Sarah works at a hairdresser in town. She works independently and has her own clients. She is not employed by the salon owner. She starts working at 9.00 am and finishes at 6:00 pm, with a 30-minute break for lunch. She works for fifteen days consecutively and then takes a couple of days off.
If a client is late all her schedule falls apart, as there’s no one to help her to complete her work. Her income depends exclusively on the jobs done, not on the hours worked. She’s always working against the clock.
Sarah is surrounded by other hairdressers facing the same problem: everybody dealing with their own customers, trying to get to the end of the day without their schedule falling apart.
We can choose to build a culture where people only see their work, where they feel that they’re only responsible for their own stuff, where nobody is there to give them a hand when needed. This is a choice; autonomy and independence over community, in the name of efficiency.
But the efficient system that can endlessly work autonomously and independently is one of the ideas that we’ve inherited from the French Revolution, which proclaimed that human beings are autonomous and rational individuals.
Science has shown that we’re far from rational and autonomous. However, we still cling to this old collective narrative which took root three centuries ago.
We’re both rational and irrational, autonomous and dependent on the group. It’s possible to be autonomous in a community – in fact, as humans we thrive when we can bring all the elements together.
The narrative that tells us that head and heart, rationale and feelings, individuals and the group cannot go together is just an old one. We don’t need to follow it any more if it doesn’t work for us.
The most difficult narratives to change aren’t the ones that we consciously chose in the past, but the ones that have been endorsed by others without our consent.
Decisions about how we organise our work and our business are sometimes much more related to what we think has worked for others in the past than to what we think can work for us today.
Businesses thrive in the present – and that also applies to the narratives that lead your work.