Truth, beauty, and goodness

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Pre-COVID, I made this video. Underpinning Agile and all the other parts of new ways of working and managing is a social shift: new ways of thinking which have at their heart a reunification of truth, goodness, and beauty – science, ethics, and art. Here I am, pondering the future of work from one of the best places in one of the world’s best countries.

I wish I had packed shampoo, but on the other hand when I am on holiday in Takaka, IDGAF. I shot this first time, in a single take, unedited. I’ve never practiced this kind of shot to camera while walking before. I still think it is the best thing I ever made.

 

For those who – like me – prefer text, here’s the transcript:

 

I’m in Takaka,  which is in Golden Bay, in New Zealand.  And it’s a pretty good place, in fact it’s as close to paradise as you’ll ever get.

It’s a place amongst the hippies, the counterculture, and just people who want a wonderful wonderful life. When I come to a place like this, it makes me reflect on the values that we hold dear when we’re working. Because the counterculture are onto something.  Sure,  in their rejection of capitalism, and the anti-science aspects of their culture they embrace a lot of nonsense.  But I can forgive them that because at the same time they’re exploring an understanding that it’s not all about science or it’s not all about hard reality and truth. There’s more to life. In fact there are three transcendentals, three fundamentals of  humanity that need to be balanced.
That’s truth, beauty, and goodness… science, art, and ethics.

Somewhere along the way in the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and the growth of science which drove Western culture to some fabulous heights … I mean, look around you …. but at the same time we got very truthy. We got very obsessed with rationalism and hard factors as the fundamentals of society and behavior, and we lost what you might call the the spiritual side.  I’m an atheist, so when I talk about spiritual things I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about the other aspects of what makes us human that shouldn’t get lost. And I’m an engineer and I’m a skeptic and a science geek. I’ve spent a lot of my life fighting anti-science and nonsense. But in recent years, probably primarily through the Agile movement – and through advancing age –  I’ve come to understand that there is more to life. In fact that the philosophical movements which are
running through society at the moment, many of them trying to achieve this reunification . that resonated with me as somebody who’s dealt with depression and been through a lot, and  now cares a lot about the quality
of my life from the values that I live by. I understand that there are more values than just “value”. We’ve seen that understanding in our work, as people try and achieve some sort of reunification of the transcendentals and
we we see that in concepts such as ethical business,  multiple bottom lines for business and the concept of bringing your whole self to work. There was a time when you left sex, politics, and religion at the door when you went to work; you were supposed to anonymize yourself as just another corporate drone and not discuss these things with your colleagues. Whereas now we’re more and more embracing the idea that people not only
have a right to bring those things to work but in fact are better humans and therefore better workers if we allow them to bring their whole self to work, to feel like they are functioning with integrity. When you come to a place like this it just comes home. [My daughter nearby] lives in paradise. They have gardens, horses, lots of hippie houses. They don’t really care much about money, she never really knows where the next dollar is coming from. That’s because they know there’s more to life. They value doing the right thing, they value caring for others and sharing,  they value living your life in an ethical manner.  And I respect that,  more than I did when I was younger.

So. Work. Trying to get back to a wholeness, an integrity, a reunification of science, ethics, and art.
When we talk about things like Agile, Lean, and many of the other bodies of knowledge or ideas that drive our [IT] industry, our business in general, they’re coming from a point that if you follow it all the way back is that
reunification.  They’re trying to make us whole again. They’re trying to say that it’s not enough just to make a profit, that it’s certainly not enough to focus on shareholder value.  Friedmanism has been described as the most failed idea ever in business.  It misled us, it led to some terrible concepts, behaviours. That’s busily being discredited as we speak and organizations in general are understanding that it’s not about shareholder
value, its about the values.  If the enterprise observes good values, then the enterprise will prosper in the longer term. That truth is becoming apparent everywhere.

This is what motivates me, and it is what motivates [my wife and partner] Cherry. You saw her [at the start of the video]. She’s on the on the Web right now coaching our tribe in Vietnam. They’re not just our students. They come on our courses but then she keeps going with those who want to keep going and they get together every week and talk about the challenges they’re facing, what they can do about it, because we believe in these principles, we believe in this idea.  We [a committee] started up a Business Agility Meetup for  Wellington the other night, and we had a group of people getting together, and one of the things of course that we discussed was what exactly is the basic principle or purpose of the Meetup, what is it trying to achieve. We went around the room and talked about that. What was the common thread through it all was trying to make work a better place. The way to do that is through this reunification of truth, beauty, and goodness. Stop managing people by numbers, understand that they’re fellow human beings, that we have ethical obligations in how we treat them just as much as financial obligations.  Start appreciating work that’s done because it’s great in some intangible spiritual or aesthetic way, not because it’s great in terms of sales figures. Start working on [building] an organization that has a vision of a purpose in life other than shareholder enrichment. and people will want to work there.

The challenge that organizations are finally coming to understand is that you can make slaves work, you can make industrial factory workers work, you can make clerical workers work, (who are just factory workers in in the
information economy), but you can’t make knowledge workers work. The people who are doing the high-value work in the information service economy, their individual outputs are invisible: you can only see the productivity, the outputs of the team, because all knowledge work is ultimately collaborative, so you can’t see what they’re producing, you can’t make them do good work. Knowledge workers will only [do good] work if they want to.  All you can do is invite them to work.
Inviting Leadership [Mezick and Sheffield] is a very good book and is a profound concept – it’s part of what we do and what we work with.
The only way that people will want to do good work is if they feel like they’re working for an organization that they can believe in, if they feel like they’re working in an organization that has values not just value; if they feel like they’re working in an organization that’s contributing something long-term to society; and that cares about them and other human beings.

So the truly successful organizations more and more are going to be those that understand this: that have a strong sense of values; that have a common vision and purpose which is more than just make the rich richer.
You might be uncomfortable with this, but the fact is that the new ways of working, their roots go to socialism (here I am in one of the most socialist countries on earth and I can tell you that it is fabulous) and these roots go back to feminism because we have to stop shutting down half of our society if  we’re going to be productive and successful and most of all whole; and [they go back to] diversity and the embrace of ambiguous gender, even strange beliefs and religions…  that having a diverse workplace profoundly increases our creativity and our innovation and therefore our success going forward.

Everything’s political. Work’s political. The way we run our organizations is political. The new world is going to be a world of a reunification of truth, beauty and goodness.  It’s going to be a new level that you if you ascribe to Grave’s models of first and second tier culture, or Integral [Theory and] Spiral Dynamics’ ideas of moving into teal and and purple… or any of so many other models that all suggest that we’re reaching a cultural breakthrough of enlightenment…  I have to say when I walk around a place like Takaka I can feel it. I can see that this is the future; that the best – in the deepest from-the-gut meaning of the word “best” –  the best places in the world are places like this – places that understand there is more to life than just money, more to life than power and dominance and alpha male behavior.  The future of society is a reunification of male and female culture, caring and sensitivity and empathy, humanity, embracing our aesthetics and our ethics, to create a place that is good, that feels good.  That is the future.  It doesn’t have to be a town, it doesn’t have po be a very cool part of New Zealand. That can be the culture at work, that can be how we do business, how our organizations function, just as much as our society.

I profoundly hope that I can help our clients to move their organizations into something that feels a bit more like Takaka.