I blame Nike.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the ‘just do it’ line, and two decades of swooshes have changed us all.

All fixes are quick, now.  Throw your energy and will at a problem and you will prevail. But listening to those responsible for making real change happen, from the Board to the Bored in any organization, soon reveals that the gap between this cheerleading and everyday reality can be a very painful place.

Is it because we try to change too fast?

Do we all expect too much? Of ourselves, of others?  Or do we expect too little? Perhaps self-absorbed?

If current thinkers are all too busy winning to help us out, then maybe thinkers of the past may encourage fresh reflection.

Love him or loathe him, Sigmund Freud never disappoints.   He was 74 when he wrote “Civilisation and Its Discontents”.  And his work is relevant because any organization is a sort of ‘society’, a sort of microcosm of a civilization.

Freud explores the human experience of creating, and belonging to, a civilization or society.  Just as with an individual’s psyche, the experience is one of constant struggle. The struggle is between conflicting drives and impulses: the drive to connect and love and belong -v- the drive to pull away, and to aggression.

In creating a society, or organisation, that brings certain benefits to all, individual members suppress certain natural instincts. This brings both unhappiness and guilt (the mechanism for suppressing those natural instincts)

Oddly, this can help us. We can now think of our organisations as always dynamic- a constant forcefield pattern of forward/back or up/down or in/out.  And we can acknowledge a reality – that ‘discontent’ is a natural and intrinsic aspect of any organization, a mini- society.

For Leaders, it suggests moving from not having tried hard enough (not having ‘just done it’) to watching with care and compassion for opportunities to shift that normal, human balance of happiness and discontent wherever it humanly can be.

Organisations aren’t machines.

Swap the running shoes for some Freudian slippers.


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