There is no place for individualists in this day and age of collaborative economy. Today’s business culture is moving from an “I” to a “We” perspective which speaks so much of the desire to include everyone in the process of a creative economy. It’s a concept that links social responsibility, corporate performance, and business excellence altogether. It’s an idea that values teamwork over self-interest as the driver of business models and economic systems.
We vs. I
Just how powerful is our choice of words in the way we deal with others and build personal and business relationships? Well, it’s powerful enough to make or break our success. Our choice of words is powerful enough to change views, opinions, actions, and situations. Take the power of “we” for example. Choosing “we” over “I” can prove to be one of the most crucial factors in creating a positive, creative, and productive workforce. In fact, there’s even a study suggesting that people who use pronouns such as “I,” “my,” and “me” tend to have an inward focus of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Meanwhile, those who used “we,” “us,” and “you” showed an outward focus and considered the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of others. Furthermore, the study revealed that people with lower status were more inclined to use the pronoun “I” compared to individuals with higher status who tended to use the pronoun “we”. The “I” perspective not only promotes selfishness, but it also lowers the morale of individuals, and disregards the efforts of others. The “we” perspective, on the other hand, creates a harmonious relationship among individuals and avoids unhealthy competitions brought about by self-centeredness. Admit it or not, partnerships, trust, and collaborations are as crucial or even more crucial factors than salaries and perks in any organizational setup. A lot of individuals, no matter how high-paying their jobs are, quit when work becomes too individualistic and competitions abound. This also speaks true for some people who, despite having a lower-paying job than their high-paying counterparts, remain committed to their work because they are engaged and their efforts are being acknowledged. Now, what does this study say about leadership? Or what does this even have to do with leadership?
Leader vs. Boss
Would you rather be a leader of a boss? If you think you’re the type of person who tends to use or apply the “I,” “me,” or “my” concept a lot, then you’re likely to be identified as a boss. On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who always considers others in your decisions or actions, then you’re likely to be called a leader. A leader empowers and serves others while a boss wants power and demands to be followed. A boss instructs while a leader mentors others hands-on. A leader inspires while a boss uses fear or authority for people to comply. Why do these things matter? Truth is, the more that we engage others in our endeavors, the more that we become effective and productive. By being a leader and bringing out the best in others instead of focusing only on your own goals and growth, everyone is given the opportunity to rise, grow, succeed, and discover their potentials that would not have been possible if teamwork did not exist.
Raising a “We” Culture
Just imagine how fulfilling it is to be able to contribute to your organization, more so on a greater scale. So, how do we create a “we” culture? As the leader, how do you shift from an “I” to a “we” perspective if you’re the “I-centric” type? As a team member, how do you embrace collaboration if ever you’re not used to it?
Today, more and more individuals and teams are shifting their work paradigms from an individual-focused culture to a team-oriented one. The Power of We Consortium (PWC), for instance, is providing the residents of Michigan’s Ingham County a model for organizing and leveraging resources using the power of communication, collaboration, and accountability. The PWC believes in the interrelatedness of issues facing communities and thus, collaboration and engaging all community resources are the only means of solving the challenges effectively. Isn’t it amazing how the power of “we” can create a self-sustainable community? But what’s more remarkable is the fact that we’re able to discover a lot of hidden skills and talents, and maximize the resources we have.
Alternative business schools are also changing the academic landscape by molding learners to be more socially, economically, and environmentally responsible individuals. Take Knowmads for example. More than teaching about the technical aspects of businesses and economies, they encourage individuals to think beyond themselves. They ask questions that make students think deeply and conscientiously. Questions that let these learners create projects or models that impact positive changes to societies. Again, we can see how the “we” perspective, the others-centered mindset can make a huge difference in the world.
In gist, what these two organizations are telling us is that we can cultivate a “we” culture by learning about others – what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they are passionate about, what they can contribute to the group – and integrating the things we’ve learned from others with the things we know about ourselves. Cultivating a “we” culture starts when we stop thinking about ourselves.
Transformation has taken a new definition in this era of constant disruption. It’s no longer just a concept or a theory; transformation has already become a necessity and a reality.
Most of today’s societies – both developed and underdeveloped, face growing global crises and unprecedented changes that have profoundly shaken the core of traditional norms and practices. Disruption is starting to shape industries, markets, and our future. And people and businesses need to continuously grow and adapt to such changes in order to achieve and maintain success. If there’s anything that we can learn from these things, it’s that shifting our perceptions and strategies, and embracing disruption can lead to transformational results that we seek.
For the Presencing Institute’s Otto Scharmer, the global crises and unprecedented changes we currently face can be framed in three major divides namely the ecological divide, the social divide, and the spiritual-cultural divide. The ecological divide speaks of the disconnect between self and nature. The way we treat our environment has long-lasting effects be it on the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. The social divide, the disconnect between self and other, speaks of the gap between social classes. Inequality, poverty, and violence continue to plague our societies because opportunities are not equal. The spiritual-cultural divide, which is the disconnect between self and self, is a reflection of the disconnect between our current self and our emerging future self. It speaks of the way we deal with our innermost self, thoughts, and feelings. Burnout, depression, and other mental health issues are manifestations of the spiritual-cultural divide. These three divides represent the massive failures of our institutions – we have created results that nobody really wanted. Thus, we need to change the way we view and face these challenges. We need to change towards a more humane and sustainable world that values every individual.
