Monday, August 8, 2011

Letting Go

“Fullness of life in arenas of art and spirituality demands that we let go,” writes Luci Shaw in Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit, “that we relinquish control – something that goes against the human grain, particularly in a culture obsessed with empowerment. Here we are, trying to bring order and beauty out of chaos, gaining a kind of discipline and control, exercising the authority of experience and hard-won wisdom, and we have to let it go?”

I’ve been reading Breath for the Bones with the rather determined belief that it applies just as much to work and the work place as it does to art, writing and creativity. The chapter entitled “Risk” confirms my belief, and that statement on letting go punctuates the entire discussion for me.

Businesses, and especially large ones like corporations, have historically been designed to control and manage their environments: minimize risk, reduce occurrences of the unexpected, manage across the supply and production chain, maximize shareowner returns. That model began breaking down in the 1970s, with the extended periods of inflation and disruptions in energy supplies (two oil embargoes – 1973-74 and 1979). The 1980s witnessed massive restructurings and reorganizations, which have essentially become institutionalized. At the same time, the electronic communication revolution has changed everything.

But perhaps the most profound change is the one most often overlooked: it is virtually impossible for any organization, private or public, to control its environment. Organizations who believe they still can exercise control have to distort reality, and keep distorting it, to maintain that belief. (Interestingly enough, this also can happen with individuals – when people have to invent and maintain elaborate conspiracy theories to explain facts that conflict with their worldview.)

Within organizations desperately trying to hold on to control, creative individuals within the organization can often find themselves in a strange position. Their creativity is desperately needed and simultaneously rejected. They can find themselves tagged as “not a team player.” It can get worse if they’re proven right by external events, which they often are.

Over the years, I’ve seen this happen, many times. I’ve experienced this happening. I’ve seen it happen to others.

“The creative impulse is essentially innovative,” Shaw writes. “It’s always discovering new areas to explore. It experiments. It breaks down old barriers and ventures into new territory. That implies a kind of risk…”

As Shaw says, letting go is counterintuitive. After spending enormous amounts of time and resources, not to mention those thousands of college degrees and all those billions of man-years of experience, that it may be in the organization’s best interests to let it go.

It may sound bizarre, but I’ve often found myself in the position of telling experienced communication people that the creation of social media has changed their world forever. They don’t believe it, and they don’t want to believe it. At best, they consider social media to be “new communication tools and channels.” They are far more profound than that, and they demonstrate every day that what we all knew and grew up with – and the way we do things – has changed forever.

Led by Laura Boggess, we’re discussing Breath for the Bones over at The High Calling. Check today’s post there, on writing journals and taking risks, for more posts on the book.


Laura said...

Letting go of control in any area of life is difficult. I think work--the place where we associate success with our own accomplishments--is even more difficult than in my personal life.

I like the way you are writing these posts, Glynn. You are making me think about how the things Luci says apply to my own work--as I read. It seems to be making for a richer work life for me.

Maureen said...

I don't miss being in a corporate environment. Looking back, I sometimes am amazed I lasted in one as long as I did. The more creative I and certain of my colleagues became, especially in developing ideas for products for the Web, the more stifled we felt and ignored we were, because success wasn't being defined by the unexpected and untried but by being willing to settle for slicing and dicing what was already available and making it look like it was entirely new.

Letting go is counter-intuitive but having done it, I can say it's absolutely liberating.

S. Etole said...

I'm enjoying the reviews you and Laura are doing on this book. It may be the next on my "to buy" list.

Patricia said...

Hey Glynn...
My husband is a professor of marketing... I love reading him your posts... I'm glad you are here. You always add an interesting perspective that I need. Come visit my site... I'm having trouble posting to the book club today. Thanks for your poem the other day... it was great!

Cindee Snider Re said...

Glynn, you offer such an interesting perspective on Luci Shaw's book and it's application in the corporate world. I'm grateful for your insight. As I begin sending kids out into the world, it's good to think along new lines, to have my own understanding and perspective challenged. My kids network socially in ways that simply astound me -- and challenge me to grow. We talk often about the opportunities, but your articles help us to remember that much of corporate America isn't there yet. There is definitely a cultural gap that needs to be bridged, and maybe this generation of workers will help facilitate that. Blessings to you!