Do you seek structure? Or, do you seek destiny?
You need to know as you will outlast your company.
As I walk into the shiny Park Avenue building that hosts my office, my first act is to whip out my access card. I place it over an electronic pad, the turnstile flips open and I walk in. I am now inside. The rest of the world is outside. I now have access to an organization, a job and a monthly pay check. Above all, I now have access to a well-ordered social structure that is displayed in organization charts and is protected by policies that ensure fairness and a proper code of conduct. My work, though not easy, is cut out for me. It is guided by a strategy and enabled by a whole lot of people with the same access card that I frequently meet when I walk into the pantry of my floor to investigate whether the basket of fruit has arrived.
My heart broke the other day when I met a young person who left her job, well-ordered like mine, in pursuit of her other dreams. She said she felt very sad when, “they took away her company laptop, her phone and her id.”
Communist ideology clearly divided people into two categories. “Those who own and those who work for those who own.” However, as “ownership” became widely dispersed; as organizations became large, global and long-lasting; as employment laws took root, ‘working’ for someone was not as inhuman as Karl Marx had predicted. In fact; seeking, having and keeping a ‘job’ became the coveted goal of most people. ‘Creating jobs’ became the winning narrative for economists and politicians. Once you had a job, you had an access card and, therefore, a membership to a well-ordered structure that often lasted your working lifetime.
Is the above construct of our economies and societies about to change?
How do you have an access card to a company for many years if the company itself is fundamentally changing every five years? If you were shipping books in Amazon in 1995, how do you survive in it when, just a few years later, it now focuses on AWS and voice recognition products and you are still in the prime (no pun intended) of your working life? How do you evolve in Apple when it changes from being a computer company to being a phone company in less than a lifetime? How do you survive even in IBM, when it requires you to open unchartered territories through Watson when all you have been doing is selling Finance and Accounting services through lower cost employees in India?
For simplicity, let us call this the ‘new’ world — where the company you join is not the same company after every few years.
In this new world, where technology is re-ordering traditional value chains and where abundance of capital is encouraging dramatic innovation, those who seek structure will be at a disadvantage to those who seek destiny.
There have always been people who rejected structure and preferred destiny. These people built companies, great new ideas and in the process, huge fortunes. We all know the famous names, but one such person probably, not so famous, created the company whose access card you currently possess.
While in the past, people who preferred destiny over structure invariably ended up as entrepreneurs, going forward, this preference will determine whether you have a long-lasting career even as an employee. When technology cycles are so short that companies have to morph from one thing to another every few years, individuals that succeed within these companies would be those that have a sense of destiny. These are individuals who are seeking to create an impact and are not seeking to simply keep their job. These individuals have a strong sense of a personal mission. They clearly see a destination that they are seeking to go to. Even in their jobs. They are not seeking to preserve the structure that they find themselves in.
Doing the above is not easy.
Ask anyone who does not have a job. Where do you start? How do you build a network? How do you toil away at an idea not knowing that eventually it will make any sense? How do you preserve your motivation when there is no structure, calendar or a coffee machine with people around it? How do you learn? How do you deal with rejection? How do you deal with a sense of exclusion from all those Park Avenue types sitting on sunny benches with their tuna salads?
Having a sense of destiny and working towards it can be a very lonely experience. Many people give up, seek a structure, preserve it and then try to maximize their place in it.
In the new world, you will have to build the character to go through this lonely experience. In the new world, the character and skills required to be an entrepreneur or an employee are converging. A sense of destiny is the biggest common element. Without a clear personal mission, you will still have a job. It is just not clear — for how long?
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I will be talking about Re-imagining your organisation at the NASSCOM HR summit. That conversation will also focus on the new design of organisations.