nevertheless, the way we react to trouble when it occurs can greatly influence the likely outcome. And this pattern is reinforced every time we encounter turbulences.
Two very different coping mechanisms can be used: what you are or who you are.
When we need to go back to what we know, what we feel comfortable with, we revert to our turf, our patch. Retreating to our origins, we seek reassurance in the familiar and the similar. We renew our sense of belonging to a community and a context that once defined us. We reinforce existing bonds, recreate rituals and signs of recognition. We revisit and insist on the common rules of membership. This coping mechanism might also provoke an over-emphasis on difference, what differentiates us from other groups, tribes, communities, organisations, whether real or fantasised.
An alternative coping mechanism is to strike out as an individual, a node, trawling for a new idea or attribute that might help us overcome a problem or a situation we don’t know how to deal with. We seek the unfamiliar and the singular, acknowledging our inherent insufficiency. We invent new tools or theories. We reach out to the unknown, multiply interactions to build, seek new associations and different forms of partnerships. It might change our very self, impact and transform the core of our identity, making us unrecognisable to the people and the environment we once knew.
How, then, to manage the inevitable tension between the two, between your position in the tribe, the hierarchy, the pre-established order, and you as an individual in all your faults and glory? How to keep on being oneself in this dynamic equilibrium?
That might just be our ultimate challenge.
“What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come — ” Samuel Beckett
The future is not what it used to be. Thousands of articles are published everyday trying to assess the immeasurable impacts that technology will have on the shape of tomorrow. Hundreds of “vision papers” preparing us for the serial shock awaiting us from which will emerge the Future of Work, Future of Organisations, Future of Democracy and Government, of Health and Education…
Not a day, not a week, passes without new blogs being put online detailing the infinite potential the Digital Revolution might bring to institutions, businesses and individuals – as well as the formidable dangers that they all will face. When it’s not a multitude of foresight studies unfolding how Big Data will inevitably shred our privacy to almost nothing and transcend the very concept of identity and self.
As spectacular as they might be, these repetitive announcements invariably sing the same tune: “forget everything you know, everything will change”.
They strangely sound familiar and remind us of a song from a time before the internet:
que sera, sera
whatever will be, will be
the future’s not ours, to see
que sera, sera
what will be, will be
Surreptitiously, they put in the back of our minds the idea that our imaginations might lag the necessary leap to apprehend the world we will live in.
They condemn us to float in this chaotic now from which we shall not escape, an hyper-present that precludes us from hoping we can have the slightest influence on what will irremediably unfold.
Wrecked by a cambrian explosion of everything, our specie shall survive in this bleary, apathic mood, mostly unconcerned by the fact that in this enterprise we might have our say.
Shall we content ourselves of remaining just witnesses of our future? Shall we declare vain and pathetic our efforts to make sense of what will have an hold on us? Futile and desperate our attempts to uncover what could be next?
After 25 years, let us remind with humility that the most popular topics on the World Wide Web in 2012 were Whitney Houston and Gangnam Style, that Justin Bieber has nearly 40 millions followers on Twitter, and that more than 97% of all emails sent over the net are unwanted.
If we keep forsaking our individual responsibility with little or no protest, there is one thing that we can be certain of: Mediocrity will have a bright Future.
The last few months I spent in Bangkok in 2010 had left a bitter memory.
I still remember the sound of helicopters flying around at night – going where? Sathorn Road abandoned with only a couple of army vehicles, the barb wire on Silom – and then grenades being fired, a rebel general being assassinated, the amplified rumours of an imminent crackdown on the protesters. And an ending that left me angry and deeply saddened.
I left for Paris for a couple of months and then moved to Australia early 2011.
Now, after two years spent in Melbourne and Sydney, I have returned to live in the city of my choice. Something in the air is different, a renewed sense that the opportunity is here. People are busy. Smiles are different; they do not hide the embarrassment of a struggling people, they show that hope is back for the many.
Political stability has improved and with it, economic growth has returned; last week Bangkokians re-elected their governor, and though he is from the opposition party he was immediately congratulated by the Prime Minister.
The resilience of the Thai people has been tested over the past few years through political instability and environmental disasters. Many things still need to be improved: corruption, layers of administration that are making it difficult for the country to reform itself, the traffic alone, which had always been chaotic and is now completely out of hand.
