The 1950s were a wonderful time. It was a time of nuclear, loving families, safe neighbourhoods and white picket fences. In our local communities we knew the butcher, baker and grocer. The mayor would tip his hat as he passed you in the street and the boy next door delivered the newspaper each day on his rounds. It was a time when professional and domestic spaces were separate – as much by who participated in them as by the clock.
We latched onto these distinct notions with fervour. Deep in our psyches we ingrained the borders between work and home, public and private, and professional and personal as though they held “the truth”. In a post-war world, these distinctions helped us find our place – in the world at large and the smaller, mirror-worlds known as “work”, “community” and “home”. It was our need to BELONG and our desire to PARTICIPATE that drew us to these distinctions and turned a “role” into a way of being. The very act of performing these roles then served to strengthen and solidify them.
Soon we began to identify ourselves with these roles. We left our names behind and adopted these roles in their stead. Rather than “Gavin Heaton”, I would be a “marketing professional”, or even more specifically, a “director of social media”. This meant that the answer to the question of “what do you do?” became even more critical. The society’s shift of emphasis away from community value (I am a father, coach of a soccer team, husband and intellectual journeyman) to personal, professional value (I work at Acme Co) further served to reinforce the distinctions, ascribing a value to the professional/public life over the personal/community/private life.
Even the term “work/life balance” contains this dichotomy. It presumes that there is work – and then there is the whole of the rest of your life hived off in some other (smaller) compartment.
And yet while these barriers have remained in our thinking, they have been undermined by our behaviours. The widespread corporate retrenchments that shook the 1980s marked a fundamental shift in the way that we behaved – even it if had not yet affected the way that we thought. We went from a “job for life” behavioural commitment to a “career for me” action. The sense of security in the workplace was replaced by suspicion (on both sides of the management fence), and the individualism of era was given the face of Gordon Gecko.
Interestingly, these changes were forced upon us. We did not choose them, nor were we coerced or cajoled. As Mark Earls points out, achieving a change in behaviour is difficult.
In the decades that followed, our sense of belonging and participation fragmented, becoming narrower and narrower. We were able to effectively create and manage our fragmented personalities because they were disjointed, unconnected and unconnectable. This personal determinism set in place a regulated paradigm of thinking. Operating within small enclave our behaviours and actions reinforced this mindset.
But the connected (or social) web changed all that.
Our actions and behaviours in one sphere would be surfaced in our dealings with another (I like to think there is a level of subversion taking place here – along the lines of what Mike Arauz calls desire paths). The way we act and behave in business ripples across these connections and impacts the network of Facebook friends, website readers and Twitter followers. Our carefully crafted reputation no longer holds water – living instead in the active recommendations, connections, suggestions and star-ratings of our social networks. Just like the brands that we work for, we have become hub-and-spoke manifestations of our personalities.
But it’s not just digital.
Sure, social networks have surfaced the connections that we spent decades separating. But it is in the real work – the real connections – that value of the network is realised. It’s in the phone calls and coffees. It’s in the collaborative projects and workshops that result. It’s in the conversion of a recommendation to a sale. And underlying all this is reputation.
Whether you like it or not, your reputation is bursting out. It is racing ahead of you – out of reach and far beyond your control. This what I mean when I say “there are no more boundaries”. It goes beyond what we own – to the heart of who we are. It’s about purpose.
It’s The Social Way.