21 February 2019

5min

Native empowerment: digital liberates us

A new freedom is being created with respect to digital and to new responsibilities. It will revolutionize organizations and their regulatory and economic environments. The reinstatement of the ability to choose is inherently ambiguous.

As people are more free and lack restrictions other than those created by themselves, they are faced with their choices, their limitations, and the ability to overcome these.

With the emergence of new forms of business, we have for several years seen a turnaround in organizations. For them, individuals have become a true center of gravity, and new groups that the individual identifies with are emerging: communities. Today, the whole of society is close to completing this Copernican revolution. Several major changes are profoundly changing our culture and are perhaps turning companies into something they should always have been: social laboratories, channel openers. New forms of freedom result: freedom of knowledge, freedom to find and take up your place in society, and in so doing, have the potential for freedom of choice and transactions.

Freedom of knowledge

Our relationship with knowledge is changing radically. Michel Serres discussed the need to change our teaching methods, since knowledge is now instantly available online. In more structural terms, agile methods have shifted the value of theory to the practical and concrete, and to solutions. The individual becomes a creator again. The growth of Montessori teaching is no accident.

«  A child is not a vase that we fill, but a spring that we let flow. - Maria Montessori  »

She emphasized the need to learn by experience, and to stimulate children by offering them more choices than in the conventional curriculum. The next generations only stay in a business if they can continue to learn and grow. Providing knowledge and offering employees the time needed to acquire this, is becoming a trait of the employer brand. Today, companies create value if they know how to stimulate the creativity of their employees. To do this, spaces for individual and group creativity are now being created, and we understand that time should be allocated for productive creativity for adults, in the same way that we are starting to do this for children.

This change is bolstered by the digital revolution itself. There is such an acceleration in technology and such an influx of information that it becomes impossible to get a handle on knowledge. The information rains down, with its share of inaccuracies and manipulation. Trust and power shift from a mass of established and certified knowledge to the capacity of everyone to construct an opinion and a critical mind. This new relationship with knowledge gives individuals additional means, alternatives to conventional school curriculums and established knowledge structures, leaving them free to learn what fuels their creativity. Finally, technology is tailor-made for each individual, and thus becomes a source of productivity and development, perhaps definitively changing our relationship to work and its regulations. It helps create a permanent state of learning that liberates people and makes them more eager still for knowledge. Individuals are now freer to take action, beginning by envisioning their place in society.

Freedom to find a place in society and in the company

If the “bottom-up” logic that is so popular in management literature is now possible, it is because the company setting and the setting of the whole of society are converging.

Society has become more horizontal. We need only to think of the evolution of the family hierarchy in a few decades. New groups are being created which, through digital, have a wider outreach than in the last century. They mobilize throughout society, they are short-lived and not exclusive. Another development, the father’s rule over the family was gradually balanced out to benefit women, and especially children. In our businesses, these new balances result in a change in our relationship to the social times and in an indispensable quest for meaning.

All these interdependent changes produce the conditions for what we might call a “native empowerment of the individual,” thus upsetting the aging organizations of our companies and of the civil service. This horizontality liberates the individual, whether in society or in a company, producing a new form of equality, which helps to break down the old social and hierarchical codes, giving everyone new confidence in their ability to create and control their destiny. It is this same stronger sentiment of equality which requires us to pay particular attention to respect the dignity of every person.

Towards freedom of choice and the freedom to negotiate

Individuals are now a centrifugal force in companies. This is rooted in their capacity for learning and self-determination. Everything revolves around the individual: the organization, the expectations, and the means. And it is this unstable environment that stabilizes the individual.

Is the era in which we live designed to give individuals their potential, and therefore their freedom to transact? Guy Standing, in his book The Precariat, refers to “precarious residents” who have a job they have not chosen, with the sole hope of surviving, people who are “constantly at the mercy of a mistake, an illness, an accident, which could put them on the street.” If society is able to restore freedom of transaction, it can include opposition to of all notions of handouts. It is not a question of redistributing income, but of guaranteeing individuals a legitimate right to choose their working method and commitment.

At least two avenues deserve exploration. Firstly, universal income. This would enable everyone to have the means to satisfy his or her primary needs in order to concentrate on their studies or to remove the barriers of their professional ambition. Another avenue, easing the rules that allow access to work. Individuals could be employees, but also freelance, contractors, or educators. Each of us would then be able to build his or her own employability, in a very operational way, to optimize both our own value creation and our personal development. More freedom to give meaning to one’s life and prevent the frustrations that impede our society. Of course, such a world of freedom may seem idyllic. It will obviously create further obstacles, but perhaps with a different approach to overcome them.

We are moving towards a re-emergence of the subject and of a capacity of choice for individuals. Through the development of robotics and artificial intelligence, the individual becomes a subject once again. Because, contrary to what a number standard beliefs would have us think, digital tools are primarily a means of emancipation. Since it has become easy to cross-reference data or perform repetitive tasks, our involvement abandons the “how,” focusing instead on the “why.” The individual becomes a subject when he can configure the tools to serve the meaning that he gives his life and actions. Digital releases us from the obligation of means, which is blind, in favor of the obligation of results. Younger generations want to see the immediate impact of their actions. This search for impact radically changes the relationship with oneself and with the group, developing a new life ethic.

A new freedom is being created with respect to digital and to new responsibilities.

It will revolutionize organizations and their regulatory and economic environments. The reinstatement of the ability to choose is inherently ambiguous. As people are more free and lack restrictions other than those created by themselves, they are faced with their choices, their limitations, and the ability to overcome these.

Matthieu Fouquet

HR Partner and General Secretary