Nor does playing a bigger game require us to take on our organizations in a confrontational way — a choice not many of us are prepared to make. Instead, we have to “deal with the devil” more personally: to acknowledge the all-too-real pressures to compromise while simultaneously strengthening our ability to move past them by preserving our options, viewing our work in a larger context, and extending our time horizons by recognizing that it could take months or years to accomplish some of our goals.
Although this might seem to be an individual journey, it could also be an inherent part of life in a highly evolved organization. Over and over I heard it was a “tap on the shoulder” that awoke people to their potential. Jim, the sales director, told me, “Lisa [a colleague] would ask me, in a friendly way, ‘Is this really what you want to be doing?’ Now, I preach the story of sustainability every day.” If corporations are made up not of people, but of “parts of people,” as anthropologist Gregory Bateson once suggested, what parts of ourselves might we encourage each other to bring into play?
There is more than a personal imperative behind this question. Corporations have become so powerful in their ability to affect human society that, in many people’s view, they effectively eclipse national governments. If that is true, then every individual’s ability to win the devil’s bargain matters to all of us. The way that companies use or misuse their power is determined, moment by moment, by the way we as individuals play this game.
Reprint No. 07101
Elizabeth Doty ([email protected]) is an organizational consultant, a 12-year veteran of the hotel industry, a Harvard MBA, and a “recovering reengineer.” Her firm, WorkLore, applies systems thinking, simulation, and storytelling for clients in manufacturing, high tech, financial services, educational testing, and real estate operations.