A Vision for the Future of Work

*Reprise: I’m winding down to one new post per week between now and Baby Integrated’s arrival in March 2017. Enjoy this repost!*

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWe need a new vision for work – a vision that’s more alive and more vibrant than the mechanical environments that most of us are offered in our jobs today.

Many of us still believe in old stories about work, stories that tell us things like: “you need a boss,” “what matters is the bottom line,” or “once you get to the top, you’ll be happy.”

Even if we know those things aren’t true, we still cling to them and strive to fit into stories that don’t serve us. We’re hungry for something else, but we aren’t quite sure what that is.

Our stories are outdated, and that’s causing dissonance for people who want more depth and meaning in their careers.

David Korten, the author of a book called The Great Turning, wrote, “When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. That is our current situation.”

In case you haven’t heard of the concept of The Great Turning, I’ll share my understanding of it: it’s essentially the idea that humans are at a pivotal crossroads in terms of our consciousness and the actions we take based on what we believe is true in the world. Many people are living and working as though things are fine, the same as always – “There are plenty of natural resources,” “If I just work hard enough I can get ahead,” “Our world is not falling apart,” etc.

But for those of us who are awake to the destruction happening around us – the devastation of our natural environments, the curse of affluenza and consumerism – we have a choice to make. We can either choose to be crippled by fear and continue living like everything’s fine, or we can be a part of the shift: The Great Turning.

We can turn toward community, toward stewardship, toward a new economy based on wholeness instead of emptiness.

The Great Turning absolutely applies to our worklives and the stories we tell ourselves in our careers.

Things like the push for paid parental leave, a new awareness of self-management in the workplace, and a greater desire for work life integration are all signs that people are choosing a new vision of work, which gives me all the feels and makes me so excited.

So what is that vision? What would work look like in a society more interested in caring for ourselves, one another, and our planet than with shareholder profits?

Frederic Laloux, whose work I respect immensely, writes about three components of organizations that are pushing the envelope toward this new vision of work:

  • Self-management
  • Wholeness
  • Evolutionary purpose

These are concepts in his book, Reinventing Organizations.

Here are some ways that self-management might show up in the future of work:

Organizations that have come out of The Great Turning will be living, diverse ecosystems, not the behemoth machines that we have today. These organizations will be made up of peers who have agreed upon a certain mode of functioning and self-enforce the rules and structures that they’ve created. Teams within these organizations will be like fully functional cellular organisms, equipped with what they need to support one another and do high-quality work. Ongoing, in-depth training on group dynamics, vulnerability, and conflict resolution will ensure that these self-managing organizations can focus more on the good work they’re doing than on politics and in-fighting.

What about Laloux’s concept of wholeness? How might that become part of the future of work?

Thanks to the work of Brené Brown and many others, shame and vulnerability have become more acceptable things to talk about, but there’s still not enough room in today’s workplace for us to show up fully human. From where I sit, many of our workplaces are hyper-masculine environments in which you’re expected to have a forceful approach to problems, compete with your peers, and scramble to the top. In any living system, whether it’s our bodies, ecosystems, or the earth itself, we need balance.

Our workplaces need a balanced dose of the feminine. In organizations that move toward and value wholeness, feminine attributes such as intuition, cooperation, and care for the community will be just as important as profit, action, and meeting goals. We need both types of energy, and when in balance, they enable us to be whole ourselves and to create organizations that are spacious enough for integrated adults.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, I want to talk about Laloux’s concept of evolutionary purpose and add my own twist:

Laloux talks about evolutionary purpose in terms of organizational purpose and the idea that if an organization is a living system, its direction cannot be controlled. In the future of work, perhaps organizations start out with one set of goals, but over time and through the work of their self-managing teams, new goals arise – goals that could even change the entire focus of the company. The idea here is that we will learn to let things arise and move with them instead of sticking to old stories or outdated company mission statements.

I want to add another idea to this concept, though, and that is about interconnectedness. Part of The Great Turning is a change in Western consciousness from individualism to a deeper sense that we are part of something larger. So many people are sick in this culture because they believe that they are separate. They believe that they are alone in this world, disconnected from others, from the earth, from life itself. If you believe that you are separate from everything, it’s much easier to cause harm – to yourself, to others, and to the earth around you.

But we aren’t separate, are we?

I love this quote from the poet Rabindranath Tagore: “The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world.”

In the future of work, I imagine people coming together to create organizations that monitor, act, and celebrate stewardship of their people and their impact on the natural environment. Profits are most definitely a part of that, but in this evolved future, profits are put in their rightful place: alongside – and no more important than – people and the earth.

When we realize that we are connected to everything around us, we can 1) wake up to the pain of what’s going on in ourselves and to the earth, and 2) choose to be a part of The Great Turning.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIt is possible to have a society full of organizations that contribute to the well-being of the world instead of deplete it.

The future of work can be one that is joyful and colorful and supportive of each of us and the gifts we bring to it. We all have a unique part to play in this pivotal time, and if our bodies and hearts are diminished after each 40-hour workweek, it’s difficult to see what that part is and how to play it.

No matter where you are in the world or what you do for work, I encourage you to believe in this vision if it resonates with you. Shed that old story that tells you that work is about taking and keeping up and defeating others.

Choose to believe in a story that invites you to be bigger and dive deeper.

We need this vision to become real, and I believe that process is already underway. If caring, brave individuals like you can come together and support one another as they make real change in their own worklives and in the lives of others, then this vision will become real much more quickly.

One such community of these kinds of people is the Facebook group I facilitate called A Wild New Work. Click to join us and choose a different path.

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