There was a time when writing a Declaration of Independence was the climax of an identity quest. This is a theme I have written about in the paper version of my TEDx talk in London at the beginning of this year.
In organizational terms, nothing that we do carries independence. We are hugely inter-dependent. I ask my clients, whether at CEO level or divisional heads, or management teams, to write down their Declaration of Inter-dependence. Mastering inter-dependence today is mastering the firm, it’s another word for management. Business today has no other choice: Independence is dead.
Inter-dependence allows you to define your space (social, managerial, commercial, purpose). It is by understanding inter-dependence, not independence, that one can create one’s own identity. What you are, the space you occupy, what distinguishes you, is no longer something you can do in isolation, pretending to be independent. Independence works in exclusion mode. Inter-dependence works in inclusion mode. Inclusion is not agreement. It means making the most of the shared views of the world, and also being very clear about the differences, the different views of the world. It’s not one or the other; it’s both, what unites us and what separates us.
It’s tempting to extrapolate this argument to the ‘independentist’ movements of the day such as the Scottish and the Catalan ones, both very different. Any nationalist and ‘independentist’ position (and both things are different) have a ‘thought trap’ inside: equating independence with identity. So what is sold to the masses is the package: if you want to preserve your identity, you have to be independent. It’s one of multiple populist bundles that ensure a particular answer to any question about either identity or independence. ‘Independentism’ may indeed, be a legitimate position with a long list of arguments, but ‘identity’ is a false one. An identity that needs independence as an exclusive factor for survival is a weak identity.
On the business side, inter-dependence is the only way. Complete independence creates silos. Silos hate collaboration. Without cross-collaboration there is no firm today. Identity (the firm, the division, the internal group) without interfaces, tensions, customers, colleagues, inter-dependence, commonalities, differences, agreed non-negotiable behaviours etc, is a logo, a colour code and a letterhead.