But if yesterday we feared a civil war, today we see no reason why Thailand cannot face its demons and overcome them successfully.
The ASEAN’s ambitious agenda for 2015 will create a common market of 600 millions individuals. Bangkok, home to almost a third of Thailand’s citizens, is now a regional hub for the economies and societies of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar that are opening their doors at lightning speed, and could well become the capital of a south-east asian renaissance.
If the last century had profoundly divided and damaged this region with Western colonisation and then the Cold War, this moment in time has all the conditions for South-east Asia to reach its full potential.
It will be the responsibility of a new generation of leaders and change agents to make this transformation succeed and to implement systemic and inclusive policies in this patchwork of economies and cultures, where the correlation between economic growth and social impacts is so strong.
As the West sees its economic engines faltering, South-east Asia is the place where it’s possible to invent new models and maybe finally get rid of the command-and-control paradigm inherited from the industrial era.
Home is where you return. And as we create a new venture that promises to shift our expectations towards work and life, I have chosen to return, and start anew from Bangkok.
“We will live in this world, which for us has all the disquieting strangeness of the desert and of the simulacrum, with all the veracity of living phantoms, of wandering and simulating animals that capital, that the death of capital has made of us—because the desert of cities is equal to the desert of sand—the jungle of signs is equal to that of the forests—the vertigo of simulacra is equal to that of nature—only the vertiginous seduction of a dying system remains, in which work buries work, in which value buries value—leaving a virgin, sacred space without pathways, continuous as Bataille wished it, where only the wind lifts the sand, where only the wind watches over the sand.”
― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
The very same tools we had designed to be more effective together have excluded us, humans. Not so long ago, we were led to believe that the more tools we could use, the more control we would have on our lives – the more we could be. Now comes the bitter realisation that we have been trumped by our own creatures: it is rather those tools that have us, consider us as pieces at most.
Never in history have we been provided with so many tools and possibilities to communicate, to express ourselves and reach out to others. But at the same time we discover in our own hands a power we never had before, an insidious and unexpected sense of powerlessness comes to overwhelm us. On-equipped social beings, we are left uncapable to change the course of a world that has acquired, in the meantime, an existence of its own. And, as we see rising in front of us a boiling mass of data, signs and identities that threaten to submerge everything, we find ourselves disarmed, uncertain.
Ashby told us so: “no man knows what to do against the purely new”. If we do not want to drown in this ocean we have engendered, we can only rely on that part within us that refuses to be shared and communicated. When everything will be copied and hacked, it will take an individual to have the courage to remain one, unique and singular. In this endeavour, our last chance might be to reclaim our unutterable individuality in order not to be played anymore – and be able to play together anew.
Though there can’t be any certainty here – every answer will lead to other questions – we have faith that playing will allow us to invent new games with new rules, and that we will let emerge new forms of togetherness to shape a new reality.
So that we can go on being.
I was 22 when I got my first job with a large multinational company, freshly baked out of the academic oven. What a sense of pride and relief for myself, and my parents, to get a confirmation that I could… fit in.
For 14 years, I created value for my organisation, within the frameworks they had designed for “us” to contribute. Depending on the Business Units and the geographies, these frameworks were more or less enabling or debilitating, but I would always get enough value for myself (financial, intellectual, social, etc.) to choose to remain part of the company.
In those 14 years, I have acquired a unique knowledge of this organisation; its people, its products, its clients, its cultural patterns, etc. Having worked in or with most parts of the structure and most parts of the world, I became a true connector in addition to a descent professional in my field of expertise.
The current employer / employee model is binary. You are either IN or you are OUT, and there is no in-between.
Being IN requires an absolute compliance to a vision, a culture and an operational framework. Once an organisation decides to bring someone in, the formatting mechanisms – called on-boarding process to soften the concept – come into action. As an outcome of this process, you know how much of your potential you are expected to unleash and how much is preferable to keep for yourself. Whether this is an 80/20, 50/50 or 20/80 balance is usually not a consideration for the employer and you can stay in the organisation for as long as you give it exactly what it thinks it need, even if that represents 10% of what you’re capable of.
