My studies in human behavior began 66 years ago. For the last 50 of those years I’ve worked with individuals, teams, families and organizations in the context of creative interchange (CI). CI was a name, given by my teacher, mentor and friend, Dr. Henry Nelson Wieman, to describe the process of human development and transformation. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally could read a book reporting similar findings to my own work and research. It provided vital information detailing the inseparability of personal and organizational development, growth and transformation. That book is “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.
I shared the book with some long time colleagues and friends and they agreed it came the closest to documenting that when the required conditions for CI are present, individuals and organizations develop and thrive. Since the mid 1940’s business has had access to information on how to develop corporate cultures that could promote individual well being and organizational profitability. Unfortunately, most of the information was ignored, rejected or was confined and used to increase efficiency, effectiveness and from the 1970’s on also creativity and innovation.
The business focus was on getting people to adjust and adapt to existing business systems, functions, processes and practices. Training was designed to equip workers to be competent, motivated, compliant, cooperative, and productive. Much of the “human side of the enterprise” was based on rewards and punishments. In short, a human being was a means to an end, most often a financial one. Management was about controlling and directing human activity and assuming most people were innately lazy and not motivated to work or do what the organization wanted or needed done. Corporate cultures were not designed to involve people, let alone develop them. Personal growth was to take place elsewhere. In those early days I heard over and over again the phrase, “The office is not a mental health center or hospital”.
Over the decades people were taught and learned, as best they could, to divide themselves into a work-self and a not-at-work-self. They learned to be “politically correct,” say and do what others wanted them to say and do whether it was true or not. In short, they learned how to masquerade. What many failed to understand, including business leaders and managers, was that such a daily life came with a high expenditure of “energy” and a hidden financial price tag. Hiding one’s emotions and thinking produced hidden costs. Enter the new book by Kegan and Lahey who say on page 1:
In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and not-for-profits and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up [all italics mine] their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, and hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.
We regard this as the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day. Is anything more valuable to a company than the way its people spend their energies? The total cost of this waste is simple to state and staggering to contemplate: it prevents organizations, and the people who work in them, from reaching their full potential.
It is no longer a matter of how to “fix” everyone, to “fit” the business. It’s transforming everyone to transform the business for the benefit of everyone. I believe CI is the human transformation process and the required conditions for its operation have become now a business imperative. It is not enough to hire people with certain technical competencies. It is knowing how to develop a corporate culture that sustains those required conditions for personal and organizational transformation. Today’s business competencies will not be tomorrow’s. It’s no longer just about change management. It’s about a deliberate continuing transformation of everyone in the organization. As Edward Deming, the quality guru, put it over two decades ago, “To transform an organization, you must have transformed people.”
People are transformational by nature. Early childhood development and formal education, in an effort to control what a child learns, have had an adverse impact on that transformational nature. Such conditioning undermined the required conditions for CI and compromised the continuing transformative growth of individuals and the organizations they serve. The cost of this lost potential, as stated by Kegan and Lahey above, is “staggering.” From a business point of view, any serious effort to get rid of these “hidden costs” can and will more than pay for itself. In the past, as long as the majority of businesses had the same hidden costs there was little or no incentive to reduce them. As more businesses are discovering the competitive advantage of eliminating these costs the odds of surviving, let alone thriving, will change drastically and quickly.
Experiencing one’s creative interchange is a prerequisite for helping others discover and recover it within themselves. CI isn’t found in books nor can it be driven from the outside. It must be experienced within oneself. It is about becoming who you really are. The cost is worth it personally and organizationally and your transformative nature won’t be hidden anymore.