One of the many threads that led to my interest in culture was the book Something Happened by Joseph L. Heller of Catch 22 fame. In his book, Heller chronicles the inner life of Bob Slocum, a corporate middleman acutely conscious of company politics and power.
Like your average corporate employee, Bob Slocum struggles with what to say and what not to say in a meeting. He tries to interpret comments and glances in a hallway. He is uncertain about where he stands in the eyes of those above him. He does not say what he thinks. The contrast between his thoughts and actions, his feeling and words is jarring. What is real and unreal, true or false, rapidly blurs.
This describes my own experiences in my 20s, first as an employee, and later as a supervisor and manager in several companies. Later I thought, “If Slocum experiences corporate life like I do, perhaps others do also. Why don’t we talk about this at work?”
Dividing Thought and Action
We each adopt to the world of work. If we don’t we are ejected. I learned, as most of us do, that at work we discuss the abstractions, the ‘quantitative’ details of production — the numbers. In business meetings we rarely discuss the hard data of our immediate concrete experiences of work. We do not put these personal facts on the table. We sit in meetings thinking constantly, saying little. If we do talk about our feelings, it is at lunch, at the water cooler, in the restroom, after the meeting, or to our spouse in the evening, or to our friends at social gatherings.
Joining Thought and Action
Companies with well-developed cultures build relationships and trust that allow people to say what they are thinking, to be what they long to be, to hold together thought and action, to bring more of themselves to work. These companies are highly energetic and creative, a pleasure to work in, very productive, and exceptionally profitable.
cc 133 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.