We are not machines.

We are not machines. We are creative beings.

Everything made on earth — from sandwiches to cathedrals — started out in someone’s mind. And, through some strange magic, that image in the mind became something solid and undeniable and real in the world.
I imagine a sandwich, then I make a sandwich. I imagine a cathedral, then I make a cathedral.
This trick — of seeing things that don’t exist and then bringing them into the world — is the very heart of work. And it is nothing less than miraculous.

But how often do we think of work that way?

Somewhere along the way, our story of work lost its sparkle.

Work became something you do because you have to.
Work became something you don’t want to do.
Work became something you don’t want to do but you do because you have to do it if you want to do the things you want to do.

Don’t mix business and pleasure… God forbid you might enjoy work.

Work became a place you show up to.
Work became a time when you put your own wishes on hold.
Work became a set of tasks that you do because you agreed to.

But the essence of work is this: as creative, alive, human beings we have the capacity to see things that don’t exist yet and then bring them into the world.

Work is creation.

The way that humans work is not the way machines work.
We are not machines. We are creative beings.

How do we work? How does work work when work works?

This is how we work. This is how work works when work works:

Sometimes we look out at the world. We see what is in front of us. We take in information about our surroundings. We absorb, we witness, we analyse, we process, we integrate an infinite world of stimulus.

Sometimes we look inside. We see what is inside us. We see pictures of other possible worlds. We feel the tension of unmet needs and unresolved threads. We tune into a world of desires and wishes and dreams.

And we build a bridge between the two.

When there’s a gap between how we see the world on the inside and how we see the world on the outside, there is an opportunity. We feel hunger. We see a sandwich in our mind’s eye. We take the steps we need to make the sandwich — bread, butter, cheese, knife, plate…whatever. And when we have made the sandwich that we see in our mind, we know we’re done. And we eat the sandwich and the hunger goes away.

That’s how work works when work works.

It’s a creative act. A constant wave, back and forth, moving between the world out there and the world in here. And, as we move back and forth, as we try to bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world that we want, we are constantly tuning in. Constantly checking in on the next step. Constantly listening and tweaking and adjusting.

And this is how we navigate: We look at the world out there. We look at the image in our mind. We feel our desire. We listen to the subtle signals inside that tell us ‘this way’, ‘that way’, ‘more of this’, ‘less of that’.

This is how work works when work works. But how often do we think of work that way?

We are not machines. We are creative beings.
But the story we most often tell about work is a story about machines, not about creative beings.

This is the story.
Work is about input and output. About starting on time. About being predictable and reliable. Work is about getting things done. Work is about hands. Work is about power. Work is about efficiency. Work is about time and motion. Work is about moving something from over here to over there.

When we started working with machines, we started to work like machines. You start work at nine because the machines in the factory are turned on at nine. You work at a constant rate, because the machines work at a constant rate. If you’re tired or hungry or bored or itchy or sad, you don’t let it affect your work, because machines are not affected by tiredness or hunger or boredom or itchiness or sadness.

As we worked with machines, we worked like machines. As we worked like machines, we started to think like machines. As we thought like machines, we started to forget that we weren’t machines.

How many workplaces have you been to where the machine story is unquestioningly accepted as how work works? Where the qualities of a machine have become the acceptable qualities of a human at work?

The inner life is denied. Desire is repressed. Humanity is for after-hours. Sickness is treated as an inexplicable inconvenience. Also pregnancy. Also tiredness. And cold, impersonal efficiency is rewarded. Predictability, uniformity and reliability are paramount. And the creative being is nowhere to be seen.

But we are not machines. We are creative beings. And this story of work, this story of machines, is no longer useful. It’s dead.

We are creative beings. And we live in a world that is wild. If we try to pretend that the world is predictable — that we know what the weather will do, that we know what tomorrow will be, that nature is simple, that people are simple — then we’re all going to die.

We live in a crazy, complex, lunatic, out-of-control, constantly changing, beautiful, ever-expanding, ever-evolving firestorm of information and action and feeling and life. It is impossible to understand everything. It’s impossible to keep up with everything. It’s basically impossible to plan anything.

And, as long as we keep pretending that everything is rational and predictable and mechanical, then we can all work as hard as we like, but it won’t change a thing. As long as we keep pretending that we are just machines — hands and eyes and arms and legs… picking things up, moving things around — then we’re trying to do the work that we need to without ever acknowledging the most vital, powerful, miraculous tool that we have at our disposal.

We are creative beings. We are able to live in the moment. We are able to process the world around us at phenomenal speed. We see countless variations of possible worlds in our minds. Our unconscious is constantly finding new routes to the places we want to get to, adjusting moment by moment to changing circumstance.

We are antennae. We tune into the big, dumb, gross signals in front of our faces — but also a whole world of peripheral information, ephemera, half-remembered factoids and passing experiences. Every choice we make is informed by a whole world of subtle information that we absorb without effort.

We each carry inside us a sensitive compass. We know what we want for breakfast. We know what we’re meant to be doing with our lives. We know what colour we would like to paint our bedrooms. No one else can tell us what we want or what we’re meant to be doing or what we like, but we know. And, most of the time, we don’t know that we know and, almost without exception, we don’t know how we know. But we know.

We are brilliant, miraculous, sensitive, phenomenal creative beings. And when we remember that, and when we accept that, and when we talk about ourselves that way, then we can actually do work that works.

We are not machines.
We are creative beings.

The machine age is over. And the machine story of work is dead.

The creative age is already here.
And we are alive.
And it’s up to us to write new stories.
And it’s up to us to do the work.