Thu 14 Aug 2014
Ten years ago I travelled to Vilnius to deliver a speech on global work illiteracy, arguing that a lack of knowledge of what work is is as dangerous as a lack of clean water or education. Ten years on I still question whether we really as interested in understanding what work is, or is it all just a sausage machine. I now work with the next generation hopefully helping them to cope with pace of change that we see all around us.
Below is the text of that speech given in 2004. Has anything really changed? I’m reflecting on this and hope to write more on that theme shortly. But here is a good starting point.
Congress, Chair, fellow delegates…
There are some 2.6 billion workers on the planet.
We can hardly grasp the numbers. But, I believe we can help every single one of them. This is more than a a question of economic need. The need is to raise our sights as to how we can be make work liberators of those we train – to make all others we meet into organization developers themselves – let us make the case for making work about human potential, human inspiration, and human capability. The industrial age needed mass production leading to mass consumption. We are in the arc of change; the very definition of work is changing – but work should be a profitable experience, shouldn’t it? – Not gray, crushing, or boring – as it is for so many.
If I can be technical for a moment and give a brief contextual overview and proviso before I continue: I mean this in a rational-contingency setting; and this is not all about macrobehavioral issues. If we eradicate work illiteracy with organizations then the boundary buffers are more understandable by all and internal learning grows; AND we reshape organizations in more stable ways that more radical or transactional methodologies may eschew. I am trying here to find meso-solutions that will allow organizations to be ethnologically viable as the preferred way to get humans to work together, even in a world of new groupings, and also to take human factors that ruin work: boredom,overload, irresponsibility, and conflict – and produce big solutions that go beyond coaching the individual and create successful organizations. The task of the next 25 years must be to totally eradicate work illiteracy: that is none should enter the workplace without an understanding of what work itself is. To me this is the same as saying none should be denied access to clean water, or literacy.
Simply giving an education in handling money and credit as the Grameen Bank does in Bangladesh, or creating entrepreneurs through schemes such as Trickle Up, can transform a life forever. Giving people tools to understand work produces more political stability and creates hope.
It remains the number human activity for cocoa workers at the Kuapa Kokoo initiative in Ghana, to factory workers in Durham, North Carolina struggling to see their jobs going to maquiladoras in Mexico, or the Best Practice initiative for international business set up in 1992
in mainland China. We, ourselves, will work more than we sleep, eat, are married, or raise children, more than we were teenagers, or will be retired; it is the number one human activity, we do it statistically for the greatest part of our lives; when we reach 45 we are only half-way
through our working lives.
Yet work is a benefit that some 1 billion on the planet of working age do not properly enjoy. The World Bank has the unemployment figure in Africa alone at 180 million persons. Again, I am not a social economist, I am an organization developer and as such look to how can we make work for the benefit of mankind; and yet, for many, the majority, work remains a grey and crushing experience.
So any thoughts? Well, first and foremost let us turn the ordinary worker into an internal organization developer. Let us freely free that they in turn may free: without chaos, and with purpose. No more workers who do not know. No more. Too many have years of without even the most basic education in how to manage debt, or their daily schedule.Work no longer needs to be grey and crushing for anyone – provided we are able to freely free, to inspire by giving away all we know. We are moving into a world where hoarding knowledge is no longer an option, we are no longer “gatekeepers”, holding onto ideas will not gain us an advantage!
What does have REAL advantage and value is reputation and integrity – the flipside of not owning the knowledge is that your names are known; and the pervasiveness of a name is fast becoming the only currency of value – for I cannot disseminate ideas fast enough – but you
and your personal impact, your integrity cannot and does not change – I call you because I read about you, or how about you, or another tells me about you – not your ideas…
We are now coming into a new role that goes beyond consulting (Where I do not share the knowledge), and coaching (Where I may refrain from training) we are the GUIDES, the PATHFINDERS, the LEADERS, the DIPLOMATS OF BUSINESS, and as such we show organizations how to uncover knowledge that they can fully own, make them totally eradicate work illiteracy, fully educate and train their workers in much more than jobs or even what work itself is, even more than business theory – again turning the ordinary worker into an internal organization developer.
I see it as our job not merely to educate but to transform, not just to train, but to raise the very expectations of what we all can be. When we begin to talk about work itself let us not suppose that we cannot succeed, but rather that success is within reach – it is our task to convince
others that groups work precisely because of the best of human nature: to allow people simply to demonstrate through their own lives the best that humans can achieve lies in being allowed to have a dream, the doing of the dream, and passing that dream on to just one person. People who are by nature rather than character creative, determined, and focused when they enter a workplace find that they are essentially stuck doing automated tasks, or jobs that seem to have little or no value: put crudely work is often more than not interesting, it is greyand crushing. While Weber and Ford were right a hundred years ago that specialism makes for efficiency it does not make work interesting or challenging. But what is the answer? Organizations are designed to keep the same person in the same job role. I have a problem with that, while defined routine is good psychiatric medicine, boredom is definitely not. We understand the cognate processes and behaviorism behind boredom all too well: both in terms of developmental neuropsychiatry, its effect on ADHD and type A personalities, and also through the work of the Yale Group in the thirties through Clark T Hull, John Dollard, and Neil Miller.
Are we truly stuck with this conception of work as boring?
My plea is that we move beyond coyness of the ideas of actualization into something more vital and heroic. That we as organization developers agree to tear down the dark satanic mills and invent new ways for old organizations to continue – but in ways as yet unimagined:
to teach individuals to not fear the organization, but to directly and immediately understand that the best and highest ideals can apply to the endeavor of work.
My vision is a world where work is not grey, or crushing. In the same way that access to clean water has been UNICEFs major goal for the past 25 years we have in our hands the ability to eradicate the disease of boredom at work: for if I truly have depth of knowledge then even the routine takes on a new shape.
Finally I cannot do any of this alone; I really at the beginning of the journey; please tell me your story, please help me to get this vision out; I hope you share my journey; and I hope at the 50th World Congress, when I will be 65, to report that work has changed more than we thought possible.
Thank you for your time.
Vilnius, June 2004, 26th OD World Congress