Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.
The work we do matters. Doing is the new leading.
Sustainable development, growth without depletion of natural resources, has become synonymous with sustainable growth—doing what’s required to sustain corporate growth and profits to increase shareholder value. We hold the assumption that our responsibility is to increase shareholder value. Outcomes are generally to sell more stuff, file more claims, increase programs—the list goes on.
Change, almost always, comes too late. Post-crisis solutions gradually chip away at a persistent problem or maintain steady growth, and ultimately define the problem. Post-crisis creativity ultimately enables the problem to persist.
Our inability to embrace the emotional labor of learning, I am persuaded, is one of the greatest threats facing our society today. Investing (and betting) that post-crisis innovation is the primary turning point for an entire sector limits us considerably.
Learning to dance with uncertainty is the wisest investment we can make in our future. Embracing something that might not work is necessary to stimulate creativity and growth. What if our work (in business, government, or nonprofits) was naturally responsible for conservation not just of environmental resources, but human potential? What if each one of us could utilize business as a creative medium for self-expression toward opportunities and problems that face us today?
This is a manifesto for learning how to dance with that uncertainty.
A MANIFESTO FOR NEW WORK
We need companies that empower people to think like craftsmen again.
Craftsmanship requires self-reliance; knowledge of a process—end to end.
It designs something to work within the constraints of the ecosystem it came from, demonstrating an inherent elegance and sustainability.
It adheres to guiding principles of aesthetics and function.
It requires distinct attitudes and capabilities of solving the problem at hand, but also the intellectual vision and insight to find new problems. Seeing what is missing involves the application of creativity.
It requires discipline and—most importantly—joy in working through such challenges.
It incorporates and embodies the decomposition of its primary material. It makes the problem part of the solution.
Entropy adds value.
Master Craftsmen generate and reshape the process and the result as the work evolves. Inviting surprise, they are engaged in ongoing learning and adapting.
Master Craftsmen evaluate the effectiveness of what they create, and their methods, rather than measure. They are in constant conversation with their work, embracing the pursuit of balancing agility and stability.
For the Craftsman, the process of thought happens through making and repeating; making is a form of thinking. With muscle memory inscribed with thought, they take action. In the thinking and the doing they lead.
Craftsmanship deepens with understanding.
Craftsmanship is fundamentally different from business.
Craftsmanship engages in the uncertainty of projects that might not work. Craftsmen experiment. They ask permission from the market to get up the next day to do it again. Business requires the predictability of knowing what will happen tomorrow.
Business is a field primarily defined by its ability to grow.
Business is built around the ability to create customers (not necessarily solve or proactively find problems).
Natural and human resources are finite. Sustainability, responsibility, and citizenship are preventative efforts generally built in response to a crisis point. How these programs are practiced day to day represents the heart and soul of an organization’s core values.
Business takes many creative forms.
Could a non-profit exist, if there were not sizable gaps in the systems built to serve us? No.
Could a social business exist, if humanity’s most pressing needs were being met? No.
Theirs are businesses built upon the failure or collapse of an ecosystem.
They observe signals of failures and are inspired into action by the crisis in the present. Their innovation is byproduct of the emergencies they perceive.
Crisis gives all organizations permission to innovate. But living in a state of crisis is not a sustainable state of being.
When innovating out of crisis is the leading growth strategy, whole industries are diverted from their unique potential to go far beyond the opportunity of yesterday’s disaster. Instead, crisis defines them.
Could a venture-backed startup exist, regardless of a crisis? Yes.
Compared to other structures focused one and largely defined by crisis, business has incredible opportunity for flexibility. Yet it tends to adopt the straightest most reliable path toward growth it can find.
When economies are on the rise, innovation is actively encouraged and incubated.
The encouragement to think creatively and to anticipate needs are among the key differentiators between companies lauded as outliers or merely lucky, and traditional enterprises.
Leaders of creative companies embrace uncertainty. The entire premise of their organizations relies on their ability to learn and do.
While business finds success on the basis of balancing innovation and the status quo of steady growth, it misses out in not investing its energy into the craft of doing.
Simple reactivity (to markets, to competition, to crisis) can no longer be admired as the holy grail of steady growth. We must be more agile and responsive.
The craft of doing and learning are necessary for progress. In doing, we create new understanding. This understanding leads to shifts in behavior. In the doing we learn. In the doing we lead.
Traditional enterprise has failed to develop the discipline to split its attention from the din and crisis of the present. Strict expectations of growth have failed to encourage a diverse set of models and initiatives centered around the creativity needed to find the problems of the future.
Future leaders must anticipate needs.
Leaders of work of the future need to find balance between a set of new, previously unimagined problems, as well as the next evolutions for the present day’s most persistent social and environmental issues.
The next wave of leaders must include a community of those who choose to stop growth for growth’s sake. These are innovators who refuse to wait for the ticking bomb, or the building to collapse, or the ground to open up.
Leaders of new work embrace the proximity of problem solving in order to increase the potency of their solutions. Not only are these leaders carrying out change based on the information they are receiving, but also contributing to a new understanding. Let’s call these bright Counterpoints.
Counterpoints gain capability to make change in the world by first gaining awareness to their own uniqueness.
Counterpoints imagine a future that is tailor-made. They envision an ideal and backwards from the big vision.
Counterpoints are visionary and concern themselves with the study of systemic interventions.
They envision implications.
They generate scenarios.
They plan strategically.
They balance theory and practice.
Who are they?
Some are saving children.
Some are feeding the poor.
Some are housing the homeless.
Some are curing diseases.
Some are donating goods and services.
They are not necessarily in business.
Leaders of the past are fueled by reaction to these circumstances and as a result it defines them. Leaders of the future know they must be engaged with the crisis of the present, but also be responsive to crises of the future, ones that have yet to be defined.
These leaders are bright Counterpoints.
Counterpoints ask, “What if?” By embracing projects that might not work, they are facilitators of change.
Counterpoints will strike a balance between reactively embracing growth as a goal, and responding with a long term perspective of conservation.
The next generation of organizations must welcome and help develop these new leaders.
The individual practicing their life’s craft is the new leader of the future.
Purpose and creativity.
Prevention and reactivity.
Doing is the new leading. The world needs companies filled with craftsmen mindsets, now more than ever.
We need you.
We’re glad you’re here.
The work we do matters, more than ever before.