It’s informed by greatness, inspired by passion and based on your best assessment of how life could roll out.
And of course, it never follows a straight line, like you probably think it will.
I started university studying commerce and organizational design before I had a vocational crisis, let my inner poet flower, and became a high school English teacher. But since then, I’ve left teaching, and become a researcher, professor and…wait for it…a Path Consultant and organizational design consultant.
No straight line. More like a corkscrew, since I looped back to something I explored in my early 20s. Plus, a number of right angle turns.
The Folly of a Linear Life Plan
This graphic, above, has been whipping around social media. The whole thing is below, currently not clearly sourced from the author “♥ Julia”. There is so much going on in it!:
There is a presumption of linearity.
There is a presumption of things going up, because up is better. Why not a circle, implying sustainability.
There is a presumption of a steadily flowing path.
These presumptions are rational but rarely play out.
But in real reality, the reality graph on the right has a number of features:
On the surface, it looks very ornate and even flowery. This reflects that a straight line growth path in life may be pretty boring.
It is not efficient. And that’s great.
It curves back on itself quite a bit. And that’s the reality of growth, since we often need to learn lessons and achieve success through multiple trials.
It also suggests completely bailing on certain paths and re-directing in other vectors.
The best part is that right at the beginning, there’s a pretty massive failure. But, there was a pretty healthy recovery almost immediately!
So where to go from here?
In my Path Consulting work, I help people integrate their work-life-vocation-volunteering balance.
Since we seem to naturally assume progress life, work, and vocation to be linear, many of us need help rationalizing how non-linear it all is when it gets curvy.
It’s important to balance your work and integrate it into the key elements of your life. But since your broader vocation is likely much wider and deeper than your paid work, we need to find ways to satisfy your broader “work” interests without having to quit your job randomly.
We can cut down on some of the baffling inefficiency of circuitous life flow by augmenting our day job with other vocational pursuits.
Further, people feel rich connections to communities by volunteering: giving to activities out of your over-abundance.
Optimizing all four–work, life, broader vocation and volunteering–allows us to have a much richer and thicker line of life flow.
And the goal isn’t to turn the graph on the right into the linear illusion/delusion on the left, but to make the curvy graph less stressful and traumatic.
That’s what Path Consulting is all about. And from an organizational point of view, healthy organizations help their staff and members come closer to self-actualization and broader fulfillment.
Why notmake your organization more effective by helping your people be more satisfied in their lives? It certainly moves you ahead of your competitors who care less about their people.
It’s been a wild ride as a lean startup, filled with happiness, struggle, some confusion, growth, surprises, many boxes ticked, and much to look back on, as I now look forward.
So despite what Edna Mode thinks, it’s good to look back. Just not obsessively.
Reflecting back, I’m happy to see the community-building and growing relationships from working with…
Someone else’s new lean startup
Non-profit activist, service and arts groups
Boards seeking development
Brilliant social enterprise concepts
People finding the co-op structure fits them
Truly inspiring and motivated Path Consultant clients
Designing and running workshops for professionals seeking enriched vocations
Speaking to groups wanting to get from here to there
Even some pro bono time shared out
And 2016 has more in store along these lines.
So as I gather my people and cut the half-year cake, it’s good to reflect on these first 6 months, note the lessons, celebrate the gains, list out how I levelled-up in wisdom, then pivot…to apply all that to the future, where Edna Mode lives, even though she thinks she lives in the “now.” 🙂
There are times at work when your organization flows.
Maybe it’s a crisis, or a deadline, or an exciting project or element of a project.
Maybe it’s the mix of people in the moment.
You may not have a hive mind, but you are all, or mostly all, collaborating at personal peaks.
Then there’s the rest of the time.
We’re not ants. We cannot live in a hive mind or even experience it very often. But there are ways we can increase the likelihood of reaching the state of “social organism.” At the very least, we can strive for it.
Social Organisms and the Ants
Ants live in a social organism. For us, social networking and social media are starting to expand communication from one-to-many broadcast communication [TV, radio, newspapers] to many-to-many. But that isn’t always optimizing anything because SQUIRREL! and clickbait and the temptation of NSFW and whether to follow your mythical competitors who are now allowing unlimited vacation, or dabbling with open offices.
But in the brief decade since the end of life-before-Facebook, we are trying to refine broad communication patterns, SEO or not.
They demonstrate individual metacognitive capacity.
They exist as a hive, yet are highly individuated while working for common goals.
They can defer their ego, embrace humility, even sacrifice their lives for “the thing.”
When I write about “the thing” I write about the purpose for which we come together. At work, in our volunteering, in our social circles, in our activist WORLD-CHANGING! pursuits.
I always speak about how “the thing” is bigger than any of us. But often we lose track of that and assert ourselves above it. Some of us do it so badly that it’s transparent to all. It’s a kind of poison. People seek antidotes and immunization from that dynamic. It creates cleavages and kills harmony and potential.
Ants know what “the thing” is. For them.
