We have built a culture that idealises the individual. Our future depends on those who can collaborate and work in community.
We make it hard for ourselves. Our narratives are about going it alone. We tell stories about heroic single leaders and change agents. We measure and reward people for individual effort. We stress individual freedoms and individual potential. We are relentlessly encouraged to ‘go it alone’, ‘to look out for number 1’ and to ‘make our mark’
For much of my career I have ended up in isolated roles as a business developer, as a change agent or as a consultant. Sometimes by my choice and some times by consequence of the choices of others. Working alone takes broad shoulders to carry the burdens, determination to work through the challenges and a strong sense of passion to fight for what you need to achieve
It isn’t easy being alone. I make terrible company for myself. The rewards of my heroic solo efforts weren’t worth that much. The best things I achieved while in roles ‘on my own’ weren’t my own work but the outcome of collaborations, especially across silos or organisational boundaries. The disappointments were endless and entirely my own. It’s much less easy, much safer and much more rewarding to be part of a community or a team.
From Autarchy to Autonomy
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loseKris Kristoffersen
Freedom can be a rush, but when it signals ‘nothing left to lose’ it is ultimately devastating. We often confuse freedom to shape our work and make choices with autarchy, working truly isolated economically independent of others. They are different things. Few people ever work as an island. Attempts to work as an autarchy are guaranteed to fail in organisations and in our economy, just ask North Korea. Autonomy demands that we have a say in the governance of our work. That can and should be a part of any community, any team and any work.
We have to stopped encouraging autarchy, stop designing for it and stop promoting it. Nobody works, lives or succeeds alone.
We can foster autonomy. It isn’t the anarchy that many in power expect. Autonomy is where our societies and our organisations began. Before modern communications technology and the modern factory all work was autonomous. Even the apprentice was expected to make decisions about their work on the path to mastery. We will be better for teams, organisations and communities taking responsibility for the work and lives and seeking to shape them in ways that make them better, more liveable and more productive.