What’s Good for the Bee is Good for the Hive
Marcus Aurelius noted that, “If a thing is not good for the hive, it is not good for the bee.” This statement has profound implications for corporate cultures. In a workplace setting, anything that keeps a culture from dynamically regenerating itself is harmful to its people.
If a culture prohibits its people from progressing, pursuing their core passions, and seeing their work reach its potential; it will drive away its high-performance talent. In essence, they will poison the hive and seal the fate for the next phase, or downward spiral, of the enterprise.
Such thinking as “restructuring” or “reorg” may have been in vogue during the Industrial Era, which author Bruce Nussbaum calls the old economy, or the “efficiency economy” in his book Creative Intelligence. As we begin to realize that we have optimized our economic engines for total efficiency, cost cutting has only a short-term gain and a severe long-term cost. This real long-term cost may be the pollution of a company culture, the death of a once popular product, or the dilution of market capitalization and brand equity.
To re-energize an organization – its workforce – firms must make the leap from the Efficiency Economy to a Creative Economy. In the Creative Economy, innovation is the key that unlocks value. The thresholds to be crossed on the way to this new orientation of business are based in human factors.
One: you must know the people who use your service or product with sincere empathy. Hang out at their homes. Shadow them at their factories, at work, and during breaks. Take them shopping. Relax with them. Ask about their lives.
Two: you must celebrate and empower your professionals to become creative agents based on what they learn from your customers. This is a very human-to-human equation—and it has the power to re-humanize our places of work
It is a very human urge to make, to create, to invent—harness this natural tendency without a stranglehold of corporate management and death-by-PowerPoint. Create a framework to allow this creative flourishing. This way, your best people stay and the top-line grows in the Creative Economy.
As futurist Allen Tolfer wisely predicted, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot learn, read, and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Let your bees be bees, and let them act naturally to grow the organization organically. Too much trimming and hive-shaking leaves the business concern with nothing potent enough to self-pollenate its growth.
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Michael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis.