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Unreal

Even if life in Munich slowly returns to normality it still feels unreal. I don’t think that the meme of the new normality is going to survive once going to beer gardens, attending schools and commuting to offices will be fully possible again. Anyway, the word of New Work is still spreading. I was asking myself what motivates people to do a good job? The number of answers probably exceeds the amount of working people. Money can cover basic needs, such as food and shelter. I consider salary, honour, and the promise of liberty external motivators, because they somehow come from the outside. Internal motivators for being engaged could be a sense of worthiness, belonging and connectedness with others. The want to be loved and esteemed is rooted in the inner world of thoughts and emotions.

Leaders can motivate people to do their jobs, improve their practical skills and strive for perfection. Motivating them to work on their emotional intelligence is a bigger challenge. Employees may ask themselves why their emotions should be an issue at all. After all, they are paid for delivering results, and long as they do what their bosses ask them to do they should be left alone. Thoughts and emotions are private, and for some people the blurring lines between work and personal lives only creates additional stress, as I tried to explain in my previous Unreal posting. People might also ask themselves why they should work on soft skills before their leaders have done their homework. From a financial perspective a simple reason for investing into our working culture is that a purpose driven company performs better. Empathy, emotional intelligence, empowerment, resilience, all this is good for a company’s financial well-being. To quote Peter DruckerCulture eats strategy for breakfast.

When you meditate you notice that it feels good to think of nothing. You might take this as a confirmation that listening to your internal motivators would be sufficient to lead a good life. The philosopher Alain de Botton said in a recent interview that now of all times many of us realise that many things are unnecessary for our lives. Our consumption habits rest upon our wish to be respected, to be liked, admired, esteemed and accepted by strangers. I must confess that’s true. I am counting the ‘likes’ on my blog posts and the thumbs up when I cruise along in a vintage car. In The School of Life – An Emotional Education Alain de Botton wrote: In the ideal future for consumer capitalism, our materialism would be redefined, our work would be rendered more meaningful and our profits more honourable. He indicates that we should form cohesive, interesting and benevolent communities. I would like to support the goal of redefining materialism, but we need to be careful not to eliminate joy and beauty alongside the journey. It’s not an end by itself, but in my opinion I should be allowed to collect the smiles, likes and thumbs ups, as long as my consumption habits don’t harm our planet. Quoting my colleague Yevgen BorodkinThe measure of your success is the amount of inner peace it brings. Stick to it. To justify my personal habits and keep a quiet conscience I might need an app to track my personal carbon footprint, including the fossil fuel I am burning every now and then. Is there anybody out there working on this app? Perhaps one of my colleagues?

I watched the movie ‘The Square’ by Ruben Östlund on TV. It’s about the The bad conscience of the cultural elite (A.O. Scott), and it left me with an uncomfortable feeling, because I noticed that I am part of a cultural elite, as well – with the difference that the digital world has different sponsors than the art world. One reason for my guilty conscience may be that I think that the digital world hasn’t done enough for society. Granted, there are numerous contributions – just think of Leonardo Chiariglione‘s MPEG standards. Quite possibly without his life’s work the free flow of audiovisual communication could have been prevented by a few powerful media monopolies. But when I read that still 258 Million children worldwide are out of school, and educational inequality is still growing (see here), I have some doubts that the digital revolution had a positive impact on the real world.

The Square contains an art piece, which is described in the artist’s statement: The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations. It turns out that it is impossible to curate such an exhibition, because the exhibits seem to come from another reality, which is just incompatible with the art scene. The statement reminds me of John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of Independence, which was well known to the digital avant-garde back in the days: We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice… where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity. The digital world has become mainstream, and some of its pioneers are powerful leaders now. I don’t think that all everything we produced so far is incompatible with reality. But not for everything the world has been waiting for. Digital Transformation is killing jobs because it reduces superfluous work. At the same time Digital Transformation is creating new jobs – at least that’s the promise. As digital leaders we have a social responsibility to create good work for humans, not just for computers. To be able to do this we require more than a basic understanding of human nature.

The Square also portrays the prejudices that exist between people living in different realities. The other side is deemed to be dangerous, arrogant or stupid. Waiting for the appointment with my son’s kindergarten manager I became aware once again how much I had been living in my own bubble. When I entered her office I was surprised that the manager knew my name. And I breathed a sigh of relief when she told me that my son would return to his pre-school class, soon. In normal times I didn’t mingle with normal people. Not because of my snobbishness or the social difference, probably due to my tightly packed schedule. Digital jobs and social jobs don’t blend very much, even if they rely on each other. We are just learning which jobs are systemically important. In addition to commanding our respect for what they are contributing to our society one day at a time, we could work with these people, and possibly learn from them. The current situation gives us an opportunity to get to know the people whose jobs we don’t want to be replaced by computers.

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