I’ve just discovered this photograph of me on a CD-Rom which my dad gave me recently.
I don’t remember the occasion but it epitomises my memories of a childhood where I had freedom to be myself.
Clearly my brother and I weren’t “cotton wool kids” (as highlighted by a recent Chidren’s Society report). I doubt my parents undertook any risk assessment beyond common sense of this situation – does that mean they were neglectful or allowing us to learn to survive in the world?
This is a vital skill – one which those seeking to return captive bred pandas to the wild recognise. There are dangers facing all of us, but constraints are rarely the answer to equipping people to realising their potential. Like Xiang Xiang we probably face greater problems as adults if we haven’t learned to engage with the world.
I think this is equally important for organisations – it strikes me that there are an increasing number of barriers put up to restrict employees connecting with the outside world. I’ve even heard of public relations functions that are unable to monitor the Internet – how can they realise the potential for their companies when they can’t even look through the window?
Seth Godin wrote earlier this year about sheep walking: “the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them a braindead job and enough fear to keep them in line.”
He complained that modern education is designed to produce sheep thanks to a focus on compliance and teaching to the test. Similarly, organisations “hire people that color inside the lines, that demonstrate consistency and compliance”. They keep them in check with policies and procedures, fear and legal threats, micro-management and increasingly using technology to track their every move.
The alternative might seem rather chaotic and risky, but the argument is that “When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff.”