The Hero is You

The very first words in our book Humanize are from the character Morpheus, in the movie The Matrix:

Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.

In the movie, the irony to which he refers is the fact that the machines now control and exploit humans in order to get their energy. And in our book we are making a similar point–that our current machine-based approach to organizations is actually preventing our human potential.

Matrix quotes are sprinkled throughout the book. Maddie and I each loved the Matrix movies long before we started work on the book, and there is an obvious connection with the whole “man versus machine” theme, but the connection actually runs deeper than that. The Matrix is a very classic story, despite it’s futuristic, science-fiction backdrop. It’s the classic hero myth. It’s the story of the reluctant hero (Neo, in this case), who is unsatisfied with the status quo but not confident at all that he can do anything to change it. He feels forced to set off on a strange and scary journey only to discover, eventually, that from the start he possessed the power he needed to transform the situation and wake us all up, helping us to become who we were destined to become. Luke Skywalker’s story is basically the same, as was Dorothy’s in her trip to and from Oz, and countless others. The story is deeply…well…human.

In Humanize, we are telling a very similar story, but I want to be very clear about something: Maddie and I are not the heroes in this story.

You are.

You the CEO. You the middle manager. You the line employee. You the volunteer. You the consultant, even. All of you are heroes who are currently struggling in organizations that manage to survive year after year despite unacceptable levels of frustration, apathy, inefficiency, and confusion. You are perhaps reluctant heroes, like Neo (or Luke, or Dorothy…). You know deep down that we don’t have this whole “management” thing down right, but you aren’t sure exactly what needs to change, nor are you sure you have the power to effect the change that’s needed.

It’s not from lack of trying, though. You read a lot of books and blogs, all suggesting the latest and greatest way to lead successful organizations. Some are quite helpful. Others, not so much. You implement the helpful ideas, and performance may get marginally better. But even as some things improve, you can’t shake the feeling that we’re missing something. Something big. The marginal improvements seem even more marginal these days. The disruptions are becoming more powerful and more frequent. Despite all of our great ideas and best practices, we’re not making the progress that we should be making. So what do you do?

You have to leave.

I don’t mean leave your job or your organization. I mean you have to leave on a journey. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to find the answer in Kansas, or your uncle’s farm on Tattoine, or inside the Matrix. You need to take the red pill and move into a new (perhaps scary) place in order to find the answers that will really work.

In short, you need to start humanizing your organization.

You are the hero. You can start changing your organization’s behaviors and processes and even its culture by embracing more human principles and challenging the machine-focused thinking of the past fifty years. You can do it. Create more transparency internally. Empower others on your team to make decisions. Collaborate with new and different people in your strategic conversations. Change how knowledge is shared internally. The revolution won’t happen overnight, but it will never happen if you stay stuck in the old model. Start this journey today. Start doing management differently.

Granted, if you’re a middle manager, your journey will look different than it will for the CEO or the line employee, but no matter, because you’re all heroes, and you all have work to do in this story. You’ll be tested along the way. It’s not going to feel like the old ways. The rules will be different, and your confidence may be shaken at times. Not all your decisions will pan out. But the more you start to unlock the power and potential of a more human organization, the easier it will become.

To help you, Maddie and I wrote Humanize. It is our gift to you, to guide you on your journey. It’s not an instruction manual. Heroes are never given instruction manuals. It’s not a roadmap. Heroes are often given maps, actually, but you know as well as we do that at some point they have to give up those maps in order to get where they’re going.

Humanize is more of a code. It’s a particular set of ideas and language that will be useful to you as you unlock new potential in your organizations. It doesn’t give you all the answers, but it helps you focus on the right questions, and it recounts the stories of the pioneering heroes, both past and present, who are already doing the work and creating human organizations. You are not the first heroes to go on this journey. But you now have the code book that has been forged on the trail blazed by the pioneers.

At the heart of this code are four core elements that will guide you in your heroic journey:

  • Open
  • Trustworthy
  • Generative
  • Courageous.

Those are the four basic human principles that need to be developed in our organizations. Human organizations are open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous. There’s a lot to each element, of course (they each get a chapter in the book). They each have implications for organizational culture, process, and behavior, so our full “trellis” actually has twelve areas that will need your attention. But as Maddie and I like to say, “whatever you do, do something!” Our intention in giving this gift to you, dear heroes, is to remove the excuse of “but I don’t know what to do.” You do know what to do. At the end of The Matrix, after our hero Neo has discovered his power and vanquished the enemy (at least initially), he announces this to the machines:

I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.

That’s how we start our concluding chapter in the book. Perhaps we should have called it a “Commencement” rather than a conclusion, as they do when you finish school. It is not the end. It is the time when things commence, or begin.

Now is the time to begin. The social media revolution has opened a door for us, giving us the core principles to guide us, and in some instances the actual tools we can use to transform our organizations and unlock their potential. Use our book to bring about that change. Fulfill your destiny as heroes and shake us all free of the grip of tradition and machine-thinking that is holding us back. At the end of this journey there are riches to be had. The pioneering heroes in the human organizations today can speak to that. And not just increased profits or better service delivery, but more innovation, problem solving, agility, and engagement.

So start down the path, and Maddie and I will be with you every step of the way. But the time to start down the path is now.

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