The Emerging Work World in the Participation Age: Chuck Blakeman at TEDxMileHigh (Transcript)

Chuck Blakeman

Chuck Blakeman – TRANSCRIPT

A few years ago, I read a riveting blog post by a young guy who made it clear to me that a new work world is emerging. His post went something like this, “Every morning when I get to work, I park my car, leave myself in the car, and go in to work. At lunch, I always try to come back out and reunite with myself for a few minutes, before I have to leave myself in the car again and go back in to work. I do this every day, and in the evenings, I always hope I’ll get off in time to reunite with myself before I’m gone.”

What this guy identified is that he’s living at the intersection of two opposing work worlds: the industrial age, which is still strangely dominant in the front office of most companies, and the participation age, which is emerging as the new standard for how we work. It’s an awkward pass-off. For instance, in the production area, we have replaced industrialized assembly lines and smokestacks with things like nanotechnology and clean rooms. But the front office looks pretty much the same way it did 100 years ago, with managers making all the decisions.

These industrial age management practices, which recreated humans as extensions of machines, are colliding with the emerging participation age workforce that wants to make meaning at work, not just money. The hallmarks of the participation age are simple: participation and sharing. Companies are discovering that if they invite everyone to participate in the building of a great company and to share in the rewards that both the company and the people profit more.

The participation age is also creating workplaces with a soul. This isn’t woo-woo crap; these are hardcore success strategies. This isn’t a fringe idea. Those who embrace the participation age will flourish, and those who don’t will be left behind.

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So let’s imagine, what does a participation age company look like? Imagine a company with no departments, no corporate ladder, no promotions, no HR department, no written policies, and just a few written beliefs. Imagine a company with no managers, just a few leaders who lead because people are following them, not because they have a title on the door.

Imagine a company with no office hours, even in manufacturing, with self-managed work teams who own the decisions that they will have to carry out. At a company with unlimited vacation and profit sharing for everyone. Think about this: is it possible this way of business would work better for both the company and the people that work there? Is that possible? In his book, “Reinventing Organizations” Frederic Laloux said, “Imagine what organizations would be like if we stopped designing them like soulless, clunky machines?” And I would add, what would organizations achieve if we re-imagine them around the idea that everybody wants to be creative, productive, self-managed adults?

Well, the good news is we don’t have to imagine this. Participation companies are springing up all around us, in every size and in every industry. What you see here is only a few, a small partial list of companies that have either fully transitioned or are racing to embrace the participation age as fast as they can. We need to know why they want to do this.

Here’s a window into the issue. Of all the reporter’s questions, who, what, when, where, how, and why, which one of those is the most human of questions? Why? The one that an animal is least likely to ask is, “Why?” Yet what is the one question that you are forbidden to ask for 100 plus years at work? Unfortunately, “Why?” If you asked why, you were challenging authority; you were a rebel, an outcast, a misfit! These were systems designed by a few geniuses to be run by unquestioning, childlike employees, right?

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