Monday, 2 January 2012

How to be successful in 2012 and beyond (II)

Pervasive belief in individualistic self-improvement, goal achievement, profligate consumption and bullshit opulence was the target of my previous post: the tongue-in-cheek rant “How to be successful in 2012 and beyond” . 

The satire was too subtle (or maybe too long) for some. For instance a friend commented on Facebook, "Hey Steve, it's not that I don't believe in what you say... but I've had one hell of a 2011, and none of it was planned. Happy New Year and very best for 2012, planned or not."

I replied, “ My (satirical) point precisely. I'd say you have had a very successful year "dancing in the moment".

The thing is that he and we all seem to have become so accustomed, so programmed to the mantra of individualistic self-improvement and goal achievement that we tend not to see or value other forms of success.

This was highlighted for me in 2011 when as business development coach I “went back on the tools” a couple or three days per week to provide some flexible trades capacity in a client’s property maintenance business while we set it up for growth.

Not surprisingly the growth strategy includes niche-focusing, differentiating, and enhancing the value of his services, so to increase the price. 

Turns out that the first task was to rebuild his concept of the value of what he does.  His belief was that his service is manual work and therefore low status, low value, competing on price.

I can understand his belief. You don’t have to look far to see that success is widely regarded as not-doing manual work. It’s indicated by graduating from manual to administrative work. The further you are removed from the manual work into administrating it the higher the financial rewards and status. High paid people don’t get their hands dirty. This is I think grotesquely apparent in the differential between shop-floor and CEO remuneration.

I set out to convince him that despite the virtualisation of many aspects of contemporary life and the reification  of financial services, administration  and “knowledge work”, people still dwell in bricks and mortar. They depend on built-in utility equipment and services that suffer wear and tear. At the same time, the skills and knowledge needed to maintain and renovate these things, or even to install them properly in the first place, are increasingly alien to most.

The value of that skill and knowledge becomes acutely apparent with hard times, natural disaster, and environmental degradation when maintenance and renovation become a favourable alternative to profligate consumption.

Another thing I discovered with working on the tools was that I quickly got fit. There’s something about sustained physical activity that can’t be achieved in a thrice weekly, intense, hour-long gym workout, no matter how hard you go.

It wasn’t only the physical health but also the mental health of directly creative activity and tangible product – such a contrast to sedentary intellectual work in a typically manipulative bureaucratic setting.

I mentioned my re-evaluation of manual work to a surgeon friend who replied that surgery is labour. This was confirmed when a paediatrician friend confirmed that surgeons have lower status in medical circles than other medical specialists because they are the plumbers, fitters, carpenters and decorators.  

To return to the opening topic: in contemporary life it seems that success has become such a narrow and distorted belief that it rules out pretty much all people and activity except being on target to become or being a Glossy-model-looking CEO in “knowledge work” living at peak-consumption. 

That has got to be sick. My successful business clients, in terms of profitability, health and contribution to society, have overcome that programming to find a much more fruitful concept of success. It’s about finding hope, joy, and peace in doing good things together: in collaborative enterprise. 

That’s practically the antithesis of individualistic self-improvement and goal achievement.