I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me – Isaac Newton
This post opens with a quote from one of the finest minds to have ever graced this mortal coil. It plays down his achievements in perhaps a more modest way than his “shoulders of giants” quote, which has also been taken as a dig at the reputedly short and hunchbacked Robert Hooke. The science behind Newton’s laws of physics is impenetrably complex to many but it underpins our most up-to-date thinking on the magnificent universe around us as we pass through it on this beautiful blue marble.
Newton’s Third law states that: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body. If the laws of physics also governed organisational transformation we might have given up trying to effect meaningful change long ago. In that context, changing work for the better might have seemed a problem beyond the grasp of even such a formidable intellect as Newton’s. Despite all appearances to the contrary however, businesses are not bounded by Newton’s laws. They are composed of humans and, although many have sought to impose some order on the chaotic nature of human behaviour through study, we continue to confound even the most thorough of examinations, continuing to contrive, as we do, a world of work that seems continuously to teeter on the brink of disaster, lurching from crisis to crisis. Some of us find ourselves pushing against open doors, others staring into the abyss while still others are steamrollered by events they never saw coming.
The more I read about the world of work and from those involved in workplace management, the more I sense a growing intent. An intent to move forward; to challenge; to take action; to seek to improve and to continue improving; to reshape work with heart and humanity at it’s core; to no longer tolerate the bankrupt practice of naked greed and ambition. At least equal in magnitude are those whose intent is in maintaining the status quo, whose ambition lies in the dominant logic of our society, its systems and its politics; its policies and processes; its box-ticking and pigeon-holing. There are those who would stand on the shoulders of giants merely to crush their spirits. Newton’s religious beliefs put him at odds with the dogma of Christian orthodoxy, when it was still risky to voice such views, and he has repeatedly been referred to as a heretic. In spite of this he is commemorated in Westminster Abbey and Voltaire, who attended Newton’s funeral, praised the British for honouring someone who expounded views that were at odds with so many of the Establishment.
Newton’s work changed the world forever but it didn’t happen overnight and for the most part many, many years after his death. It’s pretty tough sometimes to labour away with the knowledge that all your toil may come to nought or when the change you effect may not happen until you are long gone. However, ordinary or commonplace simply won’t do. There is a better way. When we talk about reshaping work, others may see us merely as seekers after a smoother pebble or a prettier shell. When the apple drops we’ll have the last laugh. Even in posterity.
The title of this post is taken from a quote from R. Buckminster Fuller: “Love is metaphysical gravity.”