It was 1999 when David Marquet was appointed as the captain of the submarine Santa Fe, whose crew was considered the worse performing in the fleet. During the first period, his marines would approach him asking “What are my orders?”, and then as perfect soldiers, they would take immediate action. But even with this dedication to the new captain in charge, the system was not functioning at all. Something was wrong.
After analyzing the situation, the main problem that he identified was that in the “leader-follower” environment, the marines would execute any given order even if it was wrong. No matter what, the soldiers would always follow the given direction without questioning it. And that was leading to catastrophic issues.
The organization of the submarine Santa Fe can be easily related to the internal structure of modern companies, it’s a workforce. And as most businesses nowadays, it was based on a working system made of hierarchies and schedules. An alternative to this common system is offered by the concept of “New Work” which sheds light on the critical aspects to improve. And those are time schedule, roles and processes- which are the same ones since the Industrial Revolution. Meaning, we are using a model that was born 100 years ago. But since then, the system in the workplace didn’t change much, why?
A change in the workplace is related to a transformation in society. The workforce is a compact representation of the society that we live in, it’s a small society in the global society. These two forms of our society are interdependent, and so are their outcomes and results. The result of our society is generally identified as wealth in the form of wellbeing. While the result of the working society is in the form of salary. So by earning more capital is possible to access more wellbeing, that’s the basic principle of currency: exchanging.
By the time, this system created a huge gap between what people give and what people receive in return. And this gap is now a debt that the system has towards the global population, which can be called as “emotional debt”. Essentially, the gap made us running after the capital in order to reach wellbeing, and so to sacrifice a bit of everyday life in exchange of a final reward. And so the system never changed because the average population works in the hope of reaching wellbeing through capital only. But, does this model make people feeling satisfied?
Like the marines of the Santa Fe, many workers are mostly executing what others are ordering, not feeling satisfied while working but only aiming to get a final reward. And so, the way New Work affected our businesses is to make us shifting this basic mindset. Essentially, moving from the idea of “sacrificing a bit of every day for a final reward” to the idea of “feeling satisfaction in the daily work”. Meaning, identifying daily satisfaction as a new form of capital. So it moves away from the concept of “working every day in order to reach something at the end of the journey”, and it gets closer to the principle of “working every day on a specific purpose that fulfills us every single day”.
The shift is to stop being soldiers that execute tasks and, instead, to start being marines that are moved by an internal purpose, bringing fulfillment in every single task. Basically, New Work invites to search for meaning in what we do on a daily base. This principle suggests to move from the purpose of making capital to the purpose of making something that goes beyond, let’s call it the New Capital.
That’s how New Work impacted the mindset of many workers, and so, consequentially, of the modern businesses. But, how to foster this mindset shift within an organization? How to enable employees to see a purpose in what they do every day?
The captain Marquet decided to shift his organization’ mindset from the common “leader-follower” system to the “intent-based” model. Which means giving control to the marines-employees, rather than taking control himself as the captain in charge. At this time, when the marines would ask him “What are my orders?”, rather than ordering specific tasks, he would ask back “What do you intend to do?”. So their new order was to think about it and come back with proposals.
Each and every marine would come back with a specific plan in mind about what to do next. With this approach, the captain was strongly bonding which each individual while increasing transparency and trust. Because it’s from the freedom that comes responsibility. And this shared authority empowers every single person, giving to each of them the opportunity to find personal meaning in the tasks that are self-assigned every day.
Same as for the Santa Fe’ marines, the modern workforce is gradually shifting from a mindset of “blindly executing any given task in order to reach something at the end of the journey” to the mindset of “consciously deciding what to accomplish in order to reach a purpose on a daily base”. And that’s the basic principle of New Work: filling the “Emotional Gap” of unsatisfaction, with a purposeful choice that becomes the “New Capital”.
Along with the workforce, obviously the businesses are progressively transforming, while consequentially impacting the consumers and so, the society that we live in. New Work’ principles might lead to a purpose-driven workforce, and so, for a more conscious society.
Source: L. David Marquet: Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders (2015)
Business & Service Design