I have always been a bit wary of people who repeatedly define themselves by what they are against. It makes me suspicious of whether they are much for anything. I want to know what they really stand for.
It is human to reject things that one does not like, and it is good to express it. However, organizations, society, also need people who are not just against things but also for something.
I know very energetic and vocal people who are against child poverty, against military interventions, against religion, and against gender discrimination. It would be wonderful if all those energetic fellows against things would also put some energy into becoming pro to something. Wonderful, not a requirement, but very helpful.
Being against child poverty is actually not that difficult. Finding a way to eradicate it is, and, the category of ‘against child poverty’ is bound to have numerous types of fellow travellers. Some would put all the emphasis onto charity. Others would say that this does not solve anything, in fact it perpetuates the problem and what is needed is a change in society. Both are ‘against child poverty’. The against does not say much (is there anybody pro child poverty?) until it starts explaining what to do about it.
Many moons ago when I was working as a medical doctor in the pharmaceutical industry, I was part of many discussions about the market position of a new drug. As a naïve medic in the early days of my career, I could not quite understand what ‘market position’ meant, since for me that drug did what it did. That was it. But the marketers, of course, were very interested and focused on establishing a market profile, the selling features. The drug in question was clearly different from others in what it did not do. It did not cause that side effect, and the other, and did not accumulate, and it was not that toxic, and did not create this or that problem. We had a long list of what it did not do. I thought in my early days in the industry that this was a relatively poor state of affairs and that defining the drug by what it did not do, was surely missing the point. But these were the early days of my corporate domestication and this was, I discovered, an ephemeral state of mind.
The above is part of a broader ‘negative narrative’ that also hosts the ‘against narrative’. The ‘negative narrative’, of what something is not, and what I am against, is entrenched in human thinking. In organizational life we have a similar ‘negative narrative’ phenomena. Do people who don’t like bureaucracy, like anything non-bureaucratic? Do people who don’t like hierarchy, like complete self-management?
What about establishing an Against Tax? For everything we are against in the organization, we pay tax in the form of an idea For Something.
Click-tivism is armchair activism from your laptop, clicking on the Like icon and feeling good about it. Agains-tivism is spending the day shouting about what you don’t like in the organization and feeling wonderful for your contributions. Some people are against meetings, against reports, against hierarchical dictation, against an all male Board, against HR’s tedious processes and against a crappy work-life balance. I wonder whether meetings, reports, hierarchical dictation, all male Boards, HR’s tedious processes and crappy work-life balance are in place because there are so many people against them, that there are no bodies left, and no air time, for the pro-alternatives and the pro-change.