Redefining Purpose — Is there space for individuality in business?

Elliot Nedas
Jun 20, 2019 · 6 min read

So, you’re probably thinking that this is a rhetorical question, right?

We are all individuals…aren’t we?

I am not saying individuals in business are totally non-existent, as that would be absurd. But what I am suggesting is that the boundaries of individuality are constrained by the standard practices and invisible structures of the working environment and, above that, the complete socio-political-economic framework within which work, as we experience it today, is embedded. Think of it as the unconscious drives of the world of work.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we could collectively rewrite the conceptual framework of work? With the goal of exponentially increasing creativity, compassion, dedication, responsibility and, joy. Why can’t work be joyful? Sure, work can be hard and that’s fine, but for many people, work is a thing of dread.

I am an advocate for a complete redesign of work and its place in life. I would love to see a future where work takes on a hugely different meaning for everyone, far away from the purely economic and financial aspects which are prevalent today. Towards meaningful forms of human activities that fulfil the personal and transpersonal requirements of humankind and indeed, all-kind.

The sort of work where we gain the ability to use our time truly for both the benefit of our self and each other, in near perfect measure. Today I fear that work instead seems to be where many of us go to slowly die, physically and emotionally. Where business as usual means we casually kill all living things to support a way of life.

I ask myself; “why do we tacitly accept total ecological collapse as an inevitable by-product of our desire to fulfil our currently perceived individual and cultural needs?”

When we become free of the constraints of purely financial gain a new type of individual freedom will emerge and with it, a new type of cultural freedom could be born. Transforming the constrained, constricted and prison like environment of our present-day working world. I envision that something very real and very magical will arise.

This is a vast oversimplification but from (calories per kilo/pound) perspective, we only need to work to produce a yield of enough food and water to support ourselves and our immediate dependants and have energy for fun and frolics.

The fact is we have way overshot food production and so much is thrown away. In terms of total food stocks we already have more than we need. But we have a situation where we collectively produce so much and distribute so unevenly and waste so dramatically that it makes us all look like such wasteful, greedy and thoughtless fools.

Therefore, so much work today is wasteful work because it facilitates this wasteful system. We are better than that!

But we should not beat ourselves up because that will get us nowhere.

Remember, you and I didn’t build the institutions that manage our world today, they arose over many years and served the desires and expectations of a mindset which no longer, well, never really made sense.

You know, the foolish mindset that humans own the planet and that limitless growth is possible.

The great news is that effective models for regenerative and joyful living exist, think Permaculture. But we must be brave enough to break ingrained habits and thought patterns. Easier said than done, but once done, marvellous things happen. We flow with life rather than destroying it at every opportunity.

So, what exactly does human culture and society need right now?

Well, that’s a broad open question but let’s take a punt. Is it more of the same in terms of workplace models? Wasteful logistics and supply chains? A vapid culture of voracious destruction? A status quo where we pollute endlessly to simply live? Just as we have been employing and employed to do over the last centuries? (same work, same destructive lifestyles, same false choices, same useless products, same talking heads, same waste, same destruction?)

To my mind the unequivocal answer is clearly, NO.

We cannot carry on exploiting and destroying ourselves and our beautiful and diverse world. Furthermore, I don’t think industrial-consumer-enabling and command and control technology will save us from ourselves. Because it is precisely the tool sets and mindsets of industrial technology and consumerism which have enabled humanity to get to where it is today.

We are on the precipice facing the stark realities of the end game of a set of cultural formations and institutions for which business as usual means turning the living world into the dead. We, yes, you and I, must be the ones to decide to really think about things differently, then act upon our insights. Artificial Intelligence is unlikely to save us. Electric cars give me a break. Renewable energy, how do you think these things are made? Look deeper and you’ll see they still depend on wide scale industrial systems to be manifested into existence. Large Wind Turbines require ginormous quantities of resources to construct, for example 30,000 tonnes of cement for the foundations.

So, I’m not advocating for any other forms of energy production. Instead I suggest that we need to look at energy use reduction. Because it is not like renewables are replacing oil, coal, nuclear and gas anyhow. The sad reality is that the renewable energy simply adds to the electrical energy we have available.

In a recent report it was found that if we put monetary value on the environmental costs of business activities that no businesses are in real profit. This is if we consider the natural world that is being destroyed in the process. What good is money if there is no planet to spend it on?

With that little nugget in mind lets now consider that the natural counterpoint to freedom is responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, part of being responsible is to have as much fun as possible. But equally important is to take a long hard look into the global mirror, learn from our cultural mistakes and do something different. These errors are structural and can thus be re-architected.

The wonderful news is that there are examples of people living and working as free individuals and they seem to thrive. Especially so when their goals and the genuine goals of their company have a modus operandi incorporating a mature plan for social responsibility and stakeholder engagement, for true social and communal benefit, rather than of pure financial gain. These will be the successful companies of the future. Companies that are prepared for when the current fashion for greed is replaced by the basic need to survive and we must be nice to each other again.

There are many companies providing products and services that feed off and engender the sameness of our lifestyle choices. Yet at the same time their marketing messages extol individuality. Here lies the trick…we have been bamboozled by the mechanisms of conspicuous consumption into believing that endless product and service choices equates and indeed is the very idea of freedom in this culture. And it is this illusion of freedom that largely drives current workplace culture.

And that is at the very crux of it.

Are we individuals because of the things we buy? Or are we defined as individuals by the way we live in the world, by the choices we make to bring betterment to ourselves, our community and the world? Are we individuals alone or are we individuals in the presence of our relationships with other people and the planet?!

Therefore, it seems to me that present working models do not openly advocate our innate sovereignty nor even offers us the real choice to choose to live as true individuals and in true communities. It doesn’t enable us to fully express ourselves at the most basic levels.

Let’s work together to redefine our purpose away from consumers, towards a world of creators, individually and collectively. I see us move towards co-creating more meaningful lives for ourselves, each other, and, most urgently, our ill-treated planet.

To be free to really live we need to get to the serious business of making our lives and the lives of others better and move away from the silly business of just making money for money’s sake.

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