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  • Writer's pictureNigel Niles

Preparing for Our Demise

It is a bit strange that on the eve of building something new and important, that we should even be thinking of “demise”. We are in the early stage of bringing an idea to life, where people have come together, are enthusiastic, determined and beginning to see almost limitless possibilities. This is not about introducing a note of sour grapes, a spoiler as it were, but we must add a note of caution, a dose of reality into this situation. Of course I do not want our movement to collapse before it has even started.

Many of us have worked for all kinds of private and public sector businesses, for charities, local government, for ourselves, but how much say do we really have at work? And are we really taken seriously? The recent news is constantly full of the huge reaction to the “Great Resignation”, the waves of people voting with their feet and leaving their jobs looking for something better; in the booming Chinese economy there is even a rebellion by some younger people against consumerism and overwork called “lying flat” .

The additional reaction in the media to the huge growth in the last couple of years of the mainly US centred “r/antiwork” forum of Reddit is also part of the same global phenomenon of reassessing the meaning of and the relationship to work.

The unprecedented global pandemic and the necessity of being locked down has simply given a lot of people - formally too busy surviving - time to think about and reassess their priorities; having space to just think actually leads to a desire for more living with humane and human centred activity – work is therefore being recognised (more for some than others) as perhaps unfulfilling, degrading and dehumanising, as something people will no longer stand for.

Who among us are most poised to add their life experiences into what work could be? All of us of course, but this is why people with disabilities can add positively to a discussion which they have had to face every day with Resilience: how can work suit me? How can work be brought to me? In what ways can I be involved with others?

Examining our own experiences of work has never or rarely been added to the knowledge of how organisations work or seriously incorporated into it; for the vast majority of people work is necessary to do what you want outside of work and is thus an act of having to, of social compulsion, rather than enjoyment or self-fulfilment.

This is where thinking seriously about a movement preparing for its own demise comes in.

Starting a movement is important, but so are the needs of the people involved. What do they want out of it? What do they expect of themselves and each other? A network presupposes links between people of equality and honesty, but we know in organisations that people quickly start falling into roles they are familiar with rather than roles they are not or indeed those that have yet to be conceived. People become personifications of roles, the Ideas person, the Organiser, the Financial or Legal whizz, the Fundraiser, the Tech expert, the Mediator and so on. But why do people do this? Well they are exactly the roles present in most types of organisation and people are used to them; it almost seems that certain personality traits just fit with these roles, rather than the case that people have been trained for them by prior experiences of work.

So why cannot a new type of organisation develop new types of roles, rather than copy the old types? Is it because we fear uncertainty?

You may notice that often in work and life that you hear that people fear change, that once people settle into certain patterns of thinking and doing they find it hard to do something another way, they become conservative with a “small c”, seeming content with what is rather than what could be. But it is by absorbing uncertainty as part of a modus operandi that an individual, group or network can be both resilient and flexible. So the other side of resilience is not just the stoicism and the stereotype of the “stiff upper lip”, but the ability to move forwards by harnessing creativity, and to do that we have to embrace uncertainty. Demise or not, we need to not just think big, but to relate to each other in a new way – one that embraces uncertainty, honesty, respect and creativity - and I believe a network like DRN is the ideal structure to attempt to put this into practice. If we get this right, perhaps our legacy will endure enough that others can follow.

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