Ever since I began to wonder about what my father was talking about when he spoke of why he was going to work, I have found myself asking about practices – the things we do over and over again. Over time, we forget how our practices began. They become habits, obligations, things we have to do. After a while, the inspirations, intentions, and commitments in which they were born are forgotten. Why do we have this meeting or that report? Where did this activity that we keep doing come from? Often, we suffer with the “mindless” repetitions of our activities. TGIF?
Practices allow us to accumulate value and bring us important possibilities Consider, for example, the cases of practices such as trade, commerce, medicine, science, writing, archiving, and, now, … blogging! When I was young, my father’s work (engineering), took him away from me, and I suffered with that. But he was happy with his work – he considered it a privilege – and, looking back, I realize he infected me with his appreciation for some of the possibilities of working. When I was older, I realized that he was doing things that mattered in the larger world, and I was proud of him.
When we speak of a practice we are pointing not merely to a collection of motions or activities, but to a world. The practice of medicine includes not only what doctors do, but also the institutions in which they are trained, work, paid, and their work is assessed, and many other industries and institutions (i.e., drugs and hospitals). All of these are potentially relevant when we ask questions like: Why are so many doctors today “burning out”? What does that mean, and how is it connected to the practice of medicine?
It will come as no surprise that for most of my adult life I have been concerned with what we do when we come together to do what we call “work”. These are the kinds of questions that have caught me over the years.
- Why do we work?
- What are we really doing “at work”?
- How do we compose and orchestrate work?
- How do we “manage” work?
- What does “governance” means in corporations, governments, and non-governmental settings?
- How are new practices built (and how do we support them with tools and systems)?
- How are old habits broken to open the way for new practices?
- What does it mean to lead a community of people who are trying to do things that matter to them in the world?
In this blog I will bring questions about human practices. The big questions will take us some time to get to: How do our practices come to be? How can we best understand, ‘diagnose’, and intervene in them? How can we bring new practices that enable people to have fuller roles in this world? How do we build ethical enterprises and richer social relations? How can we reduce the awesome wastes of lives, capacities, and resources that we see all around us as we ‘work’, particularly in the industrialized world.
I have for many years been interested in ways of thinking and acting that allow me and my clients to look beneath the world’s neatly ordered stories about why and how people do the things they do. We are curious, story-telling creatures of habit. Our stories – the extraordinary narratives we all have in our backgrounds – shape how we see, understand, and act in our worlds. It has taken me a long time to grasp that these stories are just as much a part of our habitual ways of being as are our preferences in food, music, and people.
I invite you to join me in an exploration of questions relating to the construction of ethical and effective human enterprise.
© Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.