ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

February 1999

Doctoring The Health Care Industry

A Toast To The Future

Business, The Final Frontier

Formula For Success: Balance Technology And People

Y2K Calling

by Peter Block

Have You Hugged Your Goalie Today?
by Bryan McGraw

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Sites Unseen

Book Review


Y2K Calling
by Peter Block

According to most reliable reports, the millennium is due in about 10 months. There is some technical controversy whether we are headed for 1900 or 2000, but as long as it is a new millennium, why get picky about what name we give it. At least there is some agreement about the date. In the 16th century we couldn't agree on the number of days in a year. Finally, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed that Thursday, October 4 would be followed by Friday, October 15. We lost 11 days for the sake of common calendar. I miss them.

The millennium holds our attention because it carries with it the possibility of something changing, something awakening. We don't know whether it will be the dawn of Aquarius or the beginning of a long night, but whichever appeals to us, it will be the change in our own experience of our life that will give it meaning.

If there is a wish for our own transformation, then it will need to come with a change in our language, the questions we ask and the words we use to answer.

An unholy marriage
The 20th century questions have come from the marriage of the engineer and the economist. Inheriting the age of reason, it has been a time we have loved answers and been impatient with questions. The engineer wants to know how to make things work—how to be more productive, more efficient, how to increase speed, reduce transaction time. Engineers care about what things cost, there is even a job title, “cost engineer.”

Out of these questions has come the language of installation, of measurement and accurate gauging. We have valued performance, labor saving devices and have gotten excited about traveling, shopping and finding a partner electronically.

The economist asks questions about how to sustain financial growth, the value and stability of money, the beauty of a free market, especially one we can manipulate. They want to know how to make more, save more, spend more. The market has become our cathedral and on most days is the lead story. Christmas was measured by retail sales, winter is detailed in the price of a barrel of oil. The language of economics is about barter, negotiation, incentives, return on investment and self interest. The economist and the engineer seem a happy couple.

If the millennium is a turning point, it will have to put these two archetypes on a back burner. The questions will become more important and we will become impatient with answers that once pleased us. The questions will have to change and the answers will be of a different nature. The engineer and the economist will have to yield to the philosopher and artist. A new couple, held in low esteem in this culture.

A quote from philosopher Jack Lindsay, “The purpose of thought is not to solve the riddle of the universe, but to create it. The function of philosophy is not to systemize thought, but to create philosophers.”
The question of how we are doing will not be about success but will be about purpose. The urgent question will be about discovering our calling, what we were placed here to become. Terms like fate and destiny will come back into our conversation.

Installation, measurement and gauging will be replaced by the language of surrender, of invitation, of acceptance and refusal. We will replace discussions of whether something worked with discussions of whether something was worth doing.

This change in language will have to take place in the workplace. Our organizations set the style for us now. In this century they have replaced the church and government as institutions that shape our way of life. Therefore our organizations will be part of this shift in focus. They, with us, will take seriously that they are more than economic entities and are powerful players in the future of democracy, community, revolution and resolution of suffering and well-being.
If we want to change these cultures, we will have to change their language. Here is the first installment. We are going to have to start practicing now if we are going to be ready for the big day.

We will talk about personal calling rather than institutional vision. Calling means our purpose will find us. We are called to our purpose, we don't design it or make it up. Our choice is how we listen for the call and when we answer it. I asked a Catholic sister about her calling and she said it comes from a place that you do not understand. It makes demands such that if you knew what they were in the beginning, you never would have said yes, and it takes you to places that you never thought you would go. And she is not about to change her mind.
Those who know about calling say it comes from inner work and speaks through art, poetry, day and night dreams, glimpses that we can hold only for an instant. It does not come from logic, reason, or willfulness. Nor from visioningworkshops.

Change will come more from invitation than mandate and direction. An invitation is an offer you can refuse. It is based on volunteer actions. People coming together by their own choice with no incentive other than what the task itself provides. Strategies of invitation are indifferent to numbers and size, they are more concerned with the choice to show up. Invitational change is based on the promises we make to ourselves, and signal the end of our fascination with influence strategies.

We will have to reclaim our right to say no. There is the concept that consciousness begins with an act of disobedience. In some ways our identity comes from what we have said no to. What can our "yes” mean if we cannot say no. In high control settings our only power may come from an act of refusal. So we need to value the refusal. Let a no answer be the beginning of a conversation instead of an act of terrorism.

Also, saying no is a commitment. A stance that may be hard to defend. Perhaps we should be asked to pay a price for our refusal. If we pay for it, we know it has value for us. The elegance of saying no is that we turn from what others have in mind for us and begin to confront ourselves with what we are able to say yes to. If you believe in a calling, then after the refusal, we will discover how to say yes to ourselves.

There are other words to learn at another time. They are Engagement, Apology, Consent, Faith, Justice, Redemption, Volunteerism and Surrender.

If you think I have lost it, you are right. Someone recently summarized a presentation I made as an invitation to a Tupperware party. At first I felt slightly wounded, but then I thought maybe she was right. What's the problem? Using kitchenware as an excuse to come together. Is it better to come together for the bottom line? Could we imagine moving from the conference room to the kitchen. Maybe this is the beginning of my Tupperware phase. We could even think in terms of Tupperware Strategies for Continuous Improvement. I can see a product emerging. After all, this century isn't over yet.

February '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
  • Print this page
  • Save this page

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this item

View comments
Add comments
Comments FAQ

ASQ News