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Have You Lost Your Voice? Stand Up and be Counted

May 6, 2012
Updated January 5, 2016

Retain the power of speech no matter what other power you may lose….Be shunned, be hated, or be ridiculed, be scared be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.
John Jay Chapman (commencement address to Hobart College graduating class, 1900)

Do you like being suppressed when you want to express your views at work?

Do you enjoy feeling like a pea in a pod?

And do you prefer working in a setting where you’re in a compliance mode?

If you answered no, you’re a warm-blooded human being. Sorry reptiles, you’re out.

I’d like to share with you something I recently re-read. A few years ago I stumbled across on the internet a fascinating essay. Well, maybe not an essay, but it was very cool. And then while travelling through New England (I’m a neighboring Canadian) I picked up a copy.

If you haven’t read the The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 2000, then this is essential reading. Written by four respected social media commentators, the Manifesto provides an enlightening look at our rapidly changing world and the democratizing role that the internet is playing. What’s fascinating is that it’s even more relevant now since when it was written–before Facebook, Google+, and a host of social media platforms. The manifesto is a free download.

Put in context that the above quotation is from 12 years ago. Yet how many companies, including non-profits and government, really get it when it comes to the democratizing and empowering effects of the Internet?

A lot has happened since the release of The Cluetrain Manifesto: 911, the endless war in Afghanistan which is now seeing the last of U.S. troops withdrawing, the lingering effects of the 2008 financial meltdown and the ensuing Great Recession, a limp economic recovery, the European Union’s possible demise, the emergence of Facebook, the collapse of Nortel, the junk bond status of former powerhouse Nokia, the 2011 Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street. The list goes on.

And through all of these changes the Manifesto has remained relevant, a document each of needs to read and reflect upon.

What really struck me while re-reading the Manifesto was chapter two, The Longing, written by David Weinberger. The essence of Weinberger’s message has to do with retaining our individual voice. Yet working in bureaucratic organizations, whether in business or the public sector, has the pernicious effect of robbing each of us of our voice.

As Weinberger says:
Just about all the concessions we make to work in a well-run, non-disturbing, secure, predictably successful, managed environment have to do with giving up our voice….Our voice is our strongest, most direct expression of who we are. Our voice is expressed in our words, our tone, our body language, our visible enthusiasms.

Weinberger talks about the sniping that goes on in organizations as a result of “management” taking our voices. People push back. Why? Because we’re human beings. However, management is a “powerful force” that reflects a bigger picture of promising employees peace, happiness and wealth.

It turns out (just look at what’s happened in the past decade to the economy) that we’re all victims when it comes to the loss of our collective voice. It is only the force of our regret at having lived in this bargain that explains the power of our longing for the web.

I love reading books like the Cluetrain Manifesto because they stimulate my thinking and remind me that we’re all on this beautiful planet for just a nano-second of time. When it came to reflecting on David Weinberger’s words of wisdom, I got to thinking about Harrison Owen, respected author, consultant and creator of Open Space Technology, a highly empowering method of engaging people and inviting their voices to solve complex problems, whether in organizations or at the community level. Take a moment to check out Owen’s work and OST.

The fundamental premise of the Cluetrain Manifesto is that companies have been blind to the sea change the Internet represents, desperately clinging to methods that worked wonders in the broadcast era but that are radically counterproductive online.

Now that you’ve read this post and given some thought to the ideas shared, and hopefully checked out the links, what does all this mean for you personally?

Are you expressing your true voice daily in whatever capacity you’re working or volunteering?

When it comes to working in a crappy labor market, and especially if you’re seeking work, then ideals go out the window. Everyone bunkers down, allowing themselves to be kicked in the butt by the boss, nodding their heads in agreement during meetings or job interviews.

But is that a good strategy?

There are companies out there that want people to express themselves honestly and openly. However, remember that with being open comes common sense and responsibility. In the vernacular if you want to stand up and be counted, don’t be an asshole. Be a leader. Add value, contribute to your co-workers’ ideas and be open to outcome, not attached to it.

Are you ready to take the plunge?

Conversation is a profound act of humanity. So once were markets.

– Doc Searls (The Cluetrain Manifesto)

Photo by J. Taggart (San Francisco)

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