Getting out of an organisation is a very formal process. When you leave the force, you hand in your badge and your gun – your pass and your laptop in that matter – and you turn your back and walk away. When you are OUT, you simply do not exist in the corporate equation, no matter wether you are an absolute stranger or you have spent 14 years in the organisation, which makes you more knowledgeable about it than most people that are still “in”.
A few months ago, I made the decision to put an end to my contract and move on. I was not seizing an opportunity. I had not developed resentment, frustrations or anger against them. I had just reached the certainty that I could better unleash my potential and have more fun in a different context, within a different patch.
I still had a lot of respect for my team and some of my peers and I was convinced that I could be at least as valuable to my employer, if not more, from the outside of the organisation than from the inside. I genuinely offered to co-design a model where my contribution to the organisation would take different forms than the traditional “pay for my time” model. It would have been a way for me to help nurture the venture I had created and deeply cared about while minimising the unexpected disruption for the organisation.
Sadly, they declined the offer.
What struck me in this experience was the lack of maturity of the organisation. Their approach to the situation was driven by a primal sense of betrayal. The need to re-create stability as soon as possible within the current system completely hindered their ability to consider an evolution of the system itself to turn a challenge into an opportunity. When a key person is leaving, he or she needs to be replaced. Period!
That inability for organisation to foresee alternative models to employment prevents them from accessing a tremendous amount of talent at their doorstep.
Of course, most companies leverage consultants and temp staff every once in a while but the practice remains limited in scope and in time. The systems and processes are just not designed to embrace other models, but more sadly, the culture and mindsets are hardly prepared to even consider alternatives.
- What would it mean for an organisation to actively leverage the potential of its employees not only during the time they spend on the payroll but also after, and why not, before?
- How would we approach resource management if organisations weren’t exclusively inward focused but were broadening their models based on the value drivers of their ecosystem?
- What if one could be both IN, on certain projects, at certain stages of his / her life, and OUT, to pursue other aspirations elsewhere and multiply activities and perspectives?
These questions are relevant today and hold in themselves a huge potential value for both organisations and individuals. But in the world where the number of freelancers is increasing exponentially and where the corporate career becomes less and less appealing to graduates, how long will it take before inventing those models become vital?
‘Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.’
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Lewis Carroll was a powerful and precise storyteller, weaving magic that has disturbed and delighted generations of children.
His dialogue laid bare human foibles, his characters magnified our social charades; with exquisite skill, he crafted a confounding and unsettling hall of mirrors for the meek, the naïve, the well-meaning.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the King’s advice to the White Rabbit still resonates: “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.”
If only it were that simple.
Today we operate in a vast networked expanse of giant mirrors, a maze beyond our wildest dreams (or nightmares), where ‘the beginning’ is hard to pinpoint and ‘the end’ is opaque or too frightening to contemplate.
In this world, they say, the new currency is trust.
The catch: we’re apparently hardwired not to trust, or to be very careful about whom we trust. A few biological iterations back, misplaced trust could have turned us into some predator’s breakfast.
Socially, we know we must trust each other enough to get things done, to raise children, to wage wars. Someone has to have our back, to pay our bills, to tend us when we’re sick.
In that sense, not much has changed since the caves and prairies. In a complex, volatile environment, with threats coming from all sides, trust helps us get things done.
And yet. Is trusting enough enough?
What drove Leonardo da Vinci to push the boundaries of knowledge, of art, of music? That propelled Marie Cure across the sciences to discover radioactive isotopes? That led Frank Lloyd Wright to build a house across a waterfall?
Whom (or what) did they trust throughout the process of conception and creation, destruction and renewal, exhilaration and despair?
One assumes they didn’t need ‘leaders’ to tell them what to do (just as well, if you follow Edelman’s depressing trust research). They just did it.
Through pitiless self-examination, by pressing hard on the bruises of love and loss, they reached the core. They stripped truth back to Truth and followed its lead, drawn by the barest hint of something magnificent waiting to emerge.
Trust in their vision, their quest, drew others to them but in the end, it was they who owned it and drove it. They understood ‘why’ at its deepest and darkest and with that knowledge were armed to live, to love and achieve.
Begin at the beginning, the King said, and he was right.