This week there was an article on INC. magazine that was wildly popular on social media. Elon Musk named his favorite books and there was only one business book out of 10. The rest were Science Fiction, Classics, Great Books. Many were surprised to learn that Musk finds inspiration in the arts and other fields and finds the canon of management literate uninspired, clichéd, even boring.
At the same time, a friend sent me a quick note: “I just wanted to tell you I enjoy your writings each week in the daily news. You always bring a fresh approach both stylistically and topically. Thank you for helping us to think outside of the box.” This note is more about the lack of imagination, crisp writing, and fresh, multi-dimension and human-centric thinking in business than about my weekly column.
Now, the critical question: why is there an assumption that business has to be uninspiring, lacking style and appeal to the depths of our beings, and always self-referencing, instead of looking to other fields of human endeavor for inspiration?
Many act under this delusion, to their own soul death, depression. They allow their narrow definition of business to quench their creative spirits. When if fact their organizations could gain a lot more value from their repressed workforce if they allowed them to be more expressive, more real, and more human.
Yet, what we think of as business began in the industrial revolution. The great poet William Blake noticed these mini deaths in this poem London, where he saw
“…in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe…” Woe and weakness, the human dying because of the drudgery of the experience. Later in the poem he speaks of the delusion and psychosis—the shared repression workers chose to share, as mind forg’d manacles, or mind-created traps:
“In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.”
Part of the issue in corporations is a fear of failure. Many forget that bravery is not an absence of fear, but a healthy response to it. When an agenda has to be signed off by more than two people, that may be a symptom that there is more fear than trust present—and the culture don’t trust the people in puts in positions where trust seems essential. This tedious process is dehumanizing to witness and be a part of, and yet millions accept this reality on a daily basis without demanding a different approach.
Another factor in the onslaught of the uninspired and dehumanizing trends in the workplace is the romance of data—data as Gospel. What does this default behavior do to our humanity? Despite looking at the field of business as a science, it is not a science. The less instinctual business becomes—the more emotion is discounted and divorced from data, the gap widens. You can no longer tell the difference between an insight or just more data in a world that cannot make sense of the data it has.
Advice: Insist on being fully human. Enjoy your professional life or find a life you love. This is the new dream for professionals.
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Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.