I'm an anthropologist

Posted by Mike Kaaks

21 May 2013

Human beings, not human doings.What does this mean to you? What do you think when you hear those words (and I don’t want you to say that there’s a double entendre in there!). For me its clear. It’s about how we live, not what we do or have done. I’m attracted to our being. I believe that if we understand that of ourselves, understand that of our workplaces, then we hold the key to a fulfilling and rewarding life. In my working life which has ticked past 45 years now, I have been engaged in a system which focuses on human doings. Think about the last time you applied for a job, or wrote a brief to the recruitment agency. What were the questions being asked? What did you do in your education? What did you do in your career? What would you like to do? What did you do for others? What did you do? Doing. Doing. Doing. And the recruitment process - whichever side you were on - line up what you have done beside what a number of other people have done. Ahh but they put me through psychometric testing you say; that’s about my being. Well yes, but its about your being when you are doing, not the core of what is you, of who you are.What do employers get from this process? People who can do the tasks they want done. What do applicants get from this? A new job which has them a rung or two further up the ladder, the ladder which represents so much investment in themselves. Can you hear yourself? I’ve worked so hard for this. I’ve earned this. Now I’ll be able to really make a difference. But what if your ladder is up against the wrong wall? What if your climbing has simply brought you closer to the wrong place along the wall? If there is a hint of doubt in your mind right now, listen to yourself, to what is in your heart and mind. Look for clues. Has it become harder to enthuse about work; are you less of an ambassador for your corporation; has it been a while since you really nailed something; are you wondering what life is all about and where you fit in? It’s not about where you fit in though – it’s about where you BEST fit in. We humans are adaptable. If we don’t quite fit we find ways to make things work. But that’s tiring isn’t it? Now some of you will be sitting there thinking “what’s he talking about - I love what I do, I love my job, my employer, my industry. That’s wonderful. Your job is to help others find that wonderful place. Getting there requires a healthy dose of knowing ourselves, and developing that undersatnding requires knowing the context in which we live our lives. There’s a great store of this knowledge. In fact it’s been there for thousands of years. It’s in the myths that each generation tells to those who follow. Joseph Campbell devoted his life to the study of myth and what it teaches us about the psychology of man. His findings are fascinating. They show that so many cultures have used this storytelling mechanism to record the understanding of how we work and that in almost every case, they tell the same stories, with the names changes to protect the innocent - well to suit the country of origin. We know and have known for centuries about being. It’s not a new toy. So what is being? In the context of this blog, it is something expressed in our values and our purpose. Picture the level of engagement that exists in a religious congregation. A feeling that nothing is beyond any member of that group. A sense that you are all there for the same reasons. Knowing tthat you don’t have to ask to know that your fellow travelers have “got your back”. Compare that to some of the work places you have experienced where the word politics has its own special meaning, where collaboration can mean concession, and unity can mean subsumption. I’d like you to picture yourself working for a business which makes the bullets and mortars that end up in the hands of the guerillas mercilessly killing their countrymen in so many places in the world. How does that feel? Now picture yourself in a company that consistently makes the top ten of the great places to work survey. Better still picture yourself creating that great place to work, or finding that your new job is in a great place. I think you get my drift. What is it that makes a great place to work. What is common to these case studies? There is always great leadership. Not management, although there will be robust processes; leadership. What is that? I’d like you to pause and think about the word GRACE for a moment. Have you got an image of grace in your mind? Now put it into a sentence which defines the word. What happened then. Did you find that what was easy to see in your heart was hard to capture in your head. It reminds me of a wonderful saying that found me a few years ago - the heart can see further than the eye. I think defining leadership works the same way. We know what it is, but defining it doesn’t drop out into a sentence that really gets it. But I’m not writing today about leadership. Let me just say, its the greatest bit of doing you can do - conducting yourself as a leader; which is sort where being and doing meet at the crossroads. I want to talk about being in terms of Purpose and values.Purpose: Tim Kelley is the author of a really good book “True Purpose”. He believes that the question “what is your purpose?” is not rhetorical or philosophical, but that it has a definitive answer for each of us. The answer tells us why we are here. One of the most common myths - the Grail myth - shows how consistently and deeply we men in particular wrestle with this question. Kelley is not talking about us being here to provide shelter and security to our family but to live at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, fully self-actualised. Finding that answer can be a painful journey. In fact Kelley points out that one way you know you have uncovered a truth is by the discomfort it causes you as the protector in your ego tries to do its job.Reaching this understanding is powerful for Being. Purpose, deep purpose, also exists in corporations. Not the ‘to make money for my shareholders” stuff, but knowing how that enterprise is making a difference in the world. In Firms of Endearment Wolfe and his co-authors talk about the shift from shareholder value to stakeholder value - one pillar of which is Society. Now that’s a view in which knowing and understanding Purpose has a place! Working in corporations which know such a Purpose, with leadership which aligns all endeavor to the purpose, are great places to work.Values work the same way. Know and understand our own, know those of the enterprise, find work where there is greatest alignment.Our values are simply our personal preferences and priorities - they represent what is most important to us. We have values. Corporations have values, although the politics I referred to earlier can mean that for an enterprise there is a difference between the expressed values and the lived values, so it can be a bit harder to see theirs. Devoting more of your time to being will unlock a new world for you which is not necessarily at the expense of doing enough profit. Research has shown that firms that make it onto the Great Places to work list are invariably in the top quartile of financial performance. It just makes sense doesn’t it. If we are all loving what we are doing, we’ll be doing it better. I want you to enjoy this too. and to create it for those who you lead, for those you bring into your team. Look at their being first, their doing second. Be an anthropologist.