Thursday, September 9, 2010

A World of Connected Strangers Feels Bad

Here is perhaps an interesting way to look at how the world has become increasingly networked (connected) yet somehow we still remain strangers to each other.
Our livelihoods are either:
  • Dependent on others = My ability to survive and live the lifestyle I have become accustomed to depends the work output of others (or at least some specific others). 
  • Independent of others = My survival and/or lifestyle does not really require these other people.
Our ties to other people (on whom we depend or not) are either:
  • Intimate = I know these people well. I probably care about their well being.
  • Strangers = I don't know these people... maybe I've never even met them. Their well being is certainly not a deeply personal issue.
 This gives:
  • Independent Strangers = Groups of people who can live on their own and keep to themselves. The "outsiders" don't really matter.
  • Dependent Intimates = Groups of people who know each other very well and who live (and die) for each other. Fellow soldiers in battle captures the extreme of this idea. Members within a tribe would also qualify.
  • Independent Intimates = Groups of people who know each other well but whose relationship does not really affect their ability to live. It's very nice to be friends, or maybe they know too much about each other, but when they move away, nothing really changes.
  • Dependent Strangers = Groups of people who may not even know each other exist but whose lives depend on the existence and actions of each other. Who grows your food? Who makes the clothes you wear? Who buys the goods that pay for the services that your company pays you to deliver?
 My thought is that we're biologically wired to be dependent intimates and social units which meet that model have been the basis for humanity for most of our history.  In the modern world, however, we've become dependent strangers with occasional access to independent intimates.

Where it was once normal to be in a band of brothers, now it is a rare exception. That we treasure it when it happens speaks to the deepness of it's importance.

What does this have to do with sustainable business?
In this post, I was thinking about a sustainable business process. One that " makes my people and customers more fulfilled rather than just "less abused" in pursuit of the company's goals."
In a world of dependent strangers, I'm not sure this is possible.
So having some framework to assess the alternatives is helpful.