Pursuing Our Social Organism
And while we perhaps should never be fully ant, we should assess our organizations to see how we can more intentionally design them to be closer to social organisms. Let’s re-frame those 4 points from above into our organizations:
We often explicitly and implicitly reward people for individual accomplishment instead of group success. Ever since being students in school we’ve known the inherent unfairness of evaluating based on group success. But while we may be individually compensated, the organization/organism as a whole succeeds as a group. What kind of internal potential are we missing when we don’t build capacity for trust-building, which is a key element in people voluntarily developing positive interdependence? We can’t even measure that. But we can all sense it is a profound loss.
You don’t have to have a 130+ IQ or spike remarkably high in a multiple intelligences assessment to be capable of metacognition. Being able to think about your own processes requires time to ponder, a safe context and a mutual support community [see the trust element in #1 above] and some facilitation to meaningfully and safely assess how you are working, thinking, sharing, interacting, and growing. When do workplaces stimulate that process and provide that kind of time? While often too busy doing work, workplaces miss opportunities to pursue “the thing” by building capacity for human and social growth–by becoming more of a social organism.
Too often people are disconnected from how their work contributes to the big picture. Myths of the importance of hierarchies, power dynamics, paranoid people–these are some of the reasons why people don’t get to see how their work affects the organization’s whole. That’s unfortunate, and also wastes synergy. Understanding how their work fits in helps people feel the communal nature of their work tasks so that they can feel a better sense of belonging. Not only does this help with recruitment and retention, but it also builds internal social capital and collective good.
Why would anyone at work who does not feel safe, secure, valued and a sense of belonging risk much of anything, or rise above of even try to rise above expectations? So much of how organizations are designed [often reactively] undermine this kind of safe community building. Without this kind of community, when will people even partially abandon personal self-interest and ego glorification for the sake of “the thing”? Pretty much never. Or only tentatively. And only again if someone significant affirms them and encourages it. While usually outside of first responders and the military, work doesn’t require us to give our life for the social organism like ants do, we need to find ways of being selfless at work. People want to give, they yearn to give! We need to provide opportunities for people to give of themselves. Not just their work tasks and other duties as assigned, but to give others some glory, give “the thing” something extra because we believe in it, to do something anonymously even so we can feel the bliss that comes from a culture of giving. Christmas may be getting you thinking this way, right?
So we can’t be ants. We can’t be the Borg or bees. We are us, living in an ignorantly zero-sum, competitive world.
But what happens if your organization, or team, or workgroup levels up to becoming closer to a social organism. What happens if you and your people reach a heightened level of accomplishment, human security, metacognition, collaboration and intrinsic reward. What if you do all this while, forgive me, others don’t. Even in this ignorantly zero-sum, competitive world, would you have a competitive advantage?
This is how we will bring in the post-carbon energy infrastructure.
This is how we will accomplish massive public, collective and social projects.
This is how we will help people take meaning home from work with their pay cheques.
The rush of excitement of being a startup is not easy to maintain.
Those that don’t fail or fold end up with more work. And work is good, but work, while being “The Thing,” cannot be everything.
The culture and improvisation and organizational norms you developed on the fly at the start need to become systematized with routines that allow you to scale up.
But when people inevitably feel that the soul has shifted or even been lost, “The Thing” can only continue in a worthwhile way if you step back and do the community soul work.
This is true for small corporations, non-profits, co-ops, even local activist groups pushing for community gardens in unused lots.
And while it feels like the point of the operation is “The Thing” you risk losing your soul entirely if you don’t pay attention to it, intentionally and pro-actively.
This doesn’t mean you all have to go off to walk over the hot coals or mandate trust falls at lunch on Tuesdays. But it means mapping what it is that made you spectacular in the beginning, honoring that, tracking what is still awesome, and noting what has slipped.
Then you augment your organizational soul, or re-bake it. With your own new recipe.
A small dose of Appreciative Inquiry, mixed with integrity-filled internal relationship [re-]building, and a pinch of external stakeholder engagement are most of the recipe for your new baked goods.
And while “The Thing” is always the thing, it’s not worth doing if people aren’t growing from being a part of making it happen.
And if you grew up hearing stories of how digital innovation started inside large tech giants, you were infused with the notion of these little quiet Pirate R&D Squads that were given a little building in the corner of campus and told to go make something awesome.
And while everyone didn’t have a Cupertino garage to build something culturally overwhelming, your startup culture retains your own version of the Pirate R&D Squad that you may need to re-capture, update and transform.
You may need to re-boot that squad and mentality. You don’t need the trust falls, but you may need to empower people to get weird.
I thoroughly enjoy working with organizations that are intentional about nurturing their internal community, culture and soul. And I bet you are too.
So before you skip off for your weekend, check in with Startup Canada’s Twitterchat last week on keeping your startup soul. Then reflect on this question:
Some organizations are paying attention to their organizational soul. Most aren’t. Which are you?
Last week I started a new project, E~B Strategy: keynote speaking, Path Consulting, organizational design and development, member/stakeholder/employee engagement, and hybrid projects. Find out more at http://ebStrategy.org!
Path Consulting is particularly engaging because it goes past just working on your work-life balance. It is executive coaching for indespensible innovators and visionaries, optimizing your work-life-vocation-volunteering balance.
You work, pursue your vocation, volunteer to make the world a better place. And you need to balance all this with your life. Your Path is all about optimizing all of these facets of your life. When you hit the rapids, that’s when you need to portage.