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17 May

Big questions on culture and values, purpose and meaning

By Roger Steare, The Corporate Philosopher.

As a philosopher, the purpose of my work is to help us all think deeply about the questions we need to ask and answer. In terms of what it means to be human there are four big questions that help us find some answers. However, for many of us, the answers to these questions differ in our working lives, compared with our personal lives, with family, friends and neighbours.

Purpose and Meaning

So let’s start with our first big question: Why do we exist? Or to put it another way, what’s our purpose in life?

For many people, the insight that has the deepest meaning is that from the moment we are born as fragile infants, we only survive and prosper because of the love and care of other people.

And when does this stop?

Many people say, never.

And what about work? Why do we do it? What’s our purpose in work? Does our work have meaning for us and for others? Does our life’s work serve our life’s purpose? Is our work to serve others or to self-serve? Can our work ever have true meaning unless it is to serve others?

Values

Our next big question might be: What are the values that we believe in?

If love, fairness and wisdom define our humanity, are these the same values that we believe in and practice at work?

What about culture at work? If agriculture is the growing medium for the food we need to eat, is our workplace culture a medium to help us all to grow and prosper?

Does our workplace feel like the liberal, social democracy we might experience in Britain, or is it more like the Stalinism of North Korea, where a ruling elite impose a command-and-control, fear-driven culture in which power is abused and the outcomes are social and economic misery for the vast majority?

And if this analogy resonates, why are we complicit in this ethos? Why do we comply with the diktats of a command economy where the achievement of the ego-driven targets of a self-serving elite can so easily absolve us of personal responsibility for selling a lie, cooking the books, or to manufacture products that poison, injure or kill?

Decision-Making

Our third big question might be: How do we think and make decisions?

Are we encouraged to think using heart, head and gut or are simply told to comply like robots, or else…?

In the latter case, is that nightmare scenario a true reflection of our lives at work? Where is the good in ourselves and the people we work with? Do we dare to fail? Is it not human to be fallible, to make honest mistakes and to learn from them?

Human Future of Work

Finally, we might challenge the big question that defines this project: IS the future of work human?

For many people it already is.

But what do we mean by work?

Over 40% of economic activity is in fact unpaid and unpriced — and the type of work this entails is arguably the most important work we do — things such as caring for each other as family members, friends and neighbours. Is this not work too?

And what happens if we are now seeing our global financial crisis as the beginning of the end of money? How then we will define our humanity and our labour?

As a work-stream leader, I have been asked to sum up our work in one word.

The word that came straight into my mind was “Love”.

Without love, can there be life?

Without love, can there be any work that sustains life?

Without love, how will we find the courage to change? Courage doesn’t come from a spreadsheet, it comes from our core, our heart. Courage comes from love.

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I’d like to conclude with two final questions.

So what? Now what?

So what does all this mean and what are we all going to do about it when we’ve stopped talking about it?

To quote the Dalai Lama:

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

One thought on “Big questions on culture and values, purpose and meaning

  1. Profile photo of Laura Harrison

    Great blog post, the nightmare scenario you describe in question 3 makes me wonder whether the “no heart, no head, no guts” robot future is the beginning of human de-evolution?
    Or whether we bounce backwards and forwards between our evolved selves – who love and care for others – and our other, less evolved selves – who transform at the threshold of the office into self-interested, manipulative individualists?
    As to the final question, “what are we going to do?” a part of this has to be in our language. So let’s use words like love and compassion boldly. And let’s reclaim or humanise our business language. People are people, not assets. “Letting people go” means imposing a potential life shattering event. “Enabling” people through technologies often means increasing the monotony and stress of their work. That kind of honesty would be some kind of a start.

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