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Change Yourself: A Guide to Organisational Living

Change Yourself: A Guide to Organisational Living

Look, a lot of what I write is extremely critical of conventional thought. Pushes a lot of buttons. Might piss people off. 

I accept that it makes me seem grumpy and cynical. Perhaps even revel in it a little. But ultimately, my message is full of hope.

I believe there is a better way to live. We can design better organisations. Develop better managers. Inspire better leaders. We just need to face our reality. See it for what it is. Learn how to survive and thrive in it. And then take steps to improve it. 

This blog suggests a way of doing just that at a personal level. 

The Dirty Reality of Organisational Life

In a number of posts, I critique static interpretations of organisation. Point out that the "default state" of many organisations is an ambiguous, uncertain, contradictory and paradoxical dystopia. 

We have created workplaces where nothing gets done properly. Everything requires complex workarounds to function.  With toxic cultures inhabited by disenchanted employees, confused specialists and burnt out managers.

While I am deliberately polemic, we need to accept that this is part of the reality of organisational living. Historically low engagement and rising cynicism suggest as much. The gap between the utopian messages of the business media and messy reality of organisational life is great. And getting bigger. 

A quick, glib framework on the reality of organisational life

  1. We are told and sold the desired final "utopian" state of the organisation
  2. We launch a change initiative to reach it
  3. We experience ambiguity, uncertainty, contradiction and paradox of the organisation during the change
  4. The change fails or only partially succeeds
  5. OMG, is this what we're left with???!!!

With 66.6%+ of change failing, this is what most of us get. Chaos, confusion, paradox, angst, anger, frustration, irony, cynicism, sarcasm. 

How to Live an Examined Organisational Life

How do we survive this? Trendy management thought says you should be an authentic self at work. A true self that doesn't change. A little island of stability in the middle of turbulant seas.  

That way, you bring all that you are to the workplace.  Deliver your true self.  Be completely present. Add meaning and purpose.  Become committed, energetic, loyal and hard-working. You are happy with your work and happy with yourself. 

Sounds wonderful. I'll let you into a dirty little secret. This promise of happy commitment has been made before.

The previous big, happy promise of the culture movement school was that strong organisational culture would deliver committed, energetic, loyal and hard-working employees. And it failed absolutely.  It delivered ironic, ambivalent, Machiavellian game-playing cynics instead. Plus a good number of burnt-out zombies.

We know this (although we don't often talk about it).  But we are being told to be authentic. Which gives the game away.

The philosophy of authenticity emerges out of the philosophy or absurdism. The recognition that all cultural meaning is absurd.  If everything cultural is absurd, then the only sane choice is to turn inwards to find meaning.

Organisational culture is absurd. Change can't solve it. Hence, authenticity at work. QED!

However, we're being sold a dud! Authenticity in the popular press has a touchy-feely subtext. Access your inner feelings and emotional intelligence. Expose your core self and all its vulnerabilities.  Focus on your strengths. Forget your weaknesses. And become a better leader.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. This was never part of authenticity and existentialism.

The godfathers of authenticity (Socrates, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche if you're asking) are spinning in their graves. In transformational times, you don't reveal your inner self to all and sundry! You don't cling onto stability. That way madness lies! 

Authenticity celebrates plasticity, fluidity and flexibility. Which is as natural to us as breathing. For example:

  • We are caring, forceful, helpful, demanding, relaxed, energetic, studious, active (and many more) during everyday activity.
  • We make snap behavioural decisions thousands of times a day. Without any cognitive or psychological stress.
  • We switch between different personas often and without a second thought. Mother to boss to friend to colleague.

Somehow the idea we are plastic selves has been lost! And that's not good. Because, in constant conditions of change, we need this plasticity more than ever. Because you can reshape plastic. Create stuff with it. Create yourself with it. Which is what it means to be authentic. 

Creating your "self" is your lifetime project. A personal work of art that consumes you. It needs to be beautiful and wondrous. Not a tawdry roadshow to be gawped at by colleagues. Or picked apart by organisational psychologists!

What is the project of authenticity? How do you live an examined life?

  • You construct personas, masks and identities that protect the "self" during the serious process of its creation.
  • You embrace artificiality, irony, playfulness, drama, the joy of the masquerade and carnivalesque.
  • You use them all to live and question different modes of existence

This all helps develop your best possible "self". Otherwise, why bother? If you are an open book of everyday worries, mundane depressions and emotional vulnerabilities, how are you interesting? Where's the art in you?

To be authentic, embrace the greats of authenticity.

  • Socrates lived a whole life "coloured by irony."
  • Kierkegaard hid his self-creation behind an array of pseudonyms, masks, fashions and foppery
  • Nietzsche just wanted to dance and sing! 

Create yourself joyfully.  Be David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, Lady Gaga. Wear masks. Embrace artificiality. Change personas. Experiment. Play around with ideas about who you want to be. Energetically enthuse. Dance, sing, act, improvise. Survive conditions of constant change by being constantly ready to change yourself. 

 Just don't be mundane and boring. Please don't be that!


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Can We Help You?

The Ironic Manager seriously rethinks how organisations work at the most fundamental level and offers a variety of solutions for businesses struggling to cope with the ambiguity and stresses inherent to contemporary organisational conditions of constant change.

Richard has been helping businesses and people deal with leadership, management, communication, technology and change for over twenty years through his training, coaching, speaking and consulting services. 

His innovative research is highly regarded by world-leaders in management and leadership. 

Maybe Richard can help you?

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Over twenty years helping people managing change understand why resistance happens and develop quality vital communication skills that aid successful business transformation.


Research recognised as exceptional by world-leaders in the fields of power, leadership and organisational change, receiving considerable praise for its originality, depth and rigour.


Extensive training, coaching and mentoring experience in professional development in well-known organisations, governments and business schools across the world.


Consulting on change, transformation, culture, organisational narrative, innovation and creativity, and communications to private and public sector organizations and entities.

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