Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Introvert's Rabbit Hole

As my Doctor of Ministry class moves eagerly towards the last week of official coursework, we've been cranking our way through a series of books on leadership dynamics, organizational dynamics, what it means to be an authentic person in that role, and good stuff like that.

During the class discussions, I find myself doing what I typically do in mid-sized groups.  I lay low, and I absorb.  Every once in a while, I'll pitch in, but my natural stance as an introvert is to sit back and let the flow of the room and the group move around me.

Part of that is a result of my introversion's tendency towards quiet and reserve, and another is a result of my inward tendency to take a particular concept the group is discussing and to follow it down a rabbit hole.  As the group ebbs and flows around me, I'll find myself drifting off into a related but very different place.

It's a riff on what is being said, sure.  But as I wander afield, I often find that where I end up is so far separate from where the collective lies that when I pop back into group awareness, what I'd have to offer is so far away from the group discussion that to utter it would be an act of self-indulgent non-sequitur.  There lies introversion's tendency to act as its own force magnifier.

Like, say, in our conversation about a book by Margaret Wheatley this week.  It was an exploration of non-Newtonian principles and the new quantum science and their potential implications for organizational leadership.   It was all about the importance of integrating chaos into organizations as a way of being creative and open to the new.  I'd been groovin' on it, dude, given my interest in that thread of physics and cosmology.   As a little soup├žon to flavor our discussion, we watched a short video that was made when Wheatley put out the first edition of her book.  From the women's hair and shoulderpads, and the big round glasses, this would have been the late 1980s or possibly the early 1990s.

But listening to the pastel shoulderpadded folk talk about freedom and creativity and the new quantum organizational paradigm, I found myself suddenly struck by *when* this was being said.  All this talk of the joy of entropy in organizations and the need to be utterly open to new and nonconstrictive forms of generative creativity was coming right on the cusp of globalization.

And from what I know about the dynamics of production that have arisen since the 1990s, at places like Foxconn factories overseas or in the vast distribution warehouses that serve our online retailers in this country, all this talk of creativity and freedom and generative chaos is just a fantasy.  There, the rigid process and structure of industrial systems remains unchanged.  Human beings remain cogs in the machine of production, which is no less inhuman and rigid than it was at the darkest hour of the industrial revolution.

That Apple or Microsoft or Google engineers and designers are freed to create does not mean those who labor to build their magical devices are free.  It does not mean that the scrambling workers in distribution warehouses are given an instant to think or be creative.  This is the ethos permitted to the elite.  We who are at liberty to dream about free and open workplaces are so often oblivious to that reality that our imagining of it almost feels indulgent.

And then I pop my head out of the rabbit hole of my contemplation, and look around at the class eagerly conversing about quantum hoohah, and realize that sharing that would fall flatter than a flatus.

Pesky, pesky introversion.