Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Corporate Organics

How corporate life is analogous to life, and the meaning we imbue it with (if any)

I’ve recently entered into a corporate existence, and it’s fascinating to observe the culture, the systems and processes at work inside the mainframe. I was making a bunch of photocopies last week when someone commented, using this very organic metaphor: “We wipe out a small forest everyday.” My colleague said this while the photocopier briskly zapped back and forth, spitting out a growing pile of documents.

“Is there a God?” Well, within a corporate setup the question has some merit, and of course the answer depends on what you mean. God can mean anything, but the most obvious meaning is probably ‘an all powerful being with power, control and influence that appears superhuman or even miraculous’. Well, each corporation does have its gods among men. They drive in limos or expensive German sedans, they get the best parking and access to the building, and a stroke of the pen can make or lose fortunes, and can set peoples lives in motion or immolate them. The best way to answer the question, in terms of the corporate paradigm, is that anyone in the corporation, if they work hard enough, can achieve God-like status. They can control their own destinies and to a large extent, influence and control the destinies of others. But can they perform miracles? No. Courageous acts, risky and possibly brilliant entrepreneurial chutzpah, but miracles, no.

The workers collaborate either directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, towards a common goal. The goal is the survival of the system, and all members are expected to contribute in some way. Some contributions seem in opposition (in terms of a limited snapshot), but it can be argued that cultural or social bonds become more important than a direct, linear contribution (to say the bottom line.) So people might be flown all over the world at great cost (in terms of their own salaries), but in terms of the corporate’s corporeal identity, and all its resources, these costs are incidental. And the corporation wants real time between its members, not just virtual contact (email, telecoms etc.) Ants and bees display similar patterns. They’ll dance or touch each other to give specific cues as to where and how to get to the loot. Of course they could probably figure their way their on their own, but collaboration and teamwork saves so much time, and it’s a lot more pleasant and fun.

Each worker has a role in the system. But from time to time, a worker may find itself asking: “What’s the meaning of life?” Like the God question, it’s badly worded. It’s too vague and clouded in ignorance. The gist of the question is actually: “Is there a meaning (a reason) behind my life, behind my being here?” Or worded even better: “What is my purpose?” Without a purpose there can be no meaning or value to what we are doing. The answer is: each worker was recruited towards a specific, specialized task. This task evolved over the life of the organization (take note of that word), until a variety of distinctive roles were manifested throughout the strata of the system. As the corporation became more complex, it became an organization of processes. An organization is: an association, a club, a group, a society and a business. The member of an organization is not the organization, and the organization is not merely a bunch of members. An organization is an intelligent response running parallel and in circuits, that anticipates and reacts and responds to the world, towards a certain goal. To the extent that each member is able to consciously contribute in terms of its own position in the system, informing all the other members, to that extent does the corporation behave consciously, as an intelligent organism.

The organism breathes, and sleeps, it requires sustenance and investment, it requires inventory taking, self auditing, planning and goal setting. So do all its members. Living animals and plants are no different. They grow towards a goal, sometimes in competition to each other, sometimes in partnership, sometimes temporarily collaborating, sometimes pretending to collaborate in order to gain a vital edge. Corporations make use of this vital strategy: marketing, so sell their colors, to strut their stuff. So do peacocks and baboons.

It’s easy to become despondent in the corporation, especially when you’re disconnected. You might query your role, you might feel stuck, and you might feel you’re in the wrong place. But there was a reason you were recruited to the role. Either you demonstrated aptitude, or your skills allowed you to survive, or you evolved to your present position, or a combination of these. So to an extent you are responsible for where you are. Once you ask: “What is the meaning of my life?” you are actually second-guessing a whole series of choices, and you are ready to find a new purpose, a new function in the corporation.

Corporate Organics is an epithet I’m using to describe an organization as a living creature, and why not, it’s composed of a hive of interdependent actors. It’s easy to get lost in the world, and in its structure, when we forget the life force running through all things. In order to thrive – ourselves or a system of our design, and a system we are part of – it helps to see the multiple relationships at work, and systems in place. Just as a single human being is many co-operative systems (digestive, respiratory, circulatory etc), an organization is no different. It may be easier for ourselves to visualize where we are in that system, or where we ought to be, by seeing the corporation as a body (and corporate is a word that originally had the same meaning as body, e.g. corporeal.).

For managers and people aspiring to reach the top, finding ways to breathe life and consciousness into the body (of the corporation) can be easier if one imagines, in intricate details, all the systems in terms of Corporate Organics. This is the area where thinking creatively, and thinking laterally, is easily achieved in a useful paradigm.

Corporate Organics also provides a useful reverse psychology for people immersed in work, who have no time to be spiritual in their lives outside of work. They may be repeatedly turning their backs on family, on a hobby, on a valuable personal goal. The questions about God and meaning, when seen against the analogy of the corporation, can also be made relevant to the world at large.

Even inside the corporation, one might stop to wonder: does the corporation know of my existence? And does my existence here have any impact on the corporation? That’s another way of asking, is the corporation (is the body) self aware, is it aware of itself and all its components. Can it feel an itch at an extremity, and if it can, does it care? This is an interesting opportunity for both management and workers to find ways to connect – for workers to feel relevant, and managers to connect to each and every worker. It’s a powerful tool to use also when we step out of the office, and ask ourselves: to what extent does the world feel my being? And does my being alive, enhance the Being of the world and those in it? Whatever the answer, we need to do a Corporate Organic audit often, in order to find a valuable and meaningful purpose for our lives wherever we may be, and whatever we are doing.


6x100m (then 200m easy jog without stopping to delay slowing of heartrate)
2x1000m (1st one: 5:00, 2nd: 4:27)
1x600m hard (maximum heart rate 169)

Total distance: 6km
Time: 37 min.

Late Night Visitor

Cooked dinner for once last night. Quite a nice, but hot, chicken dish.

And a cat came to visit me last night. It went from spy to hooker. First she was slinking around, but last night she was jumping onto my neck and pushing her face into mine. Nice to have a bit of company before finding a pillow.

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