“Frankenwork:” Confusing People and Machines

January 1, 2002

In this issue:

Editorial: “Frankenwork:” Confusing People and Machines, by John Renesch
Newsbrief: Public Radio International Airs Series on Spirit at Work
Newsbrief: Welch and Kelleher Swap Laughs on CNBC
Next Month: Hijacking a Vision: How to Sabotage a Great Idea

Question of the Month: Why aren’t there more open conversations with diverse viewpoints about what has been going on in the world since September 11?
For a free copy of a new article by John – “A Time for Dialogue about Things That Really Matter”


Why do we work? Is it simply to earn a living? Is it so we can sell enough of our time so we can pay for all the things we’ve purchased – things that we thought we needed? Are we locked into an addiction that includes workaholism and compulsive consumerism – two sides of the same coin? Why do we spend so much of our time engaged in dysfunctional systems that rob us of our humanity? What kind of work systems do we perpetuate that stress us to death and suck the life from us?

Sally Helgesen, author of The Female Advantage and Thriving in 24/7 (never mind the title; it is a great book), calls the kind of work we do “Frankenwork” – following the lead of Europeans who coined the term for bio-engineered food products as “Frankenfood.” She writes, “every aspect of our lives is now governed by measures that operate at a speed fundamentally out of sync with human nature. Cut free from the old cyclical rhythms that have always been part of the human experience, we recognize that something essential has been lost, although we cannot precisely name it. So we simply observe, ‘no one has any time anymore,’ and lament our feeling of always being rushed.”

Helgesen writes, “We are uneasy because the world we have made for ourselves does not reflect the breadth and depth of who we are. It is not simply that time is getting away from us, or that work intrudes on our leisure. We have forfeited ways of being that are fundamental to us as humans. We have undermined the relationship with time that provided our basic link to nature.”

In many ways, we have created work environments for machines – not for human beings. Have you noticed our propensity for applying mechanical solutions to human problems, like installing gates to prevent thefts rather than deal with the human issue of crime? Or how we use “smart bombs” to destroy people instead of solving the underlying causes of war? We continue to treat each other like we’re machines despite the evidence that it doesn’t work. We have created a very complex set of problems which cannot be resolved with the same thinking that created them, as Einstein warned us about more than a half-century ago.

We are not victims of some giant conspiracy. We need to stop pointing fingers of blame at our political leaders, or the business community, or the media – all the familiar scapegoats we normally refer to as “them.” We need to acknowledge that we did indeed “undermine” this relationship with time, as Helgesen points out. We are part of this runaway system and we have empowered it by giving it our agreement and allowing ourselves to be enticed by it, to take consolations from it, to be seduced by all the trappings it offers.

But it is easier to point fingers at “them” and pretend that we had nothing to do with creating our lifetsyles. And, as long as we blame others we can maintain the illusion that we are not at fault, that we have no responsibility for these conditions.

But a higher part of ourselves knows that this is not the case. It knows that we are betraying our humanity and it is beckoning us to return to it. We have been in denial about this core betrayal of who we really are and, like a recovering alcoholic who needs to admit his or her powerlessness in order to achieve sobriety, we need to admit our own role in perpetuating this addictive system and allow this higher part of ourselves to bring us back to our humanity.

We can re-marry our work and our humanity by taking part in a dialogue that tells it like it is. This dialogue can be with each other or with that higher part of ourselves.

People give enormous legitimacy to the systems that so often seem to have power over them. I find it fascinating how societies empower the very systems that exploit them, mostly without any conscious awareness that they are doing so. Ironically, a few hundred years ago, people just assumed that royalty was supposed to have riches and rule the land. It became known as the “Divine Right of Kings.” This system remained in place until the people realized that nothing was keeping the royals in power over them except for their giving legitimacy to this idea. Their own thinking was what was keeping them suppressed. Once this was realized, democracy was born.

Legitimacy is given by consensus and it can be removed the same way. Unexplained miracles can occur when this happens. Most of us can remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. Certainly one factor was that – seemingly overnight – the legitimacy for the wall’s existence disappeared in people’s minds – West Berliners tearing it down while East German soldiers guarding the wall watched in silent agreement. Governments tumble when people cease giving their personal power away and stop pretending that the system has power over them.

Giving assent, refusing to dissent, and conforming to political correctness are all ways of being complicit in maintaining legitimacy for any system. And when people give away their power, they often feel powerless and can easily be manipulated. This hardly feeds one’s soul or gives one reason for becoming passionately engaged in life or work.

Life-affirming work that marries business with our full humanity can come about through dialogue which includes truth-telling, direct confrontation of issues, and taking full responsibility for our own conditions. Only then can we reconnect with our full humanity and make our work a true expression of who we are.



Public Radio International Airs Series on Spirit at Work

Public Radio International’s Marketplace broadcast a series of three daily segments the week before Christmas called “Faith and Fortune,” hosted by Judy Martin and aired as part of the program’s Morning Report. Each segment was about three minutes long and you can hear each of them on Real Audio online at Marketplace’s homepage.

Welch and Kelleher Swap Laughs on CNBC

G.E.’s Jack Welch and Southwest Airlines’ Chairman Herb Kelleher traded wits on CNBC’s business show in mid-December; Welch has been on the airwaves much more recently with his new book out and he’s been freed up since his announced retirement for the giant corporation; Kelleher, who boasted of Southwest’s “spiritual core” some years ago, was on his way to retirement from the most profitable airline in the world when the events of 9-11 called him back into service.

About John Renesch

Better Future NEWS is prepared monthly by John Renesch, a San Francisco writer, futurist, and consultant/executive coach. John served as Editor-in-Chief of The New Leaders business newsletter from 1990 to 1997 and has created a dozen business anthologies on progressive business subjects, including consciousness, intuition and leadership. These books include New Traditions in Business, Learning Organizations and The New Bottom Line. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing.

John is also an international keynote SPEAKER, having addressed audiences in Tokyo, Seoul, London, Brussels, Budapest as well as many cities throughout the U.S. For a list of all the SERVICES John offers, go to Services.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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