Attention Sad Robots: Set Language Free!
Big corporate jobs are making everyone miserable. It's not always true but... it's often true. Exhibit A: attrition is a huge problem in corporate America. One third of new hires quit their job after about six months. (Society for Human Resource Management, 2015)
What’s so weird is, amazing people are in those corporate jobs. I work with them all the time. They are smart and capable, creative and insightful. They are people I admire and try to model myself after. And isn’t it the people that make the company? Yet somehow, there always seems to be a structure in place that walks all over them and their goodness.
Many of these folks have a little spark of fire somewhere around the things they do for money. Some of them have a big spark. But every day they work in this giant machine that treats them as means to an end: efficiency. Apparently, the closer they are to money-making robots, the better the whole thing functions.
In Isaac Asimov stories, robots are reflections of humanity. They are more human than the humans that created them. So, maybe now we can reflect ourselves back to ourselves – from this looking glass in the robot machine of capitalism.
We made this.
We can make it more human, why not?
Empathy, passion, imagination – corporate cultures fight those things or bore them out of people. But they are the sparks that make the job mean something. And, frankly, they are the things customers care about too.
Let’s get empathy, passion, and imagination back! They are like water and air, really. When they are infused in the day-to-day, life feels better. Work feels better. And the work is better because it’s full of empathy, passion, and imagination.
Step one: Set language free.
Many people I work with are afraid of negative language like “NO” or “PROBLEM.” But look at the world. Nobody is under any delusion about the existence of negativity. And, honestly, “positivity” isn’t real. It’s a forced smile. It’s creepy and SO boring. These good people are afraid of risk but not taking risk is actually the riskiest thing you can do. It’s stagnation: a decision by omission. Boring is death for you and, double whammy, it’s death for making money.
We’re asked to be robots wearing the chains of a dystopian police state where positive language is an oppressor. I don’t want to live there. Do you want to live there? Let’s just decide we’re not playing that game. Let’s be bold! Let’s use words like “NO” and “PROBLEM” when it makes sense to use them. Negativity makes positivity matter. Negativity is honest. And sometimes, negativity sells! There’s a place for everything.
Just speak your mind. Be honest. Break the code of silence. Things have gotten so fake that the minute we get authentic, people notice. This is power!
In Star Trek the Next Generation, the crew considers their android crewmate, Data, a sentient being. He can’t feel, exactly, but he is a wildly capable officer. He has friends. He is honest. He saves lives.
In one of my favorite episodes, “The Measure of a Man,” Data’s humanity is put on trial (it’s the Johnny 5 “No disassemble” episode).
(We won’t worry about the poker scene in the beginning where Data, an Android with the most advanced positronic net ever created, can’t understand bluffing. We’ll just skip that part.)
Starfleet wants to take Data apart, to study him and create an army of androids who can do menial tasks and get burned up in warp cores and stuff. It’d be a race of “disposable creatures.” Of course, this is not ok! Data’s got a life!
Are you prepared to condemn him and all who will come after him to servitude and slavery? Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life: well, there it sits! Waiting.
I think, in some strange way, the cogs in the corporate machine need this same kind of recognition. We aren’t here to be infinitely replicated. We aren’t disposable. We are unique, creative, unpredictable, beautiful souls. We need new life!
My spark of passion is about finding the real, right words. It’s about cutting to the chase and shooting from the hip: understanding who I’m talking to and why. It’s about caring and finding the good – fighting for the beauty and elegance of language in the strangest places. And, ultimately, it’s about helping people re-engage with the real truth of things, to create more meaningful jobs and lives.
Your honor, the courtroom is a crucible; in it, we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a purer product: the truth, for all time.