Humanity and relationships underpin the future of work, so invest in your social capital and nurture your friendships, writes author, entrepreneur and Ted speaker, Margaret Heffernan.
Listen to Margaret Heffernan on friendship at work
Many 20th century myths still abound: Efficiency is everything. Business is unemotional. To reach the top, you must see everyone as a rival and take them out. The more hours you work, the more ruthlessly you behave, the more successful you’ll be. Psychopaths flourish: learn from them.
The newest myth is that the human side of work only matters now because every other aspect of work will vanish, replaced by robots, artificial intelligence and new technologies. This is nonsense too; the human ingredients in work underpin every breakthrough we see today.
Groups versus heroic soloists
Preserving and strengthening our humanity is the order of the day. Staying smart, energetic, alert and able to use the genuine intelligence each of us brings into work isn’t a luxury, but a requirement. Brains must be focused (multi-tasking is bust) and rested (work more than 55 hours a week, and mental and physical health are at risk).
Complex decisions are too multi-faceted for heroic soloists; groups can see more and better possibilities. Da Vinci didn’t paint all his pictures and Steve Jobs didn’t design the iPhone alone. Expertise matters – it’s just that we will need a lot of it, well-articulated and generously shared.
Da Vinci didn’t paint all his pictures and Steve Jobs didn’t design the iPhone alone. Expertise matters – it’s just that we will need a lot of it, well-articulated and generously shared
Why we need each other
Teams only achieve their potential to the degree that they are diverse, safe, open and trusting. Teams only achieve their potential to the degree that they are diverse, safe, open and trusting. We may all be biased, but we can learn to listen and appreciate the richness of multiple perspectives. This isn’t about political correctness, it’s about honing skills demanded for collective intelligence.
None of this is easy. It will demand enormous emotional, intellectual, moral, spiritual and social stamina. Looking after ourselves and each other is how work and lives grow in value, meaning and joy. We need each other: as intelligent sources, sounding boards, coaches, critics, devil’s advocates and friends – not just Facebook ‘friends’ or LinkedIn contacts.
Bringing our whole selves to work
Part of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ is the ability to forge strong bonds with people. If you go in with the mindset that you’re not going to make friends, you’re leaving a big part of yourself behind. You might do transactions well, but you’ll miss opportunities. It makes it hard to hold onto any kind of ethical reasoning and you become an automaton. If this is the case, your job can probably be automated.
In the era of the 100-year life, we have to be lifelong students, eager to learn, question, study, experiment, reject, accept and adapt. Learning from others, from history, from friends, colleagues, experts and deviants – is the shape of things to come.