The Future of Work takes into account that you are an individual made of cells, microbes, and possibly other stuff scientists haven’t discovered yet. You work on your schedule and, if your job permits, from where you want. So naturally, the concept of having a work alter ego separate from your “personal” one doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. Even if you don’t follow that logic, but subscribe to the hypothesis that you will do your best work when you can be yourself, then this idea requires little explanation.
Donnie writes about how inauthenticity at Google made him want to take a cold shower when coming home from work:
A not-infrequent occurrence at Google was the inbox notification that someone in the organization had a birthday or “googleversary.” The few seconds between the initial email and the inevitable wave of ‘reply-alls’ were moments of confusion to someone unaccustomed to corporate behavior. The minutes and hours following would be 30+ emails of Googlers replying-all with creative responses such as Happy Birthday!” or “Congrats!” Then, people would turn to each other and groan about getting all these replies and how the threads were clogging up their inboxes. Of course, just moments ago, these same colleagues had replied-all to the email thread with a gif and a cloying number of exclamation points. More rambling about the importance of getting to “Inbox Zero” would occur. Those who did achieve a few minutes with zero emails would celebrate as if they had successfully defended a dissertation in theoretical physics.
I asked my mentor why adult humans, at Google no less, would behave in such a silly, contradictory way. He responded, “Just play the game, man. I know it’s ridiculous, but just play the game.” This is when the shell of Google began to crack and my distaste of corporatism started to emerge.
One day, I received an email notifying me that a coworker, who happened to sit behind me, was celebrating a birthday. This coworker and I were friendly, so I wanted to give the appropriate, genuine, human response. Instead of succumbing to the Gmail notification, I walked over to his desk, put a hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, “Happy Birthday, man.” He responded, “Thanks, man.” I went back to my seat.
Later that day, my mentor approached me. “Hey I noticed you didn’t wish ‘Alex’ a Happy Birthday. We talked about this.” I responded, “Actually, I did. I went over to his desk and said it in person.” My mentor responded, “It doesn’t count if you say it in person!”
Reading this, the story might seem a bit too ‘on the nose.’ Unfortunately, however, I assure you it happened. Corporate culture created an environment where my birthday wishes were not considered genuine unless they were included in a digital storm of reply-alls in an effort to seem “Googley.” The human-to-human version was considered invalid, even detrimental, in the face of a forced, digital, corporate culture.
We believe that if you spend your work hours keeping tabs on responses to Happy Birthday emails, you are part of a sociopathic culture that prohibits you from being yourself. You will never do your best work.
If Be Yourself is a dig at “legacy” companies, Be Pragmatic is a dig at companies and individuals who live in La-la land. Look, we’re big fans of rallying the troops to accomplish a goal inside a reality distortion field. But we’d never push that reality distortion field onto broader society. We live in the world as it is, with the goal of making the world as it should be. Yes, we know, broad statement. But if we’re gonna succeed as a business and create dedicated employees and loyal customers, we need to have one foot firmly planted on Earth.
We’ve met Future of Work type individuals who, for all their quirks and charms, will never win hearts and minds. They don’t live in the world as it currently exists and, at best, will alienate large swaths of society. However, we believe we can slowly convert large swaths of society away from the dark side. We just need to start by acknowledging the way the world currently operates. We can Be Ourselves and Be Pragmatic.
An important note: Members of the Sobol team hold a variety of political, social, and cultural views. We are not a group of homogenous thinkers. (A nerdy example: Our iOS vs. Android discussions get heated to the point where some of us need to step away from our computers). Yet, we all share similar viewpoints about the future of work and how our roles shape the mission and goals of the broader team. As such, we do not believe the “Future of Work” is limited to a niche sub-section of society.