While my journey obviously started with seeing things wrong with the way that work worked and thus starting my research on The Future of Work, it’s apparent that it has moved well beyond this but I haven’t accepted this truth yet, even though I’ve been mentioning and embedding hints of it in my writing.
What I’m talking about here is how our society as a whole is effectively killing and constraining play in a larger context, beyond just the work world, and thus killing our self-expression, growth, and potential in the process. For example, society as a whole, with our families as representations of them, often try to get us to avoid playing “outside the lines” and would rather we learnt the hard way to “work within them”.
This has made me realize, after looking at my site’s subtitle of Imagining a Better World of Work Through Play, that really what I’m simply trying to do with my life’s work is Imagining a World of Play, one in which the permission to play with our lives isn’t even required but is rather our given expressed sovereign right (which ties into my mantra of Be Real Creative as an expression of How Play Leads Us to Our Authentic Selves).
In saying this out loud, it mirrors with the arc of my life’s story in that I started out “playing within imaginary worlds” but now I’m “imagining a world of play” that we can all truly express ourselves within. This also rings true with what I have learnt through play throughout my life. It is play that has continually allowed me to step outside my shell and become something much larger than my previous self with each passing year.
And finally, it mirrors with how my journey started, when I read The Cluetrain Manifesto many years ago. At the time, I thought it was all about just the work world but the final closing paragraph of the book made me realize over the years that this Big Shift we’re encountering is going beyond just work as well.
Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you held back, where joy was not a dirty word, where play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the business of business was to imagine worlds people might actually want to live in someday. Imagine a world created by the people, for the people not perishing from the earth forever.
Beau Lotto, author of the book Deviate, being interviewed and talking about how science and play are a way of being which helps us in turn understand play within a much larger context of our lives.
The way we do it is by not calling it science. Because if you ask “What is actually science?”, science is not a methodology. Science is a way of being. Right. Science actually evolved to be effectively play with intention.
That’s why we evolve play because everything you do, you do to actually decrease uncertainty, you hate it. But there is only one context where we love uncertainty and that’s play. And this is why play evolved. So play is a way of being that enables you to step into uncertainty. Science is just play with intention.
So then if you create a game, that’s play with rules, that’s an experiment. And then if you make observations of that experiment, you have data. So effectively we use science as a Trojan Horse, to enable kids to have the skills to ask questions and step into uncertainty.
We don’t teach children how to ask questions. We teach them that the cash is in the right answer. Because it comes from Victorian times when we wanted kids to be efficient. But efficiency is only one side of innovation, the other side being creativity.
What I find remarkable about his closing statement is that he’s effectively saying that they are trying to teaching kids how to ask questions. The irony of that statement is not lost on me, as it seems like kids would be asking questions naturally. But today it seems like they aren’t because we’ve unnaturally cultivated it out of them, so we have to reteach to them again.
Of course, for adults it’s even worse. We don’t ask questions because we don’t want to look incompetent, not understanding something. But even if we understand something too well, our questioning of the practice of it can jeopardize our sense of belonging and sense of place within society because it can seem like we’re “attacking” the status quo.
Michael Schneider over at Inc. has an article entitled Being a Leader is More Difficult Than Ever Before Thanks to These 5 Workplace Trends that talks about how leaders today are having a more difficult time (with a big assumption being that a manager is a “leader” in the first place). Reading through it though, it became apparent that a lot of the problems mentioned were natural stepping stones to evolving and transforming the organization to a higher stage of development, similar to what Frederic Laloux talks about within his book Reinventing Organizations. Therefore much of what was discussed didn’t surprise me and the answers seemed evident.
What stood out for me more so though was this small quote below that encapsulated a deeper problem that needed to be solved but with which practically no one seems to be working upon.
Jobs are becoming more and more convoluted. With less hierarchy comes more diffusion of responsibility. As a result, role intricacies increase as employees self-manage regularly operating outside the lines of their normal job descriptions.
Therefore based upon this truth, how can people in an organization find the right person to help with a problem if job descriptions obviously do not contain their full potential but rather just a small facet of them? What this means is that a lot of the potential of each person and the entire organization as a whole is effectively hiding in plain sight, blind to most people.
If so, it means we need a new way of articulating the potential of a person that goes beyond a job description for what they’re doing now and instead includes the multipotentiality of everything they’ve done, allowing them to be much more flexible and adaptable to our rapidly changing work.
This means that we need to transform the résumé, shifting it from a linear progression towards a singular point to instead showing the radial possibilities and potentiality of a person in many different ways, like the rays of a sun spreading out in many different directions.
But most important of all, we need a new way of perceiving and articulating the multipotentiality of each person in a way that others can easily understand in just a few words, rather than requiring a chaotically long list of hyphenated words to describe the person.
