December 1, 2013 in Future of Work
Certainly it’s no surprise that our lives are shaped by childhood. My childhood was shaped by brutal authority. My parents exercised godlike power but, like the oldest gods, they were entirely human—petulant, arbitrary, and inconsistent. To survive it was necessary to resist. I have been resisting authority ever since.
When I came of age during the time of the military draft and stood against the Vietnam War, I stood also against my church which believed God was Republican and Nixon was his prophet. There was no solace in religion, only judgment. The Army then tried to break and retool me as a weapon. I was eventually discharged as a conscientious objector, something that rarely happened in the ranks. I had resisted but I was badly damaged, broken.
I’m not so naïve to expect corporations to divest themselves of hierarchy out of altruism.
I literally wandered years in the wilderness—the Mohave Desert, the Sierra Nevada, the coast of Baja California—until I found an occupation that fit. I became a professional sailor. I delivered yachts across oceans, sailed weeks between landfalls. I made decisions that placed people in harm’s way, that altered the likelihood of their life or death. I became the authority that I had always resisted, enacted on a different scale.
After coming ashore, eventually I came to Microsoft. It is the only large corporation where I’ve worked and unarguably the most powerful. At Microsoft I found another form of authority, less blatant, subsumed in the culture, but no less powerful and controlling.
The pattern set in childhood still influences me as an adult but I’m more conscious of the influence. It’s no longer an autonomic reflex but it’s so deeply rooted that it’s a part of me. It’s who I am. The question I have to ask myself, that each of us has to ask, is what will I do with who I am?
Simon Terry recently asked What are you working to achieve? It’s part of his process for working out loud. My answer isn’t complete but it’s enough to take the next step. I want to help realize an ideal, the democratization of work. I want to help realize a way of work where individuals relate to one another as partners, autonomous, supported by a culture of equality, recognition and responsibility. I want to help unmake the hierarchies of power that have kept so many people in fear and subservience for so long.
I’m not so naïve to expect corporations to divest themselves of hierarchy out of altruism. They’ll embrace a more egalitarian organization only when compelled by competitive forces. Those competitive forces are already forming on the horizon like a circular storm. Companies capable of making good decisions closer to the customer will be more responsive than those that require decisions to climb the hierarchy and return before any action occurs. The future focus of management will be to ensure those decisions are made with the best information available.