Whole People = Whole Organizations

This is revised version of a post originally written almost a year ago exactly.  I happen to have some friends stuck in dysfunctional work situations right now and conversations that I have had with them over the past week or two brought this post to mind.  Enjoy.

I see whole people.

I like art.

In 1947 Jackson Pollock started experimenting with a new form of painting.  One of the pieces he produced that year was Galaxy, which hangs on a wall about 5 minutes from my house.  I like this painting a lot.  I cannot decipher it for you or tell you what it means, but I get lost in it.  Whether you like this painting or not, I think you have to agree that it is unique…original…a one of a kind.  For better or worse, nobody else could produce this work.  Ever.

Business could probably learn a thing or two from art.

Something magical happens when you create space for a true and organic connection between a person and their work.  Something unique is produced and both the person and the body of work are transformed.  Evolution.

This is the power of a whole person at work.

Unfortunately, I think there are few workplaces that actually invite, welcome and embrace whole people.  We are simply not well equipped to do this, despite its growing importance, as we still employ yesterdays approach to work, the worker and the workplace.  We continue to cling to an antiquated and counter-productive model of management that is incredibly wasteful of human talent.

Conformity did actually have some real business value at one time.  Conformity, efficiency and productivity fueled the production economy that we relied on for most of the 20th century.  The 20th century is now in our rear-view mirror and the rules have changed.  Not only is conformity not particularly valuable today, it is one of the great barriers for the things that are truly valuable.

This is a significant shift and we simply have not yet made the appropriate changes to our way of leadership or to the nature of our organizations in order to survive and thrive on this new terrain.  We need now new archetypes and new language for doing work and for doing organization.  We need now to unlearn much.

We need to stop contributing to this problem and start building a new kind of social space for our work to be alive in.

We do a great deal to get in the way of people bringing their whole selves to work and we do a great deal to get in the way of people having true and organic connections to their work and this must change.  This is why we need freedom fighters and this is why we need freak flag fliers.

We hire whole people, but it tends to go down hill from there.  Applicants are told about how people are “our greatest asset,” how creativity and honesty are vital, and we how we value the unique contribution of each individual.  …and then the organizational culture begins to relentlessly bombard the new employee with messages both implicit and explicit about fitting in, not rocking the boat and playing the game. Employees end up with truncated identities and trade their passion and ideals in for the rules to the game.

Business is simply too complex and too fast moving today for us not to be engaging the individual wholes of our whole workforce.  We can no longer drive around with the parking brake on.  We have become very efficient at managing activity but we are still very sloppy and wasteful with talent, ability, potential and the intangible assets that each person brings with them.  The hearts and minds of a select few with select titles and select parking spaces are woefully inadequate for the challenge before us now. We must create space for the hearts and minds of all.  We can afford nothing less than the fully stoked fire of our collective aspirations and abilities and this part of our journey cannot be navigated with spread sheets or flow-charts or metrics.

There will always be some conformity involved in joining a community or an organization.  There are some agreements involved in joining a social group, whether it is an organization, congregation, association or community.  We just need to push way, way, way, way back on those things…especially the implicit things that are baked into an organizations culture and its way of leadership.

This seems like a big piece of work and it is, but it is something that each and every one of us can contribute to regardless of our role or title.  There are a lot of things that influence, shape and contribute to a culture including our individual actions and relationships.  Here lies a powerful opportunity for us to take responsibility.

Put your freak flag up.  If it causes people to start taking shots at you, at least you know that you are in enemy territory and can act accordingly.  Do not play small.  Do not fit in.  Do not go with the flow.  You have a unique gift and a unique role to play…do not lose sight of that.  Tell your story, not the story that everyone else is telling.  Put your freak flag up.  Put your cape on.  Make noise.

This is not about our bosses.  This is about us and what we will do to take our work and our places of work back.

Be good to each other.

  1. Tweets that mention Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference -- Topsy.com

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  3. Robyn McMaster

    Joe, as we all move into an innovation era, we need the right brain thinking of artists and designers. From what I see here and in Twitter, you are very much that kind of person. I have always considered myself as unconventional and I enjoy the same flowing through your posts.

    Keep up your good work.

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