Listen, there’s no easy way to say this but… you are not going to change the world if you are not in the business of changing the world.
Gandhi wasn’t encouraging you to streamline your organisation’s selling process when he said you should “be the change you wish to see in the world”. He wasn’t. Honest. He wasn’t encouraging you to pursue a purchasing programme aimed at increasing data centre ownership, or to think about the benefits of being a carrier that owns its own network. I promise.
I’ve been struggling with understanding why the #motivationmonday and #wednesdaywisdom brigade love a sweeping, inspirational quote from a significant figure in world history. Quotes that were never meant for them, that were never about them. Recently I feel like I’ve cracked it. People use these quotes as a way of reframing their work as more important and more significant and more worthy than it is.
They’re just using them to make themselves feel better.
That results in some pretty grotesque misappropriations of some pretty important words. It’s not a matter of holding certain things sacred – God knows that ship sailed long ago for me – I just feel like people should have some self-awareness, and a sense of accountability and the true value of their work.
Sticking an Abraham Lincoln quote about changing society for the better at the top of your article about broadband might help you reframe your role, but it’s just not an honest representation of what you do. TED talks, conference keynotes and leadership blogs have a lot to answer for. We’re all brought up through the ranks being told we’re the game-changers, the change-makers, the heroes who will reach a little higher and leave the world a better place than we found it. But are we all astronauts, particle physicists or cancer researchers? Are we f*ck.
Look, we have our own roles to play. We make people’s lives a little easier, or help people to be better at their jobs, or give people the goods or services they need to help keep the cogs turning.
A lot of us are really, really good at our jobs. But wanting to push harder and reach further and be better doesn’t make us latter-day Gandhis. Stop talking like you’re John Lennon, imagining some gleaming, beautiful future that you’re somehow going to bring about by flogging more server space.
It’s OK to just be great at what you do. It’s OK if what you do isn’t going to change the world or bring about some great social change, end world hunger or bring peace to the Middle East. Just don’t act as if it will. It’s a disingenuous, unproductive and boring way of talking about business that no one benefits from.
Listen, if you want to bin off your day job, hook up with Medecin San Frontiers and administer vaccinations from a corrugated iron shack in rural Darfur, then all power to you. Really and truly, I am endlessly in awe of people on the frontlines trying to improve people’s lives.
If you’re a procurement chief for Tesco, working from your office in Welwyn Garden City, and your day largely consists of telling your team they need to save a penny a kilo on instant custard powder, then face the fact that Gandhi wasn’t talking to you. You might be a great guy doing an amazing job, but you are not a game-changer, you are a game-player.
And that’s fine. That’s all most of us are. Just don’t kid yourself.
– Tom @WSL