Exactly 14 years ago I quit my job and I have never worked again.
I was in a management role. I woke up one day and realised what I was doing was a complete waste of time.
It was driving me crazy. The work didn’t produce things, anything. I shuffled paper, went to pointless meetings, managed staff who didn’t need it, wrote meaningless reports, strategies and KPIs all of which produced next to nothing.
When I veered into work that actually produced something, like writing stories, having conversations and mentoring people, I was told off. Managers didn’t do anything ‘tactical’. They did ‘strategy’. They went out for expensive lunches with key ‘stakeholders.’ Argggggghhhhhhhhh. It was all killing my soul.
My partner recalls one morning around this time when the endless meaninglessness of management got to me. I ran through the house, biffing my cellphone onto the couch, ripped off my suit jacket, pulled off my tie (I grappled with that beause the knot got tight) ripped off my white shirt popping all the buttons. I pulled off my suit pants and sat in my underwear and knotted tie on the coach, yelling.
That was it. My days as a ‘suit’ were over.
The day I quit I had no idea where my next dollar would come from. I still had a young family and a large mortgage and I was the main bread winner.
I called up a friend who was a brand and marketing expert and asked him to meet with me so I could set myself up in my own business.
We arranged to meet at a new French café in Kingsland that made wonderful galettes, a buckwheat pancake with yum fillings like my favourite ratatouille.
Unbeknownst to me, my friend had been in an altercation and was suffering a concussion. He never showed up. What was I going to do?
This café also served a wonderful dry cider in teacups, a tradition from some region of France I guess. I ordered some and a galette. They were delicious. It was a cold clear late autumn Auckland day. The sky was dark blue, and on the brick wall in the café’s courtyard, a bougainvillea was laden with dark pink flowers that looked beautiful against the sky.
So I thought, there was nothing to it, I would simply dream up my own brand and business plan.
I’d like to say I wrote the whole thing on the back of a paper napkin, but somehow I think I probably had a note book.
I jotted down a couple of sentences about what I considered I had to offer the world, and the word Spoke jumped up at me.
Spoke. It had two great meanings for me; the spoken word, and the spokes of a wheel that connects the hub to the rim.
That was what I was all about, great communication that connects.
Simple. And so Spoke was born and a 14 year journey into business began.
This journey has taken me to every corner of the world.
I have made ginormous mistakes and had enormous successes.
I have paid business coaches $1000 an hour, and I have earned $1000 an hour. I have earned nothing giving my time to not for profits sometimes for weeks, and I have earned $1 an hour.
I have sat in horror looking at bank accounts sitting on zero with no idea when any cash was coming in, and I have seen my bank balance hit $900,000, albeit briefly, not quite the $1mill.
Why I am telling you all this? Well it is part of my story, and I believe we all have stories to share, that can contribute to others, sometimes in ways that can be unexpected and unintentional. Sometimes we share something we think is useful, and it was actually something else that we talked about that struck a chord with someone.
The exercise of being visible, sharing, showing up, expressing yourself is really the trick.
What is Work?
After my 14 years ‘out of work’ what I really mean by ‘work’?
A good many of us have a very unhealthy attitude to work. We end up thinking that being busy, and ‘doing’ lots of stuff equates to value.
Working is a form of belonging, the most basic of human needs. If we are working we belong some where and to sombody or some people/family. We believe work gives us a worth.
But what is the nature of work?
Work as an employee is soul-less.
Work serving others and giving of yourself is soul-full.
At the beginning of this story I said I have not worked for 14 years. I mean working as an employee. I have come close several times in extended contracts, and then felt my soul withering as I became an employee widget in a system of useless management, and I bailed.
You see we are on the edge of perhaps the biggest revolution in work in the history of humanity.
We have created so many meaningless activities that get described as work, and earn an income. These roles are shortly going to completely disappear.
Traditional professions such as lawyers, accountants, management, and even some roles in medicine and engineering and marketing are no longer needed. We can sort most of this with an algorithm or AI.
It is people, mostly men, in these professions that have ruled the first world for the last several hundred years. But it’s over.
I’m sorry guys, we don’t need you, well at least not in these roles that you perform today.
It could get ugly for a little while. These, predominantly men, many of them middle aged and generally well meaning, much like me, will desperately cling to power and wealth that they have accumulated from these ‘old school’ ways of working, overseeing how others perform useless work.
And I believe we will need a great deal of compassion and kindness to prevail as the legions of these men struggle.
Sadly there will be enormous collateral damage for all those people that these men in power have employed in meaningless work, especially managers and professionals, and the staff that they employ to perpetuate unneeded systems.
So what do we do?
It is time to get very ordinary, and definitely not extraordinary.
The simple things, the little things will be the things that prevail.
We can reinvent community and village economies, trading, bartering and selling and buying things from one another.
We can make things, grow our own food, produce our own power, create our own entertainment.
We can be a nation and a planet of small businesses, family businesses based on community values.
A few years ago I angered an old socialist friend of mine.
I said the best thing I could teach my children was how to write an invoice.
He muttered into his beard that this was an awful capitalist idea.
The thing is, today all my children have written an invoice to charge someone for their services. It is a key to self sufficiency to understand the value you offer, and the exchange you can make for it.
