Duck! and Gather

Archive for November 2011

My last post might have seemed like quite a downer. Basic point of it is an observation that, broadly speaking, corporate jobs seem to deaden us over time, reducing our natural capacity for curiosity, learning, growth, and transformation.

Assuming that this observation is sound, the obvious next question is: What can we employees of large corporations do about it?

The first thing we can do is work for a humanizing multi-national corporation. If this sounds like an oxymoron to you, check this out: I am aware of a least one huge multi-national corporation that provides a “sabbatical” program for “tenured” employees. That is, the longer a person is employed by the company, the longer the sabbatical the employee gets.

I’m told that some long-term employees of this company have taken six months to hike Tibet. Others have taken a year to set up a bio-dynamic organic farm. The examples of what people do with their extended breaks is as varied as our individual dreams.  The common thread is the re-humanization of the employee base.

Another thing this company does is to provide a first class day care for preschoolers, complete with play-based active learning. In addition, the corporate campus is essentially a state park complete with jogging trails and the like.

But I suspect that this particular large corporation is the exception, rather than the rule in corporate America. So then the question becomes: What can we do as employees to stay supple and flexible and youthful in our deadening jobs?

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This is a long post. To save you reading all the gory details, let me first deliver these ideas in the form of a tweet:

Corporations are zombies. The longer we work for them, the more we become like them, and less like the children we once were.

Now tweets are not exactly the best medium for conveying complex, subtle notions. Case in point: the phrase “corporations are zombies”.

I realize that this phrase sounds pejorative. But it’s not. It’s a legal definition.

Zombies are the undead — the living dead. So the above phrase can be restated as “corporations are the living dead”.

How are corporations living beings? Well, the U.S. Supreme Court seems to treat corporations as people, under the Constitution.

But if corporations are living people, then how are they also dead things? The answer comes down to money. The lifeblood of a corporation is money. Money is a dead thing. Doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just means it’s dead.

If you or I slice our own jugular veins, we’ll bleed to death. That’s called suicide. How does a corporation bleed to death? It runs out of money. That’s called bankruptcy.

Now since money is dead, Corporations are dead too. Well, at least they are legal fictions.

It’s amazing to me that dead, legal fictions have such incredible power in our present culture. This power is such that pizza is now a vegetable. Got that one from a client of mine.

But the incredible power that I am discussing in this post is the amazing deadening effect that corporations seem to have on their employees. It doesn’t mean that every corporation has this effect on every one of their employees. Just that it seems to be a pervasive effect.

To define this corporate deadening effect, it helps to look at our children. What characterizes children?

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In my last post, I introduced the notion of “rigid, monolithic hierarchy” as a way of defining OWS (i.e. what that movement opposes). I figured I ought to spend a few words drilling down on that concept.

Accordingly, I start by pruning the term “rigid”. The phrase “rigid monolith” is redundant. All monoliths are rigid. Check out the definition of “monolithic”:

1. a : of, relating to, or resembling a monolith : hugemassive(1) : formed from a single crystal <a monolithic silicon chip> (2) : produced in or on a monolithic chip <amonolithic circuit>
2. a : cast as a single piece <a monolithic concrete wall>b : formed or composed of material without joints or seams<a monolithic floor covering>c : consisting of or constituting a single unit
3. a: constituting a massive undifferentiated and often rigid whole <a monolithic society>b: exhibiting or characterized by often rigidly fixed uniformity <monolithic party unity>

Consider three key attributes from the above definition: (1) huge; (2) uniform; and (3) rigid.

Do these describe large corporations?

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Perhaps the most stark distinction between the OWS movement and the forces that they oppose (Corporations and Government) is found in the notion of hierarchy. Whereas OWS has no hierarchy, their opponents are all about hierarchy.

What does it mean to say that OWS has no hierarchy? To find out, watch the following video (highlighted at http://www.nycga.net/about/):

Since 2003, I have predicted that the coming “war” in America, will be in the form of People vs. Corporations.

But I was never comfortable with that pithy description. I mean, for example, in my consulting practice, I run my own little corporation, Jack Polymath LLC.

Now if I identify myself as a member of the “People” in the coming People vs. Corporation war, and yet I run my own little corporation, it would seem that I have some ‘splainin’ to do. That’s what this post is about.

This post is about the kind of hierarchies that OWS opposes. They don’t oppose any and all hierarchy. What they oppose are large, monolithic, and rigid hierarchies. These are hierarchies of people in which the lives of the “leaves” of the hierarchy tree are many orders removed from the life of the person at the “root” of the tree.

What kind of hierarchies are these? Org charts of multinational Corporations. Org charts of the U.S Government.

The older a Corporation is, the larger it grows, and the more rigid and extensive its hierarchy becomes. At some point, people in the company don’t even know each other. Everyone is just blindly serving the Corporate interest, with no feeling of human responsibility in anyone for the actions of the Corporation.

The U.S. Government is similar. The incumbency advantage of sitting Senators, and even of most of the Congressmen, is such that these people treat these positions as if they were lifetime appointments.

Due to this monolithic, rigid quality, Corporations and Government lose their touch with basic human decency.

If this discussion seems too esoteric for you, consider the hierarchy at Penn State University as of a week ago. Joe Paterno was the shadow head of that monolithic hierarchy, for over 40 years. From the outside, until this week, the monolithic Penn State hierarchy looked like a paragon of human virtue. At least that was the persuasive PR of the monolith.

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for the money has gone too far

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