When I was growing up, the map was simple. You went to school, did what you could there, and went on from high school to either the military, a job, or college. You got one job. You found someone of the opposite sex and married, bought a house, a dog, and eventually made 2.5 kids. You worked to save up enough to afford vacations, and waited for your kids to give you grandkids, and then you sat around waiting for visits until you died. All of that has changed. And companies and people need to catch up.
This post is about business, but will also talk about religion, race, gender, and more. It’s important, whether or not you’re ready. It’s what’s holding so many companies and people back.
Once Upon a Time in America
I remember reading an article in the mid-90s that stated people would go through five distinctive careers in their life in the near future. I thought that sounded crazy. Once you had a career, that was it. And work was work. Home was home.
When I was a kid, I didn’t know a single gay person in real life, and most everyone in the world of entertainment, sports, and the public eye still felt obligated or pressured to act straight. Let alone trans. That wasn’t even a thing except for Corporal Klinger and crossdressers (not the same thing, even). Men didn’t talk about their feelings. In my personal world, women worked and were just as strong and important as men, but I realize that other people didn’t always feel that way. I knew only Christians and Jews for majority of my upbringing. Buddhist and Muslim people were from somewhere else, I figured.
Racism was something I knew about, but had never really experienced, except in history books. My white privilege was such that I grew up around almost exclusively white people until age 13, and had no friends beyond my Irish, French, Scottish heritage until I was maybe 17.
The world has gotten so much bigger. And that’s beautiful. But there are some big challenges because too many companies and people are still stuck in that old world.
Maps from the Old World
What I didn’t know was that the view of the world I had been given came from a very concerted effort to keep the old American dream alive. That dream was white and Christian or Jewish and straight and simple. The options were kept to just a few choices because the world was a giant factory. Do this because it will stimulate that. All our tax laws in the US are set up to favor a man and a woman legally wedding and spawning children. This is still true for the most part. The government essentially taxes you into the lifestyle they want you to have, the one that suits the 1950s era vision of what the world should be.
Also, work used to be work. You’d go to your job, put in your time, and leave. Home was home. No one bothered you from home when you were at work, and the boss never called you at home unless it was a matter of life or death.
All of this has changed.
Most people now know and accept that love is love (amongst consenting adults). More people (not enough) now understand that racial battles and inequity exist everywhere, that the world is largely built from systems that weren’t fair and equal for everyone. Most people now know more about different religious preferences, though they’re still catching up to the detail that pretty much all religions have a bit of a disconnect between the stated intent, human interference, and what people will do and won’t do to adhere to that faith. And people are starting to understand the varied and multi-faceted world of gender expression/representation. And work and life? Smashed together like a candy truck tipped over on the highway.
But (and it’s a big but)
Most of the world’s systems, and most of business, and a lot of people’s thoughts and beliefs and values are based on maps from the old world.
New World. New Maps
Work and home are smashed together. That will never change. Men sometimes love men and women sometimes love women. There are people who identify as non-binary and it’s just not okay to assume which pronouns a person prefers as it relates to their identity. Muslims aren’t terrorists. Christians aren’t terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists. Racism is alive and well, and we all have work to do (read this book as a good start).
Our jobs will come and go. Our careers will come and go. The most corporate-minded person, who LONGS for the structure of a big company and a cubicle and specific benefits will be thrust into multiple jobs over the span of their life. There are now (and always will be) more freelancers than ever before. People will (do!) work remotely. “Butt in chair” management has been dead forever. And yet. And yet. And yet.
One big problem we all must deal with – all of us – is learning to shake off these maps from the old world. You’ll be frustrated. They won’t work. And no level of hoping, praying, complaining, or anything else will force the 1950s back into existence.
Learn how to address people without assuming their gender. Practice better interactions with people from cultural backgrounds different than yours. Accept that a person’s sexual preference has nothing to do with their work performance and isn’t a point of concern. Review all HR policies to ensure that they work for more than male-female couples with 2.5 kids and picket fenced houses.
Because once you see the territory around you as it actually is (instead of through the distortions of an old map from a different time), you’ll realize that there is so much more creativity your team can tap into. You’ll see that collaboration works a lot better when everyone involved feels seen and understood (even a little more understood and acknowledged would be a start).
You can put AI to the test of sorting out what’s important and what isn’t. You can slice databases all day long. Without a refreshed and updated perspective on the state of human relationships and interactions and choices, how do you even begin to think your internal work environment is optimal for your employees? If you’re not learning how to accept and interact with and share an understanding with the people you hope to sell and serve, how do you think they’ll care at all about your product or service?
We all want people to love what we sell, but it is only when people feel seen and understood that they feel ready to buy.
And if you’re not sure your company is nailing this, I’m here to help.