I believe the easiest way to do this would be to try to understand what is this “core” at the center of each person that their multipotentiality radiates out from. And I think if we find that, we will create a fundamental shift in the way we view ourselves and the world around us, in the same way that a fundamental shift occurred when we realized the Earth wasn’t the center of our solar system but rather the Sun was.
In this same way, we need to realize that jobs are not the center of our identity. There is something much deeper and more “atomic” (as Dick Boles liked to use the word) at our core.
Minda Zetlin over at Inc. has a great article entitled UC Berkley ‘Adulting’ Class College Is a Failure of Our Whole Society that articulates one of the larger systemic problems that we’re collectively creating as a society. But instead of being aware of what we’re creating and taking responsibility for it (so we can change it), we’re instead shifting the blame to those who are being hit the hardest by it, calling them “wimps” for being unable to deal with an entire societal force that is effectively working against them, rather than for them.
But I also believe that if you find yourself criticizing an entire generation, you should stop for a moment and consider that generations are made up of individuals. If all those individuals are doing the same wrong thing at the same time, it’s likely there’s some societal force pushing them in the wrong direction.
This is actually an easy way to determine when a narrative for a society (i.e. The American Dream) is no longer working. Instead of empowering people, it begins to disempower them.
What I find remarkable is how this societal force mirrors that of the narrative and culture within most conventional organizations. People are so micro-managed, down to the minute and second, that there is no room left for their potential uniqueness to emerge and unfold, as there is no time and space reserved for it.
I’m watching these forces play out on the young people I know, and what I’m seeing is super-serious, very hard-working young adults who hurry from class to job to study to class again. They have little of anything that might look like unstructured free time, known to be highly important for mental and emotional development.
It’s up to the rest of us, both young and old, to figure out how to change things. So that young people can have enough breathing room to figure out on their own what it takes to be a grownup and how to become one.
This all ties into this larger broken societal narrative that I’ve mentioned before. We are a society focused on “work, work, work” and nothing else, thinking that the more busy we are with our busyness, the more successful we will be. We’re learning the hard way that it’s actually making things far worse, not better.
Those exploring The Future of Work in the recent past have realized we need time for learning as well, creating an ongoing cycle of “learning & working”. But today we need to go beyond even this. Without the time and space for play on a larger level (i.e. the ability to question our existing reality and step outside of it into something new), we will never achieve the creative trinity—playing, learning, & working—necessary to live within this new world emerging.
In effect, it is play at this higher level which gives us the ability to be fluid and flexibly adapt to the rapidly changing times, letting us unlearn and redefine ourselves in newer radical ways we haven’t even fully imagined as yet. Without play, we will remain stuck within these social constructs of the past, with them becoming disempowering prisons of limitations, rather than empowering platforms of possibilities, as they once were when created.
Today I’m turning 54. The past twenty years seem to have flown by pretty fast, with a lot happening to me since December 1999. Back then, everyone was freaking out about the digital cataclysm about to happen at the turn of the millennium. Little did we known then that a different cataclysm would be happening in a couple of years, with the tech bubble bursting in 2001.
Today we’re at a point where we could be facing a global cataclysm of another kind, with climate change reaching an irreversible tipping point within the next decade, yet its emerging effects are already being seen and felt today. Collectively, on many fronts, radical change is here and here to stay. The stabler and simpler times we lived within the past, now seeming like a distant dream, are all but fading from our reality.
Twenty years ago, I was a radically different person. I was seemingly at the top of the world, working as a Senior Web Developer for a local web firm whose clients were some of the most notable video game publishers in the world. As an avid video gamer and an online community builder, this was my dream job. I felt like I really didn’t desire or need anything else, as I had reached the pinnacle of my life. Little did I realize at the time, that my own bubble of life would burst and I’d be shown a much larger world of meaning than I could have ever possibly imagined.
Life is Changing, Evolving, & Emerging Constantly
During the next decade, standing in the blasted remains of the tech economy and my own life, I questioned and explored everything, no longer taking things at face value and no longer accepting the “religion” of the status quo. While beginning to explore The Future of Work and how it related to transforming organizations, I also began exploring personal development and how it related to transforming individuals. Later, I would realize that the two were actually entwined. In effect, when personal development becomes the embedded embodiment of organizational development (aka collective leadership), that’s when the real creative magic occurs, as both the individual and organization socially innovate and evolve as one.
Even more so, I realized that the creative process for both was exactly the same, as they were fractal mirrors of each other but just at different scales. In effect, just as the organization is striving to integrate itself internally, bridging the siloed, fractured aspects of itself, of which some parts of it were more marginalized than others, so too were individuals trying to integrate themselves internally, bridging siloed, fractured aspects of themselves, of which some parts of them were marginalized more than others as well. Therefore, just as the organization is trying to weave itself together using social creativity, so too is the individual.
