It has been much like many weeks this year - more confusion than clarity, much more unknown than known. One organization struggles to find the equilibrium between field and HQ. A taxi driver in LA from Eritrea wonders whether immigration was a good idea. Another client must become a start-up, again, now that business has gone – the blessing of loss in disguise. Another invests heavily to strengthen an already strong brand, relentlessly weakened by angry consumers. Another strains its resources to create new growth before the aging and wonderful gravy train of the first bright idea fails to fund the search for the next one. And everywhere the same story is told. A few companies are in good shape but most are not counting their chickens these days, just counting the cash they’ve been able to hide under the mattress.
While most leaders profess that recovery is “just-around-the-corner” and the economists argue if stimulus is good or bad, none of them (much less the politicians) seem to have a clue what to do about the mess – or at least have real ideas we believe in. And many of us are starting to wonder ifthe recovery they tout is actually just around this corner, or even the next one after that. Meanwhile, our enterprises are losing their nerve, their bravado and their confidence. A lot of very smart people are beginning to wonder if something big and very unknown is going on. And they are right.
The familiar patterns of weather, of markets, of many stable things we once thought invariable seem now to be displaying only the volatility that accompanies change. And we are beginning to wonder if we have perhaps gotten something horribly wrong. For the first time in centuries, the ‘self’ of the west - the confident, self-sufficient individual, the Marlborough-man self, the self that is captain of its own destiny, master of its surroundings – the one that split atoms, probed the moon, coded DNA and mapped the brain - is actually beginning to wonder if perhaps its belief was and is ill-founded. Can you sense the wobble?
Not surprisingly, generations of western ‘selves’ have created their enterprises in their own image, and so many look and act just like the self-sufficient, inwardly focused collection of mavericks who have led them through the years. They are organizations that aspire to dominate their surroundings and exist to look after themselves and their owners (or shareholders). Yet. as our enterprises reflect our ‘selves,’ they are in trouble because we are in trouble. But perhaps unexpectedly, the escalating wobble is not, after all, a threat, and instead holds great promise - perhaps even the best thing to happen to society in a generation?
Because amidst the uncertainty, something healthy is stirring deep in the places where our identity is formed. Somehow, burdened by the weight of palpable insecurity, inch by inch, act by act, day by day, person by person, a desire for something bigger than just “me and my self-constructed universe” is beginning to emerge. Pushed by the realization of our own vulnerability and a shifting view of the ‘self,’ the door is opening for a very different sort of enterprise, one that exists not for itself first of all, but to do something bigger, something that makes a meaningful contribution for others beyond its shareholders or even its employees.