Independence is an illusion.
There, I said it. Now I’ll convince you that understanding this basic truth can set the individuals in your organization free.
If you’ve ever been to a live jazz performance then you know how mesmerizing it is to watch three or more musicians communicate wordlessly, and often at a dizzying pace. The piano’s harmonic foundation achieves its fullness within the context of a rhythmic structure and the lines played by instruments focused on the melody. Similar dynamics are layered through the many interrelationships on the bandstand, and the music would die without them.
Yes, it would die.
Because, the truth of it is, interdependence is a critical aspect of great jazz, as it is a critical aspect of great business and any great organization.
First, it’s helpful if we understand there is no conflict between individuality and interdependence. Individuality and subjectivity are essential aspects of creative expression. Where we tip into a false perception –which leads us into a paradox- is when we celebrate individual-ism at the expense of accurate perceptions of everyday reality: that we live in a world suffused with relationships of interdependence.
Please avoid associating interdependence with unhealthy modes of dependency. Any vital aspect of life can become a detriment. Dependency is the unhealthy extreme that sits opposite isolation on the spectrum of interrelating. In the healthy middle-ground we can find interdependence and individuality, the complementary states of real life in balance.
The paradox of individualism is that it is the worst possible ethos for a culture intent on supporting individual expression. Individualism moves us into an unhealthy extreme, as “isms” often do.
When we are focused exclusively on high-visibility individual effort we lose sight of the vast network of support we require to achieve as individuals. Along with that hyper-focus, we unintentionally discourage those whose contributions may not be so highly visible and there by lose their enthusiastic participation. Individualism becomes paradoxical in the vast number of individuals who are left underserved by its modern practice.
In fact, vastly more individual efforts are fully realized when we actively acknowledge that every achievement of creative expression relies upon many interdependencies. Some are obvious aspects of collaboration, while others are less conspicuous -the support and ancillary positions we think of as “secondary” or “subordinate”. It is precisely these roles that allow the high-visibility achievements to happen, and it is imperative that you seek out and acknowledge them.
By celebrating interdependence we convert a sclerotic and steadily pervading apathy into a methodology of enhanced creativity that promotes excitement in the performer(s), and the audience, the employees and the customers. Excited employees produce better work. Excited customers buy more goods and services produced by excited employees. Yes, you are in an interdependent relationship with your customers, too.
Recognizing the reality of interdependence may also be fatal to the oft repeated, yet ever false narrative of the “self-made” man. There is no such thing. We are dependent upon the contributions of thousands of others, first to be born, and then to flourish into adulthood. We contribute, similarly, in the accomplishments of thousands of others. We call these “relationships of reciprocal influence”, and that influence is enabled by the reality of interdependence.
The executive wing of the Fortune 200 Company-X may be where the corporate rock stars sit, but they couldn’t exist without engineering, sales, customer support, administrative, and many other less visible roles being executed effectively.
Interdependence properly understood enhances any individual accomplishment and it is more accurate in describing how the accomplishment came to be. It also has the effect of encouraging more members of any group to achieve their own creative potential, hence the exponentially better results. When leveraging the creative power of each member of any group, regardless of role, we ensure influence and impact in the greater community, be it a marketplace, a workplace, or nightclub.
To get a clearer picture of how interdependence works in your organization, simply create maps of your work-streams. Start with the most obvious components, the most immediately identifiable tasks, and use that exercise to move into the lesser celebrated aspects to fully account for the things you are likely taking for granted, e.g. physical support services, administrative contributions, to name but a few. Move beyond the celebration of individual achievement as if it happened in a vacuum or a single conference room. You will see how each aspect enables the others, supports them and deserves to be acknowledged.
How far you take this process is up to you. Expand your acknowledgement and appreciation to the integrated network of people who truly deserve it. Celebrate how much we depend on others to fully realize our own individuality. Make it a part of your organization’s culture and the cumulative benefits will transform your organization.