Yeah, echo chamber. It’s a term I picked up at KiwiFoo to label the internal circle we surround ourselves with, the people who are like us, the people who re-affirm us. KiwiFoo: an invite only unconference event for interesting people that I attended this past weekend. A place I met Kiwis, Aussies, and Californians. I can safely say that I was way way way out of my echo chamber at KiwiFoo.
I’m still confused by the experience. It was confronting, overwhelming, not something I enjoyed; yet inspiring, challenging and rewarding. Alone in a crowd of almost 200 people. Artists, musicians, activists, politicians, scientists, engineers, soft-ware developers, I could go on. Everyone on the innovative fringes of their profession. It felt like I was on the fringe of the fringes. A collection of people with people at the heart and soul of their professions, yet few from the people professions. Conversations where humane work was critical; yet ‘human’ resources doesn’t feature. Interactions where I was uncomfortably stripped of what I stand for, yet built my confidence in the simplicity of what I do. Experiences which took away what I thought I was good at, to leave behind greater confidence.
I think I still need more time to process. Kiwifoo kicked a whole load of dust up for me and I still can’t see through it. Personally I don’t understand how any of the stuff I experienced happens all at the same time! On an intellectual level, let me try and articulate some of the things that KiwiFoo made me think about from a professional stand point.
We think that this concept of the organic workforce is relatively new when actually it’s been around a while, in academia and in the movie industry. It’s not the structure that makes the difference, it’s the underlying culture. That much I think we know. Toxic cultures are toxic, whether they are traditional organisations or in flexible and contractual arrangements. Are flexible structures more relevant now or is it that culture is? Or are they both intertwined?
We think that money is not the be all and end all, yet it’s what makes the world go around. There’s this inherent tension between money and meaning and there probably always will be. There are different ways of navigating and balancing the value of each. Those balancing points are where disruption will happen in organisational culture. But where does the balance become tipped in favour of one over the other?
We think that organisational design is about structure, and yet it’s all about people. Connecting over a common purpose, leadership role modelling behaviours, values, ethics. It’s about relationships, not rules. I think we know this too. In trying to simplify it into something we can understand we remove what makes it truly work. So how can we approach this?
We think that human related practices in organisations are the domain of human resources. But they’re not. People within organisations are taking charge and creating the businesses they want to work for, that are highly productive, making a positive impact on the world and they’re telling their friends about it. HR is not part of this conversation. I wrote a blog a while back about how HR won’t change the world of work. I’m starting to believe the title of that post. So what role do those who are passionate about these things, and not traditional HR, have?
I’d like to go back next year to try again. Because I think outside the echo chamber is the best place to find your voice… or get confused about what you think you know about the world.