Here’s what they told us:
Be clever. Be good. Get ahead.
Fit in. Follow the rules we make for you.
Be safe rather than sorry.
Care about what we tell you to care about. Value what we value.
Leave your real passions out of it.
Stand out, but only in a way that increases productivity.
Don’t cause trouble.
Hide what most makes you you.
Say yes, when asked by someone further up the ladder.
Find ways to get others to do what you want.
Judge yourself and others relentlessly by their performance.
Expect others to do the same.
These are the rules brought to the world by the industrialists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They invented large organisations, mass production and management. And these in turn have brought enormous progress in living standards, healthcare, and the widespread availability of products.
We believed that if we followed these rules, everything would work out ok for us. And, for a while perhaps, there was some truth in the claim. A job for life, and all that. A ladder that could be climbed through diligence and obedience.
But are these rules working out for you, today?
Mostly, the rules served the creators of the industrial machine. They had us take up the places they’d made for us, and in the process leave so much of ourselves out, so we could fit into what they’d designed.
The rules have had us stifle our courage and be cautious about our connections with people. They’ve encouraged us to be predictable and safe. They’ve turned us into managers, making sure everything happens reliably, rather than leaders, making it possible to enter new territory together. And, crucially, it’s made it hard to bring our most generous, wholehearted contribution.
Can you honestly say the rules you’re following bring out the creativity and ingenuity we need from you? The fullest, most courageous contribution in the people who work with you? And do they actually give you the safety and security you long for?
And if not, why are you still following them and expecting others to do the same?