Thanks to Thomas Aquinas, it was once fashionable amongst philosophers to make assumptions about a “state of nature”, a time of innocence in which humanity was naked at first base. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Hume all deployed it.
I considered a while ago on the blog that the features of Stone Age society – the state of nature – were common to the aspirations of the more radical social business thinkers.
Of course basing ideas of present condition and future development on a framework that could not possibly be known was like building towerblocks on quicksand.
But perhaps the approach has some validity in considering work and workplace issues we face today. In reverse. Suppose we offer the craved ideal of any given situation as a state of nature, and consider whether it would hold, or would morph over time into the reality of today.
For example, we decry silos, and claim that only when we tear them down will we be truly productive.
If all professions were therefore solidified into one mass, were all hewn from the same base rock, would they in time fracture, find their own corners? Faced with increasing complexity, would each start to consider that their knowledge and weltanschauung was unique, that only they understood one another, that their collective interests differed from the rest of the collective? Would they start to erect barriers to entry, to establish tests of validity?
We scorn the waste and damage inherent in the daily commute and claim that more people should be working from home or remotely, and are bombarded by statistics showing happier more productive employees when allowed to do so.
If everyone worked in their own homes, connected by an always-on hyperbandwidth hyperlinked hyperhighway with virtual presence, would the isolation and lack of satisfaction of our senses and blurring of our humanity create a radical suggestion of physically meeting? And experiencing the benefits of this contact, would those early adopters start to consider it a little random, and that they would be better meeting with those with whom they had something in common, like either their profession or their employer?
We lambast developers, architects and designers for creating self-serving workplace structures that fail to consider the physiology and psychology of occupants.
If all workplaces were once entirely designed and created around serving the needs of their occupants (“all about people”), would those tasked with envisioning them consider, in their frustration, physical and technological challenges to this brief? Would they find deeper expressions of the aesthetic that served no purpose at all other than beauty, and would they create barriers to functionality in an attempt to disrupt, provoke, rebel?
We scorn leaders who refuse to listen, who interfere, who fail to motivate and develop their charges.
If all leaders were once innately generous, free spirited souls who got out of the way and stayed out of the way, who communicated with honesty and openness, would some start to consider shortcuts to their goals? Would ideas of control and direction begin to permeate that curtailed freedom, withheld information, no longer tolerated failure from experimentation?
It is a perspective worth considering as a means of testing what we desire. We are always looking for the alternative, and more than ever celebrating the cult of disruption. Yet at reaching the ideal, will the disruption whither? Or does it remain a force for the opposite?
If we started with what we wanted, would we get what we’ve got?