The future of humanity is about building an entrepreneurial spirit in every living being, that is self expressed, conscious of their gifts that they offer the world, and in love with the idea of serving others through what they can provide, and exchanging that for a range of currencies from money, goods and services, to belonging.
The Future is Indigenous
For the new ways of working, that are really a new twist on some ancient ways of working, we can look to a neglected and marginalised part of the world, the world of indigenous people.
Indigenous people have been smashed by the first world for the last few hundred years. But today the very values, practices, and ways of working from these cultures is exactly what is missing and what is needed in the first world systems of work that are failing, and that will soon be obsolete.
Here in my homeland of Aotearoa (New Zealand) the indigenous people, Māori, and close relatives from across the islands of the South Pacific/Oceania, hold the key to the future.
For many it doesn’t look like it right now, because Māori and Pasifika have been excluded, their spirit, their wairua, their joy and their culture crushed by the systems of government and commerce. The cult of the individual and the dysfunction of honouring intellect way above body, heart and spirit has prevailed.
It has been my utmost privilege to work and be accepted to work with Māori and Pasific peoples, and learn the depth and breadth of these beautiful and exquisite cultures, a way of working, a way of loving and a way of living that offers so very much in a time bereft of love and compassion.
The craziest thing in the world is that so many people in the mainstream world cannot see it.
They misunderstand that any dysfunction they see in the Māori and Pasific world is a reflection on their own.
The systems and beliefs of Mãori run deep and hold some significant opportunities for surviving and thriving the fast changing world.
The structures of the culture are universal, and if we look at every culture on the planet back far enough in time, we all share the same beliefs around how the universe is shaped, our place in it, and how we can go about balancing body, mind and spirit.
It is these experiences, observations and insights that led me to write The Weave, The Surprising Unity in Difference.
The exercise of writing and teaching The Weave is not about me. It is not my idea, and it is not my expertise. I am the conduit for a way of thinking and being that is humanity’s oldest technology.
Weaving was the first activity that we undertook to shape and make sense of our environment and universe.
To this day, weaving as a practical activity is fundamental to the materials all around us that we take for granted that are absolute staples in the way our shaped environment supports us, from our clothing to our buildings, to the fabrics from many materials that we interact with every day.
To weave is also a powerful metaphor that we also engage with almost daily, as we talk about the ‘fabric’ of the universe, the
‘tapestry’ of life, the ‘threads’ that come together in our lives. It is the conversations, ideas, thoughts, communication and endless day to day activities and interactions. It is our now daily engagement with the World Wide Web, the most omnipresent ubiquitous and infinite weaving humans have created.
It is no wonder that the very invention of the computer came from weaving technology in the 19th century!
To weave is both the most simple of exercises and models, but also a matrix of endless complexity, that we may never full comprehend.
It is a model and a metaphor for our very existence and offers a form for navigating our lives and our worlds.
To weave is to find connection points through threads of things that can occur as disparate or isolated.
In a simple form, individual threads alone are linear. But once they are crossed they immediately start to create a greater whole, a fabric.
The trick of the twists and turns of a weave is the give and the take, that they are held in a tension of movement and moment. Dealing with difference in human beings is the same, there are times when it will be uncomfortable to intersect with someone with a different world view, in order to realise our common humanity. As Hannah Arendt said, it will take imagining another’s world, not having pity, sympathy or empathy for it, and understanding that it may always be different from your own world view.
The warp and the weft of any woven form intersect multiple times in multiple ways. In the spaces in between a picture, a pattern forms and becomes apparent.
Many cultures of the world hold sacred rituals around the practice of weaving for good reason, to honour the ‘magic’ of the creation of the woven form, and understanding that the DNA of the practice of weaving lies in ancient times, and in forms that extend with a thread into the unseen universe, acknowledging energies and connections that are often not obvious to us in a sentient and rational world view.
The interesting fact is that although the practice of weaving threads its way into metaphor and matters that are intangible, it at the same time provides very tangible materials that support us in a very practical way in daily life.
In Māori culture, the harakeke, the flax bush is most often used for weaving. It is honoured as a very important plant because it provides a material to sustain us, not to mention the use of its seeds and juices as a rongoā, a medicine.
The leaves of the flax bush are immensely strong, and are also used to create a story for sustaining planet and people. The story underpins an importance practice to honour and sustain the harakeke, and the ecosystems of environment and people it supports.
Weavers are taught that the leaves of the harakeke form a family, and that the young shoots should never be picked, and should be protected by older shoots, leaving only the most mature leaves to be harvested.
This is a metaphor for family life, where all members across generations are interconnected, and focus on protecting the young in all their interacting and intersecting worlds.
Well, I now have produced the equivalent of an essay. What is joyful for me about this, I have written this with absolute freedom; the opportunity to express myself as I choose, the time to do it, and the inclination to bother.
As I close in on the age of 60, my life delights me. I am honoured, privileged and proud to lead a life where my work is my bliss. I feel myself growing into a sense of wisdom, excited and curious as the next 20+ years unfold.
E koekoe te tui, e ketekere te kākā, e kūkū te kukupa, It Takes Every Kind of People.