Treating the Workplace as Classroom

I’m just finishing the book, The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block. It’s a book that continues the theme started in Block’s previous book, Stewardship, of taking individual responsibility to create the world you want, and not relying on the company you work for to be Mom and Dad. Block provides alot of good food for thought around how we behave in companies to undermine our own freedom.

He has some great quotes about bosses:

"Your boss doesn’t have what you want."

"Most people in organizations are afraid of their boss."

Think what you want about Block’s statements–it certainly starts to shift my thinking. The quote that got me really thinking is the following on treating the workplace as

"If your setting is a large organization, view it as a training laboratory, where people come for awhile and leave when the experiment is over. View every job this way. Be curious about it all. It is a great classroom and you can learn even if the boss is not interested in teaching. This also gives purpose to an organization and business. The workplace is an incubator for economic and emotional self-sufficiency."

No truer words were ever written. I worked in large companies for 19 years before starting my own business in 2003. Over the years, I learned what I needed to run my own business, some of it consciously but much of it unconsciously–project management, marketing, follow-through, planning, leveraging others’ talents, developing relationships. In the process of being on teams that didn’t work well together, working with others who were very different from me, and navigating the ups and downs of layoffs and reorganizations, I discovered my gifts and what I am passionate about. I shaped the core of me that can survive just about anything. After incubating for close to two decades, I had more than enough inside of me to strike out on my own.

What Block is pointing to is a different kind of relationship than what we have traditionally thought of as the employer/employee contract. The contract has been changing over time on the employer side with outsourcing, layoffs, and reduced benefits. Instead of feeling cheated, individuals would do better to see these changes as accelerating the process of becoming self-sufficient. I’m not advocating that everyone become an entrepreneur. (In my case, getting kicked out of the nest was a good thing because I was a closet entrepreneur–always starting up new projects at work.)

What I am saying is that self-sufficiency should be a goal, whether you work for a company or own your own business. At 44, I wouldn’t want an employer determining my destiny any more than I would want my mother to tell me what to eat to grow up to be big and strong.

How are you enabling or sabotaging self-sufficiency in your workplace?

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