Change The Script

The way we work was designed for a different age.

Following the Industrial Revolution, workers had to gather around heavy, immovable machinery to get the job done. The next Schumpeterian wave — the Digital Revolution — freed some of us from the factory but a deskbound, hours-served mentality persists. There are creative exceptions, of course. Possibly your business has unlimited holiday entitlement or flexible hours? But the fact these arrangements are noted, boasted about, proves the rule. In the same way, our attitude toward leadership is archaic.

We assume there is a hierarchy to navigate and a boardroom to conquer. There is a ladder to climb to the top of the tree. We’ve got to lean in. We’ve got to break the machine. And we’ve been thinking this way for centuries.

German ethnologist Bastian suggested our minds trace elementargedenken or ‘elemental ideas’. Jung followed and believed in a universal psychological inheritance to accompany genetic inheritance. Archetypal stories make sense of our motivations, values and personalities. Stories shape our psyche with a hidden, universal language.

Consider this tale. An ordinary woman, scorned and ignored, steps on the stage. She defeats her detractors to reveal drive, flair and skill. Material wealth follows, of course, but is just symbolic of what’s happening inside. She’s passed the test and is at last fulfilled. It’s a plot that might describe your path to the top. You know you can do it. You just need the break. It’s not about confidence, it’s not about the money. It’s about that impatient knot of potential.

This is also a ninth-century rag-to-riches story from China. It is a plot that has been repeated, in a multitude of different forms throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and North America, for nearly three thousand years. Our modern stories of ambition and leadership have been told before.

But plots twist. If you see the script and understand the cliché, you can change the outcome.

Don’t do what’s expected: step out of the story. There is more than one hero. Connect with her. Ask for a sponsor. There is more than one play. Check you are on the right stage. Switch genres for fun. Ignore the hecklers and critics. Everyone gets a bad review now and then. To paraphrase Roosevelt, their clean faces don’t count. And start with an authentic ending in mind, not just a happy one. You are the best author of your future.