Recently there has been a flurry of business books that claim war teaches lessons in corporate success. For example, Corrine Sandler, author of Wake Up or Die, shows business leaders how to use strategies from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Sandler was recently quoted as saying, "Surviving in today's business climate requires a battlefield mentality.".
I find this way of thinking disheartening. Surely there needs to be a shift in the way we shape and define corporate culture in the 21st century. A move away from the bloody battlefield, and rather, create a culture that truly embraces collaboration, inspiration and creativity, which values its people, as much as its customers.
There was a time when I had to enter this so-called corporate battlefield. I'd put on my invisible armor, and like my fellow comrades, prepared for the onslaught that faced us each day. There was always talk of killing the competition, taking out our enemy, fighting the good fight, deploying at the right time and preparing for victory. There were internal turf-wars and even a meeting space called The War Room.
In a culture defined by kill or be killed, one quickly learnt to toughen up, hunker down or face the music. There was no room for collaboration and no time for reflection or inspiration. We worked in a culture of fear, anxiety and slight paranoia. It was toxic and unhealthy, but it became the norm. Looking around, it seemed as if everyone was growing battle weary. We'd reconcile the feelings with ones of acceptance. Society has defined success as having the power, the status, the title, the money. It's the big house, the fast car, the designer clothes and the latest technology. For that, you had to pay the price. I knew something had to break. I just didn't know it was going to be me.
I collapsed at work. Twice. Once was not enough for the perfectionist in me. But, thankfully that was several years ago. My body forced me to stop, whether I liked it or not. I finally listened and made what I thought at the time were difficult decisions. Looking back, they were just obvious changes in my behavior, attitude and actions. I didn't end up singing kumbaya around a fire pit, but I did start thinking about how I had been defining my life, and how I needed to change my idea of what success looked like. A quote by Albert Einstein resonated with me: "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value."
I believe we can all make small changes to ensure we are creating a life full of joy, meaning and happiness as defined by ourselves, and not by what others might think, nor what society or advertisers might have us believe. Whether we start re-learning the art of real conversation, begin to put value on vacation time or consciously bring joy into our daily lives, there are things we can all do to gradually bring about a positive shift in our society, our corporate culture and our mind-set. Together, slowly, we can retreat from the corporate battlefield, and instead, define and reshape it to become a more invigorating and prosperous environment to flourish in. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."