The more I explored and researched these aspects of life that are seemingly off the edge and radar of the conventional known world, the more I realized that the stability of life that I had grown up with was actually an illusion. Nothing in life is permanent. Things are always in a constant state of change, regardless if we can see that change or not. And we often don’t see it because our perceptions and beliefs blind us from them, like lenses that only let us see that which we wish to see.
Today, I realize that we are all evolving in stages of development and based upon the stage we have achieved, we may radically see the world differently than others, with different values and meaning overlaying it. For a lot of people on the initial conventional end of this spectrum of development, this is pretty hard for them to comprehend. However, once you see how these stages are mapped to how a person logically acts in a leadership capacity, suddenly you may see your last worst boss or the wonderful leader in your current company.
Redefining Personality Through Character
The reason I’m slowly lead up to this point is because it helps us to take the next step in rethinking and reframing something that often isn’t seen in this way. What I’m talking about is personality and why so many people seem to misunderstand it. In effect, there is this assumption that you can take a personality profile test and suddenly, voila, I completely understand myself and my whole life makes sense. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I think this is why personality profile test results can often not make sense to someone, nor help them fully make sense of their life as a whole.
For myself, I was fortunate with my personality profile assessment because I did see aspects of myself within parts of it when I first took it but it didn’t make sense as a whole at the time. However, as time progressed and I read many different interpretations of my personality type and I evolved to higher stages of development, something suddenly clicked in not only understanding my personality but also in understanding how everything interconnected with each other in a larger way.
What I realized is that a person’s personality and character are like the two threads of a DNA strand which are bonded together in a working relationship with one another, striving to help the genetic identity of that person to evolve to their fullest, natural form. To help clarify what I mean by these two things, personality is defined as something innate within you, whereas character is something that is learnt.
Now while people may understand their character as something that is learnt from others and thus is evolving and being mastered over time, where the confusion arises is when they misunderstand that the same thing isn’t happening with their personality as well. This occurs because people assume that if their personality is innate, it should be stable and permanent, thus not evolving. While your personality is a stable core, your understanding of it is what is constantly evolving and changing, with your mastery of it being your increasing understanding of it.
Making Music with Personality & Character
To help understand this, imagine coming across an object on the ground and picking it up and touching the strings upon it. Suddenly for a moment, wondrous music comes out of it, making you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before. As you try again, the sound comes out more clumsily this time. Every few minutes, again a spark of that glorious music comes out again and you feel totally alive. This is your personality. It is something innate within us, waiting to be revealed and expressed.
Walking further down the road, you come across an old man who sees the instrument in your hands and tells you that you have found quite the treasure there. You ask him if he’s familiar with it and he says he is, having seen similar instruments in the past. You ask if he could teach you how to play it and he agrees, giving you a small lesson that helps you string together a full minute of music that makes you feel amazing in the process. This old man, this teacher, is your character.
As you continue your development, your mastery of your personality continues with the help of your character. Yet at the same time, as you create newer, more complex compositions that reveal your true nature and abilities, your personality reminds your character of deeper teachings that it can convey to you. Thus in this way, both your personality and your character are helping each other, stretching and tuning you to your True Self, making you realize that this instrument that you are playing is actually you. And the more you play with the composition of your life, the more the real you emerges.
The Meaningful Potential of Your Personality
To sum up, the assessment of your personality provides you with the full potential of who you are, your innate self within. This doesn’t mean you will understand this potential or be able to utilize it yet at this point in your life, which is why it can be so confusing for some people to understand it immediately. On top of that, depending upon who has created the assessment, the metaphors used to help explain your personality type to you may not make any sense because you may not relate to those types of metaphors.
For example, for my personality type as an INFP, different ways of describing it have been as a healer or a mediator. If those roles don’t relate to me, I may not understand the meaning they’re trying to get across. For myself though, I did relate to both of those roles as metaphors but another role, as an integrator, seemed even more relatable, since I used to provide computer systems support and I’ve heard of a systems integrator as a career path (which I nearly went to college for). But instead of being a systems integrator, my personality relates more to being a social integrator, both on an individual and collective level, particularly as it relates to helping individuals or organizations understand their core identity.
If I then pair the above personality development with my growth and mastery of the stages of development, which would equate to my character development (or cultural development from a organizational standpoint), the higher my stage of development, the greater the understanding I will have of my personality (which further eventually reveals my passion and purpose in life). What this means is that I will not begin to truly understand myself at a deeper level of meaning until I have hopefully reached these higher stages of development as I get older.
What’s amazing about this though is that as one evolves their character through these stages of development, one becomes more malleable, being able to stretch their personality in ways they couldn’t before. For example, when I was younger, I was highly introverted and petrified of speaking to people I didn’t know. Over the years though, I’ve become much more extroverted at times, especially if I’m trying to communicate something of meaningful importance about my life’s work. In terms of recharging myself though, I still need be alone, away from everyone, just having some time and space for myself.