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The most powerful force on earth

What if we changed the nature of work?

Peter Brownell
May 8 · 6 min read

Here’s a story for you.

What if the most powerful force on the planet was not nuclear energy, or some secret perpetual motion machine? What if it was not the sea or the vast potential of solar power, or anything like that? What if it were much closer to home?

Lets say, for the sake of this story, that we do live in the Anthropocene. In a time when humanity’s impact on the planet is of a geological scale, what’s more, that this impact has become visible, not over millions of years, but in a few hundred.

Now in this story, the real force behind the Anthropocene is not humanity as a whole, but something a little more specific: “coordinated human activity”. To put it a little differently, the most powerful force in this story is the organization, and in particular, organizations capable of harnessing technology.

To put it a little differently, the most powerful force is the organization, and in particular, organizations capable of harnessing technology.

Organizations gain their power by coordinating and channelling the work of individuals. By breaking big tasks into smaller chunks, and giving people a way to work together, they have transformed the face of the planet.

Yet, despite the incredible scale of this power, these organizations are hopelessly inefficient. Almost no one in our story has ever seen an organization that didn’t waste most of the energy that humans put in. What’s more, very few of the people on this planet had ever worked for an organization that gave them enough of a reason to invest more than a fraction of their real potential.

Almost every organization that ever existed just saw humans as “resources” to be controlled and consumed. The environments they created were designed to limit creativity, and to ensure that people just focussed on doing what they were told to, rather than really trying to apply their individual skills. This was extremely wasteful, but, it was still good enough to create a force powerful enough to change the world.

Now, we get to the twist in our tale. If these inefficient, resource extracting, creativity limiting, organizations were so awesomely powerful — what would happen if it were possible to engage with people better and waste less of their energy? What kind of force could that create?

If these inefficient, resource extracting, creativity limiting organizations were so awesomely powerful — what would happen if they were able to engage with people better, and waste less of their energy?

To better engage with people organizations would need to create more meaningful work, and foster environments where people felt comfortable to stick their necks out, to try a little bit harder, because they trusted their colleagues, and because it was worth it. To make work that meant something to everyone, these organizations would need to involve everyone at a much deeper level - and not just tell them what to do.

To waste less energy, organizations would need to create strong connections between people, allowing them to understand each other and to make the most of each person’s strengths. These organizations would need to be flexible. They would allow people to adjust the way they worked, changing roles and tasks based on how their combined abilities could best solve the problems they faced.

And just imagine what would be possible if these people had the ability to further amplify their efforts by creating their own tools? Tools that sought to enhance and not enslave their humanity.

In this story, these organizations would change the nature of work itself. Instead of seeing humans as resources to be exploited, they would need to see humans as unique, living, interconnected individuals.

In this story, these organizations would change the nature of work itself. Instead of seeing humans as resources to be exploited, they would need to see humans as unique, living, interconnected individuals. Rather than designing work so that “resources” were forced into pre-defined boxes, these organizations would create spaces where living beings could grow. Rather than focussing on money as a source of motivation to do meaningless things, these organizations could perhaps find a shared purpose and allow meaning itself to be the primary motivator.

Would this form of organization be something so much more powerful than the old ones? Would these organizations be able to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems? Would these organizations be able to bring about change even more dramatic than that achieved by older, less effective organizations?

If the organizations that dominated this planet were not powered by resource extraction, exploitation and control, maybe their impact on their environment would not be defined by those same things? Perhaps organizations that generated energy by nurturing life and creating healthy relationships would, in turn, be able to nurture life and create healthy relationships in the world?

Perhaps organizations that generated energy by nurturing life and creating healthy relationships would be able to nurture life and create healthy relationships in the world?

In this story, it could be that people spent a little less time obsessing over who was right or wrong, and instead focussed a little more on creating better, more healthy, organizations. These new organizations would be comfortable with diversity because they cultivated the ability to be honest without violence. By investing in the organization itself, and gently guiding activity by evoking a shared purpose, all sorts of incredible things become possible. The future could become something to look forward to again, because it was built for humans and living things.

It’s a nice story. I also know that every story is full of twists and turns, and that there is no way that we could tell how a story like this would end.

Yet, this is the story I need in my life. It’s one where every individual has something to contribute. These new organizations would be so much more powerful than the old beasts. Just a few of them would make such a difference. And what’s more, they don’t require anything all that complex to create:

They need a purpose — In these times, that’s not that hard.

They need to be flexible to harness individual strengths — We can work that out.

They need to create environments where people become better a at being human, communicate well and build strong, trusting connections.

Ah, that’s a bit harder. It’s not impossible. But it requires people to put in the effort to be better…people.

And they should be able to use technology well — If you have people able to communicate, then this is doable.

What if, instead of all fighting over who has the right solution, and then feeling powerless because no-one is good enough, we simply focussed on being a little bit better at being honest?

So, what if we gave it a try? What if we chose to change the nature of work? What if, instead of all fighting over who has the right solution, and then feeling powerless because no-one is good enough, we simply focussed on being a little bit better at being honest? What if we learned how to safely try new things, and trust that our peers would look after us while being brave enough to be honest about what they really felt?

These things seem so simple, but I know how much I struggle to be honest about what actually goes on in my head. Yet, every time I try to make this story real, and I put a little more effort into being just a little more honest and a little more open, then I feel just a little more alive. I have just a little more hope.

Yet, every time I try to make this story real, and I put a little more effort into being just a little more honest and a little more open, then I feel just a little more alive. I have just a little more hope.

So, I plan to keep on trying. I need this story.

I hope I’m not alone.

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Developing the capacity for organizations to embrace the…

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Peter Brownell

Written by

It’s time to change the world. It’s time to create the future that we need. I seek the inflection points that can make tomorrow a better place.

The-organization

Developing the capacity for organizations to embrace the future

Peter Brownell

Written by

It’s time to change the world. It’s time to create the future that we need. I seek the inflection points that can make tomorrow a better place.

The-organization

Developing the capacity for organizations to embrace the future

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