October 08, 2019

Motivational Indeed

Rousing and deeply moving/unsettling talk by a speaker at our department meeting today. Funny, sad, rich and uncommonly wise. Have I changed or has the company? Both? Regardless, this speaker comes from an obviously core Christian bedrock and addressed the sore sticking point for humanity today: the inability to see the sanctity of life and the extraordinariness of the “ordinary” person.

At the same time it was unsettling because he was deeply uncompromising on mediocrity. I tend to be exceptionally mediocre (oxymoron alert!).

It’s funny that after treating work as a joke, a Dilbert cartoon, that now it’s morphed into a different thing. My experience is sometime between 2006 and 2009 executives simply stopped being obtuse and really changed in a radical way.  More common sense-oriented and more purpose-seeking. And definitely more employee-centric.

For example, needless meetings stopped happening and became far less boring, especially on the department level. It is inconceivable in the ‘90s we’d have as a meeting venue the Columbus Zoo, and mix business with pleasure.

It’s remarkable how the culture shifted. In the old days of the 90s, every other day you’d have some new top-down management fad you’d have to indulge, beginning with “ponc” which stood for “price of non-conformance” and which became a rallying cry among the troops, with all of us calling each other “ponc-ers”.

There was an atmosphere of mandatory overtime, pointing fingers, and pointless exercises - basically all the stuff that went into Dilbert’s popular cartoon. But it’s as if the execs started reading Dilbert and reacted to it - or maybe it’s when we became a private company. Execs even started using Gallop to measure employee satisfaction. That'd cray-cray in 1990.

I suspect some of it is also the influence of Silicon Valley, where the tech companies have a more laid-back style and emphasize employee comfort. You get more with honey than vinegar.

Or it’s simply that the millennials (who are now the majority of the work force and drive many a decision) are not motivated by hierarchy or “force” but by being treated like an adult with less overhead and supervision. It’s odd to see institutions change, but if you live long enough you see stuff.

The result is to feel a loyalty to the company in a new and more visceral way. It’s interesting to see the change in our department getting a speaker who would speak to average man instead of one who assumed that his audience were all executives chasing only the bottom line. He was human - no cyborg salesman - and spiritual, and it was a disconnect to hear this at work, if only because most of the time I’ve failed to see the spiritual side of work (which admittedly is idiotic). But it’s inconceivable someone so authentically spiritual in the ‘80s or ‘90s would've spoken. It was cutthroat world and the goal was to make money so as not to have layoffs.

The speaker, Kevin Brown, inadvertently gets to the sickness in capitalism which is to treat everything and everyone as transactional.

The money quote was: “Can you look in the mirror and see the faces of the people who helped you get to where you are?”. In other words, we look into the mirror and may either despair or be complacent and self-satisfied, but what we should see is that we are not autonomous units but reflections of all that came before us - the teachers, preachers, mentors, parents, strangers, the person who serves you now, etc. They all played a role in our becoming. There’s no such thing as a “self-made man”.

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