Rethinking work

Ape.

A million years later.

Human.

No one’s really sure what happened. Two dramatic changes: brains ballooned, backs straightened. The reason evolution is unfathomable (if you consider it) is that only a small group came to look like you. The rest continued as apes.

A few people, somewhat blasphemously, wanted to understand how this played out. It took a cruise trip and one too many writer blocks for Darwin to finally explain things.

Here’s the unjustifiable summary of the undoing.

The shift started when soon-to-be-humans developed the ability to adapt and move into new territories. The apes, genes unchallenged, chose to stay back and continued drawing up territorial boundaries, competing over who could pump out his chest the farthest and thump it the loudest.

Every time humans went back to this approach, they ended up destroying one another. But thanks to their revised and expanded brains, they realized the only way ahead was co-operation. And this is what made all the difference. It’s why you are not reading this on a tree.

With that prelude, let’s talk about your workplace.

When did the answer to why does my work suck become there are too many walls in the office? There’s, forever now, been only one fundamental issue at workplaces: too many apes.

Hierarchy, chest thumping, and territorial insecurities were pervasive for a long time leaving the oldest apes in the hierarchy control the territories for decades. It’s the dictatorship everyone just accepted. The last decade — what with its hoodie-clad boys — and opportunities they spawned changed all that. These were the people with the gene variation, ones that explored. Blasphemously.

Workplaces watched this unfold and reluctantly crawled to its current form of half-assed open-mindedness. In the exchange, what it has produced is some democracy-shelled bullshit. And we just bought into it.

The point evolution made wasn’t about changing territories. It was about changing behavior.

And territorial behavior is still very much the order of the day. Hierarchy is but one outcome of that. Boundaries are marked out by the alphas of the organization who carefully control the status quo from any incursion of intelligence. They are what we now call type-A’s.

(Apes)

Humans flourished because they co-operated with those that walked into their territories. And they regularly moved into newer territories; strayed. And here we are still decaying in ideas of career shifts and years of experience.

We can all admit years of experience has a negative correlation to the experience of everyone around. It’s walking into ape territory. Once you are trapped in there, evolution becomes the ship that leaves without you.

A stable career is an oxymoron. It’s the disease that evolution at work needs to get ahead of. And if straying is what it takes, stray. This is not a millennial sickness. It’s immunity.

Because a different evolutionary process is underway. It’s only a matter of time before we will be left behind. The new humans, and you know who I am talking about, are human-created, but they may not be human-centered. There’s a good chance they can do to us what we did to the animals during our evolution: wipe ’em out.

And it won’t be a million years this time.

We need to move away from the shallow ways of rethinking work through interior design, clothing, or color into making a deep shift. One from which hope and meaning can be excavated.

We need to stop adding new words to the numb repertoire that’s workplace values and instead get better at recognizing each other’s basic humanness in all its emotion and complexity. It’s what made life.

And, as Darwin said, there’s a grandeur in this view of life. And who said work and life have to be two different things. What evolution it would be if they weren’t.

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