On Work Futures Dot Org

Making Work Futures a research and education non-profit

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Claude Levi Strauss

Over the past months, I transitioned Work Futures from Medium, and then through a number of experiments in newsletter platforms (like Patreon), and now to Substack.

But one subtle change also took place which I haven’t explored publicly.

On Medium, Work Futures was based on a publication model, and I used the domain name workfutures.io, and called myself the editor-in-chief. Sounds like the domain of a hip product company, with that .io. That publication had over twenty five contributors, which suited the publication model.

Presently, this blog/newsletter/thing goes by workfutures.substack.com. However, I also have grabbed the domain name workfutures.org, which is a better indiction of my goals: a research and education organization dedicated to advancing a more humane, science-based, passionate, and fast-and-loose way to work.

Over the next few months, I plan to convene an organization from this starting point, and to begin with those of you reading this are invited to join. In effect, by signing up for this newsletter you are inherently a member, and those who subscribe become so in a more explicit way. And instead of two dozen contributors, we might have hundreds. At least I hope so.

So, instead of editor-in-chief I am now instigator-in-chief. And a some point in the near future I will be hosting a website for workfutures.org, and this blog/newsletter/thing will be part of it, in some way or other.

And what do I hope to accomplish?

Five years ago, I asked the question, What Drives Us?, looking to Mazlow’s final, improved hierarchy of needs, and I wound up philosophizing about how we might advance into a better future despite the myriad problems confronting us. Five years later, this is still the case, except things might be maybe even more complex and chaotic, if any change has occurred at all. The following thoughts could stand as a starting point in the discussion of a new way of work, and how that must fit into a new way of living together:

This is, in a way a paradoxical time. Like Charles Dickens’ characterization of the period surrounding the French Revolution:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

We are living in a period of time where we have the greatest understanding of human cognition and the biology of our deep connection as social beings, while at the same time folklore and bias about human drives and needs still dominate business, media, and society. We have concocted a web that offers us unparalleled opportunities for social connection, opportunities to find a new, shared fluidarity to replace and extend the solidarity that seems to have disappeared in postmodern times. As I recently wrote,

Modernity has erased solidarity. I don’t think we can get people to have a sense of shared purpose in a society so remorselessly divided, in a culture obsessed with individuality.

My hope is that the postnormal makes it clear that solidarity is gone, here in a world where connection is displacing membership, where social media is eroding institutions, and where loose connection is replacing tight collectives. We should aspire to fluidarity in place of the modern era’s solidarity.

We need to find a way forward relying on the wellspring of human cooperation, without having to become a mass collective marching in machine synchrony. We’ll need to pull ourselves into the future, not be pushed into line and follow someone else’s script. This is fluidarity, now that the era of mass belonging is over.

The web is its own paradox, since much of our energies on the web are being squandered, or as an early Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher put it,

The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.

The ancient world order around us is crumbling: we’ve moved into a new economics that is beyond the control of those who spirited it into being, a global, pathologically complex, self-reinforcing system that consumes nearly all our resources, labor, and production and distributes the outputs and byproducts in a massively corrupt and inequitable way. And this system is unsustainable and erratic, producing a planet that is rapidly suffocating on toxic byproducts, and proving the idiocy of an economic system grounded in unchecked growth, and treating the earth, the seas, and the air as spoils to be controlled by the few ‘winners’ to the detriment of the many ‘losers’.

But at the same time, deep in the wiring of the human mind we uncover evidence of human universals, innate capacities in our shared expression of humanity, in-built tendencies toward justice, concern for those who cannot care for themselves, love of the natural world, and strivings toward Mazlow’s self-transcendence and the transpersonal. Curled next to these angels in our inner being, we also find a predisposition to exclude those not like us, and a bias toward rejecting ideas that do not match the cultural rules we use to define belonging.

So, as we reflect on our deepest aspirations, we have to look outward, to the society and culture we live in, our workplaces and organizations, our nations and peoples. We have to find ourselves there, not working to merely make ourselves rich, or happily married, or as a powerful captain of industry, or the world’s wisest philosopher.

My greatest hope is that we can make the transition to a postnormal world before the sins of the fathers doom us, and our best hope is to find purpose and meaning through fluidarity.

And to return to where we started, what drives us? We are motivated by many drives, all at once. Like nearly everything these days, everything is happening at once. In business, we all need to understand the myriad drives bubbling at all times inside all people. Increasingly, as businesses relax into a fast-and-loose orientation based on pull, following, and autonomy, many of the traditional barriers to gaining self-esteem and self-actualization through work are reduced as well.

But businesses — increasingly operating as connectives comprising individuals working together — need to confront the world, not just compete in it. The reason for businesses to exist can no longer be simply to increase the return on investment for shareholders, and putting aside considerations of the people working, or their impacts on the world in which the business operates. In a real sense, every business needs to take on, first — as elements of the company’s operating credo — the goal of working to help its people fulfill their drives for mastery, autonomy, and the respect and connection with those with whom they work. And finally, knowing that we live in a world in trouble, those leading our businesses forward will need to operate like benefit corporations, who explicitly have social aims as well as the goal of making a profit. This must be a cornerstone of postnormal business and management.

This must become a social movement, an awareness of our essential and inescapable fluidarity: a distributed, decentralized, discontinuous effort, guiding our thinking, decisions, and reasoning, so that our striving for love, belonging, safety, success, and self-actualization has as its final consummation the opportunity for others to strive, as well, and a world put back into balance.

So, I invite you to join in that striving, and to help fill out the agenda of that distributed, decentralized, discontinuous effort.

In the next months, I will take the steps to make Work Futures a non-profit organization, dedicated to research and education, where all who subscribe are members of the organization. I welcome your support. I will be expanding on these plans, and look forward to finding new ways to gain your participation.

Please help spread the word, and share this and other posts with your colleagues and friends. It will take a lot of people joined in fluidarity to have an impact on a slow-to-change world.

Actually published at workfutures.substack.com.

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