“Think like artists and activists…”
It feels like another lifetime ago (I presented this book at the First Friday Book Synopsis way back in July, 2000), but here are two quotes, with brief comment, from David Brooks from his book Bobos (Bourgeois Bohemians) in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.
Benjamin Franklin celebrated wholesome ambition. The central goal of life, he seemed to imply, is to improve yourself and thereby improve your station in life. Franklin celebrated a characteristically bourgeois set of virtues: frugality, honesty, order, moderation, prudence, industry, perseverance, temperance, chastity, cleanliness, tranquility, punctuality, and humility. These are not heroic values.
Constant improvement – but not just in “innovation,” or “job skills,” but in true, actual life skills – life skills that matter on a deeper level. Becoming a more disciplined person, a person with genuine high aspirations — this is the perpetual challenge.
Bobo capitalism in a nutshell: college, learning, growth, travel, climbing, self-discovery. It’s all there. And it’s all punctuated with that little word “I.” The Organization Man is turned upside down. Whyte described a social ethos that put the group first. The current ethos puts “me” first. Work thus becomes a vocation, a calling, a metier. And the weird thing is that when employees start thinking like artists and activists, they actually work harder for the company. In the 1960’s most social theorists assumed that as we got richer, we would work less and less. But if work is a form of self-expression or a social mission, then you never want to stop. You are driven by a relentless urge to grow, to learn, to feel more alive.
Companies learned that Bobos will knock themselves out if they think they are doing it for their spiritual selves, for their intellectual development. Don’t dare call it a sweatshop. It’s a sandbox! This isn’t business. This is play!
“Think like artists and activists.” In other words, fulfillment, meaning, innovation, play – these all matter for a person’s wellbeing, and then they can result in better days for the company or organization. What’s good for me can be good for us.
There may be dark sides to some of this – but these are not bad quotes to consider this year or any year.