Axis Mundi And The Workplace Monomyth

For Mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.
Thomas Bulfinch

In mythology, the point of genesis of the world or the connection between Heaven and Earth is often referred to as the axis mundi, predominantly an image seen as feminine and sacred above all others. It describes the connecting point between the ground and the air where east meets west meets south meets north. It acts as a lightning rod for communication between higher and lower realms, blessings flowing down and supplications up. It is a microcosmic oasis of calm, being known and stable. Beyond its limits, chaos reigns, it rests at the proverbial eye of the storm. The shamanistic tradition has it that a person hanging from the axis holds unique insight and attains honoured status.

Workplace management sits at the axis of people, process and place. Around it swirls the chaotic world of work and modern human affairs, capricious as a windblown flight of butterflies with none of the beauty of a murmuration of starlings, shifting to the vagarious whims of unseen and unseeing pipers or the lure of life at the shallow end of the primordial swamp of celebrity and notoriety. However, clinging on as we are, our insight remains clouded and honorifics unawarded. Instead of charting a steady course, we drift between challenges of our own design, battling now the Charybdis of engagement, next the Scylla of performance appraisals. Adrift, big data assails us and we’re buffeted by the winds of changing priority and the vanity of the CEO. Rather than strapping ourselves to the mast, that the siren call of fads and fashion may go unheeded we’re twerking to someone else’s tune.

Monomythology examines the narrative tradition across different cultures, reflecting on the synergies. The stories told by and of the various workplace disciplines are myriad but thematically consistent and complimentary. They are broadly as described above. They are repeated across the years and remain relatively unchanging as we fail to learn appropriate lessons. Hack as we might, we’re planting new hedges in the maze instead of excising root and branch. We’re making a lot of noise right now, but it might be a sound and fury signifying nothing more than a rage against the unhearing, unfeeling machinery we’ve created in our own image.

Steady, incremental innovation as evolution over revolution is a reassuring mantra for those facing the enormity of possible and probable change. Futurology is only derided because we did not act and determine to bring things into being. It’s the 21st century and we bemoan our missing jetpacks and rocket cars, our Jetson future jettisoned for pragmatism and short-termism. Our still, small voice of calm, while the storm roars around us, will tell us that great leaps are possible in evolution when seismic events occur. We can choose to effect such events and radically evolve the way we go about work. To paraphrase JFK: We choose to reshape work. We choose to do so now and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Photo credit: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

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