From Ego-system to Eco-system
How then should we shift our outdated economic and business thinking into contemporary practices that consider everyone’s well-being? Scharmer offered quite an interesting and informative article regarding this by introducing eight institutional innovations that as a set can help businesses run more intelligently across silos and boundaries. It seems that shifting our economic logic from an ego-system to eco-system awareness is the key create an economy that considers the well-being of all. From nature, entrepreneurship, money, technology, leadership, consumption, governance, and ownership, reinventing our processes and concepts, and encouraging collaboration in these vital areas can redefine the business environment and change the way individuals treat life and business on a fundamental level.
U.Lab, a hybrid massive open online course (MOOC) platform run by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (M.I.T.), recently offered two social innovation-focused programs – Leading Awareness-based Systems Change and How to Sense and Actualize the Future. The two programs offered unique insights on collaboration, co-creation, and succeeding in the emergent future. The programs’ introductory film says it all – a business cannot continue to run the way it goes and there’s a need to bring sustainability principles on core values of a business. True enough, what we need in this disruptive age is to create a profound innovation. We need new ways to connect to the more genuine aspects of our self and encourage consciousness in the way we manage things. Perhaps you would also agree that today’s businesses need to integrate personal and ethical values into their system to help make it more sustainable.
Futhermore, the edX-U.Lab course “Transforming Business, Society and Self” that Scharmer hosted is highly recommended. The course presented his Theory U framework and offered excellent and effective community practices that will really make you think deeply about how you can resolve the different divides.
Following U.Lab since its inception, it has brought a great first impression on a personal level. The courses offered new and authentic insights – leaving old business principles and gearing towards a fresh and spontaneous approach that really fuel growth and competitiveness. It’s actually quite idealistic but this approach will surely revolutionize today’s markets. These programs strengthen our individual capacities and the capabilities of organizations in responding to disruptive challenges through an innovation ecosystem.
Today’s emerging approaches are life-changing. Often we’re so consumed of the challenges the world brings that we somehow forget the very essence of our human existence. We forget about the people around us and focus so much on the problem instead of creating solutions. Understanding the concept of Theory U will make you realize that today’s challenges can be solved by allowing our current and best future self to listen with each other. It’s as simple as listening to others, listening with your heart and mind wide open, co-evolving, co-creating, and allowing inspiration and common will to emerge.
For nearly a century creativity has been understood as a key ingredient of business creation across thousands of design who took shape as product, service, solution and social planning. Participative innovation comes with a new set of values to reinforce the creative potential of organisation. Participative innovation is ether understood as an internal phenomenon of organisation or a manifestation which is happening outside the boundary of the corporate structure. Initially we would have a look to both the aspects. In house participative innovation refers to the fact that workers and managers associate to create new business models and solutions for the consumers. We call participative innovation the point that the workers who are involved in the creative process are not supposed to be in charge of innovation contribution. Participative innovation implies that an organisation would have adopted a politic of democratization of the creative process across its managerial layers to leverage new business opportunities. For the past 3 decades, participative innovation has grown significantly. The company Google who institutionalized this value, made it mandatory to workers to involve themselves in prospective projects a certain amount of time from their schedule. It is believed that number of Google innovation came from this initiative. Giving workers some freedom to problem solving in the ever fragmented industry leads companies to new areas of business development. Today, there is a common acceptance that participative innovation is promising. More recently participative innovation has got a new sense by including public and user participation. Participative innovation advocates the importance of including the user on the conceptualisation of product, service and policy. This second aspect of participative innovation interest us more particularly has it may lead to social entrepreneurship.
To demonstrate the potential of participative innovation I shall dress a parallel with design thinking that is most of the time a non-inclusive discipline. Bruce Nussebaum has demonstrated that failure in design thinking is due to monopolistic approach by most companies and political groups towards the society with regards to value creation. Rather than wanting to “change the world” through design thinking and business it should be like society leaders support people in making the world as they want using participative innovation. In short, it is questioned that shifting the power of design thinking from the designer’s hand to the common man’s hand could lead to a more effective way of producing innovation. In this research I try to demonstrate that social changes lead people to be increasingly reactive to systems and solutions presented to them. We witness a re-appropriation of the industry, the politic and the social.
At the lecture of sociological concepts of identity, and essays from notorious designers, philosopher and business mam we assume that our economy could be at the beginning of a new economic order that would give power to consumer as a democratic necessity to balance the corporate lobby. This approach sometimes referred as ‘prosumerism’ would radically transform the purpose of design in the corporate environment. It is therefore believed that corporate would be re-elected to the role of social enabler rather that been the creative think- tank of the consumerist society has it has been the case since the Second World War. However, participative innovation leads to large questioning in time of economic recession and environmental instability. Participation is negatively associated to “working for free” with concerns in terms of intellectual properties. Today’s businesses are facing the issue of associating with the consumer through participative innovation while maintaining a climate of fair exchange.
By stimulating participative innovation business and society put themselves at risk that a large part of the creative potential slip from their hands and get developed by third party individuals and organization. However participative innovation requires the nest of a cybernetic environment for business development what make it mandatory for businesses to concede part of its intellectual production. As Prahalad and Krishnan mention in the New Age of Innovation; “"No firm is big enough in scope and size to satisfy the experiences of one single consumer" and that is the whole challenge of a participative innovation approach. User requirement get so fragmented that no business can have the capacity of responding to all the facet of the consumer experience. This statement also implies that ultimately, firms would depend on individual and/or start-up to generate the value necessary to respond to the needs of unique consumers.
Patrick Roupin is an expert in innovation, design, strategy & entrepreneurship.
Ashrefunisa Shaik is an expert in organizational transformation & sustainability.