Symptoms of split are things like when the old-timers, the people who were there from the founding, from the beginning start saying things like, “It’s not like it used to be. It doesn’t feel the same anymore.” They can’t quite put it into words, but they know it’s not the same. Even though the organization might be more successful than it ever was in the past, it’s just not the same.
Other symptoms are when the organization starts focusing more on what the competition is doing and worrying less about what they are doing. When they start asking outsiders, “Who should we be, how should we talk to you?” At the beginning they never asked anybody, they ran on their own passion, on their own energy. This is what happened in such organizations like Apple.
In 1985, Steve Jobs left Apple and the company went like this, and Steve Jobs came back.
And Howard Schultz left Starbucks, and Howard Schultz had to come back.
And Michael Dell left Dell and Dell had to come back.
Now whether they’re clear on their own whys now or not is yet to be seen. But the point is that these founders, these visionary guys physically embodied the reason, the cause around which people showed up in the first place and it reminds them why they come to work.
Now, my fear is that one of my favorite organizations, an organization that I love may be going through a split. United States of America. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
It’s important to study America, because like a lot of things that happen in America, everything there is exaggerated. So we can learn a lot for them and hopefully learn things that we can apply to ourselves.
Something started to happen in 1947 that embodies this idea here. My grandparents’ generation was called the greatest generation, that’s what we called them, the greatest generation. Because here was a generation that went off to war to fight this great evil and everybody was united and unified in some sense of common cause and purpose and belief and trust was at an all time high.
Even those who didn’t go off to war they were back and they were buying war bonds and everybody was one. And there were stories of young men who would commit suicide, they’d shoot themselves when they didn’t get called to action. We call them the greatest generation.
What do I get? I’m GenX, the unknown variable. They get the greatest generation, I get X. My parents are called the ‘boomers’. Why? Because their parents were ‘doing it’ when they came back from war. They get the greatest generation. This sense of purpose, this sense of cause, this sense of why.
But then they came back from war and most of them had grown up during the Depression and they wanted now to experience life a bit, they wanted to buy some stuff and sort of care about themselves a little more. They had been giving so much their entire lives. And so the 1950’s came.
And the 1950’s were defined by responsibility. Going out there and giving the same kind of loyalty to your company as you gave to your country or to the cause. And we know what the fifties were like. Everybody gave and you devoted your life to the company. The problem is, as we started to become more affluent and the wealth of the country started to grow, that sense of purpose and that sense of cause and that sense of fulfillment and that sense of trust and that sense of happiness didn’t grow with it. And this is bad. This is confusing.
And so, the 1960’s we responded to it. And we thought, “Well, this responsibility thing didn’t work, so let’s try irresponsibility.”
Then the hippie movement was born, right? And the reason that the whole hippie movement could exist in the first place is because the country was wealthier, so we could afford for people to drop off the grid and our parents were wealthier, they were more affluent. So they could pay for us to do it.
But we didn’t get that sense of fulfillment. So the pendulum swung again.
And then we had the 1970’s, the ME-generation, defined about looking after your own happiness. And everybody had to have a guru, and started to become very, very selfish. That didn’t really work either.
And again the whole time we were becoming more affluent and more affluent and yet that sense of fulfillment and happiness and trust is not growing with it.
And then the 1980’s. Still that sense of me, but now business was cool again. And in the 1980’s we started to see something that had never been seen before.
In the 1980’s we started to see companies using people to balance the books. This has never happened before, where they would use lay-offs to make the numbers work. People to make numbers work.
And then the 1990’s came about and dotcom, about the most selfish behavior you could find. Everyone wanted to get rich regardless of anything else. And again, the split continues.
The only thing that happens, the only thing that really grows in organizations or societies where they go through a split is that the distrust increases. We become distrustful of each other inside our own organizations, we become distrustful of management, we become distrustful of our politicians. And now we find ourselves here today wondering what’s going to do next. How are we going to find the sense of fulfillment, technology is no help.