by Julius WiedemannJan 19, 2021
Line of command used to be a phrase to define how organisations were structured and how work was accomplished. But that was the 20th century and behind. Technology has changed that severely. And there are many reasons for that. One is that the speed with which companies need to adapt has changed dramatically. Products are launched without being in a final version. Actually, in technology, there is no final version for any product. Millions of small decisions need to be taken by people who have more knowledge than the ones in a higher pay grade. The geeks have taken over and knowledge is now pulverised across departments. The new word is 'collaboration' and that’s the only way a company will prosper these days. Professionals need to picture all the time if they are falling behind, and need relentless energy to keep learning.
It may sound strange to read something like this when we still work in companies that are structured with hierarchy. But don’t be so surprised, because hierarchy today means something completely different. The intrapreneurial spirit in this day and age is creating a new generation of professionals who will accept working for someone else, but only under certain conditions. And they will be happy to leave any time to conquer their wildest dreams.
The other important reason is education. It is being completely transformed from a system that wanted to teach, and is moving towards a variety of systems that are more concerned that we learn. There is a big difference between both. Whereas the first one is using, most of the times, top-down strategies, the second one is more concerned with giving people tools so that they can thrive on their own merits, but with much less policing around, and embedding self-determination as a key tool for people to succeed. The titles of professions or job posts are now so diverse that it is impossible, at least for me, to connect that with an imposed education.
The achievements of younger generations will come through the understanding of where their talents are, and they will have to make sure that they have enough experiences to make their talents flourish. To be aware of this kind of structure and to make it work we will have to rely a lot on self-determination and a lot of inner conflict-resolution. The idea that more independent-minded people would suffer more in the past for not following the line of command, has now been substituted by the idea that this is exactly the people that we need to make sure are given the tools to achieve their purposes and dreams to conquer everything the way they have imagined.
The third one might be understood as a negative thing, and in my view has to do with individuality, which these days is interpreted as some sort of code of conduct if you want to be respected by others. Some will argue that it might be bringing people apart, with consequences such as people divorcing more, having less relationships, or families not eating together anymore. However, individuality is the opportunity we have for self-awareness, which in turn demands a much deeper self-determination if you want to be the mediator between the world you want, and the world outside you.
The fourth and last reason why self-determination is so important today, is that there are too many opportunities around us, and we need to be smart and think about the kind of world we want to live in. The difference between my generation, around the 40s and 50s, and my kids’ is much wider and deeper in content than the difference between my generation and the generation of my parents. Even though on one side, our parents’ generation looked very straightforward if you wanted to have a job and if you wanted to seek a path for almost-certain economic success, as we shift to more flexible business models and a more inventive economy, the insecurities are enormous, and so is the necessity to adapt and create the new every day.
All in all, self-determination is not a subject for school, but a way to look at the world so that you can work for it to be better, but you can also have the tools for it to work for you so that you are happier. The marshmallow test (worth a search on Google) developed at Stanford University in 1972 with the idea to test if people were already equipped with delayed gratification strategies from an early age, was an insight into self-determined people. Great achievements, of course, cannot rely only on delayed gratification. One can always commit mistakes even when working really hard whilst believing in an idea. But delayed gratification is an insight about the minds that can think ahead. Combined with self-determination, there is little that can be done to stop this kind of unique force.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.