All Blog Posts
July 28, 2023
The best organizations are generative spaces.
Whatever somebody puts into it, multiplies exponentially.
When a team member throws an idea into the stream and even one other person hears it, that initiates a reproductive loop. Momentum builds immediately. The positive tension possesses its own creative drive, and that gives rise to the impetus to move toward some kind of resolution.
My old boss always use to tell new hires during onboarding that our startup was a marketplace for ideas, and if they didn’t participate in it, they wouldn’t last very long. His vision was for people to use our company as a platform for generosity and expression.
Employment there was a paycheck and great benefits, sure, but also an invitation to bring forth our highest potential.
Now, in my experience, not every organization thinks that way. Some companies desperately seek people who create forward motion, while there are others that desperately seek people who uphold the status quo.
I’ve worked for both, and the former is better.
After all, if human beings realize our potential by continuing to develop strengths and talents to the fullest extent possible, then organizations can be a deeply meaningful canvas for doing so.
They’re not the only one. We still have families, communities and other networks in which humans have a standing invitation to bring forth their highest potential.
But in our increasingly isolated, fragmented and antisocial society, I venture to say that the organization, meaning, any organized body of people with a particular professional purpose, has never been more important to our species. Because there are certain heights that we simply cannot scale alone.
I’m reminded of my first week at work at my first corporate job after retiring as a full time freelancer. It was surreal. I kept thinking to myself:
So let me get this straight. This team is pooling our intellects in a manner that heightens the abilities of all of us? We put ourselves in this position through an alliance that absorbs power directly from our collective storehouse of intelligence? Sounds like magic to me.
Not rabbit out of the hat magic, but a truly generative space.
Now, maybe I’m romanticizing the workplace a little too much here, but honestly, that mindset is useful for me. I know there are plenty of things more important than one’s job, it’s just that in an essentially pointless universe where meaning has to be made, not found, I’ll take my fulfillment where I can get it.
The metaphor that comes to mind is a seventy track mixing console. If you’ve never been inside a professional recording studio before, these machines are truly works of art.
I grew up recording music with my dad on little four track home recorders with cassette tapes, but our little toys didn’t hold a musical candle to the behemoths that the pros used. Their boards combined the sounds of dozens of different audio signals.
Inputs to the console included microphones, instruments, signals from electronic instruments or recorded music. The engineer used the mixer to control the balance and texture of signals, and the output broadcast through speakers and blasted into the ears of the world during playback.
What a rush.
The thing is, it’s not just a machine, it’s a metaphor.
Because that’s what organizations can do. Compared to working alone, you’re going from a four track to a seventy track. Which means the music is that much more robust, textured and powerful.
Do you have access to that kind of generative space in your life? What if you started a series of experiments upon the external world, whereby every one was a new power awakened in your mind?
The hard part about this process is, you have to remember one thing about organizations. It’s called the status quo for a reason. The instinct and initiative to ship will likely be in short supply. Your marketplace of ideas will be crowded, which means it will be easy to hide and not get caught.
On the other hand, if they knew what to do, they’d tell you by now. All the more reason to invent a series of experiments and performances to showcase your talent and unleash the enthusiasm that accompanies your voluntary course of action.
Commit to that, and your energy will create energy in those around you and elevate the collective game of the whole organization.
Now, if you’re someone who leads people within the organization, then your mission isn’t dissimilar. You have to free people to unleash their potential. To open the right doors so their talent can shine. That kind of work is equally as important as the ones doing the creating.
It’s the musician and the producer. Both matter. Most managers get no love for doing so, because their job is a series of meetings where they manage rather than make.
But so what? That’s art too. The recording engineers I’ve used for my past five albums are miracle workers. Enabling and equipping teams is its own form of creativity, even if it doesn’t seem that way from the outside.
It’s still a generative space. It’s still about multiplying and leveraging energy.
I’ve had the privilege of working for managers who left me alone to basically do whatever I wanted, checking in weekly just to make sure I wasn’t making a complete fool of myself and the company. What a gift that is.
To be able to unleash my talents into the broader organizational fabric and see what kinds of momentum the rest of the team can build around them, wow, what a feeling.
Whatever kind of relationship you have with organizational life, be grateful for its rewards.
It may not be for everybody, but if your choose dive in, it certainly benefits all who avail themselves of its power.
Where is your platform for generosity and expression?