Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Everything is a Journey Now

I watched a presentation today which described work done on a project as "a journey". I thought about how many times in recent years I've seen that term applied to accounts of projects, reports on application of initiatives, and other accounts of How Things Went.

the path

Everything's a journey now
. It's a metaphor that's permeated so many organisations, as well as our personal lives. I have no problem with it usually, but I started thinking today about why a journey is such a popular metaphor with businesses - I can see why it's popular with individuals, but the fuzzy, feel-good logic of the journey doesn't seem to endear it with businesses and organisations with a bottom-line.

Journeys are familiar. Everyone can relate to the metaphor of a Journey, because we make journeys all the time - the daily commute, the day-trip, the bus ride. Journeys are also resonant metaphors: they're a common element of myths and legends, and we all know from those that journeys mean transformation, redemption, and salvation of some sort. I knew this vaguely before (I have a deep interest in mythology, and especially the work of Joseph Campbell), but a new thought came to me today.

Thinking of your work as a Journey absolves people from blame of failure: if it's the journey that counts, then you don't have to worry about whether you actually got there. It shifts the focus away from results, and towards process - which most people agree is a good thing (especially if you've experienced working in a completely result-oriented environment) - except that sometimes results do matter. If it's a journey, then you don't ever have to admit you didn't suceed - you're just still on the journey, it's too early to tell, we've made progress, it's early days, and you know, baby steps, that sort of thing.

into the woods

The other implication is that a Journey doesn't have to end: if your work is conceptualised as a Journey, then you never actually get there, and the work doesn't ever stop - it just keeps going on and on, because it's The Journey that matters. Success, instead of a finishing line, becomes a milestone, and if we remember what milestones are, they're just markers on a route telling you there's more to go. Everything's milestones now, and no one ever actually gets anywhere. As my colleague puts it "The reward for good work is more work".

5 comments:

ampulets said...

Still, it's not a journey without deadlines and obstacles and targets (call it milestones, if you will, but many of these milestones are set not by the journey man himself). i mean, even if work was seen as a journey, it's not a journey to take at your own pace, and there are costs and losses...and regrets. And how can anyone be absolved of blame when YOU chose to take that next step? Then there are moments when you think "the journey's gonna end somewhere! soon!" or "what's supposed to be the destination?!"

Corporate-cheerleading-speak tries to reconcile corporate values with personal values, but in the end, it's really the corporate agenda that you are meant to subscribe to. ;P oh you can see, i've got a bad week at work!

wahj said...

"Corporate-cheerleading-speak tries to reconcile corporate values with personal values, but in the end, it's really the corporate agenda that you are meant to subscribe to"

I couldn't agree with you more. That's why I find it so ... devious, the way this metaphor of a journey (which is so often used to talk about personally development and growth by individuals) has been subverted by organisations to suit their "greater purposes"

tscd said...

I guess the idea that you're going somewhere in your job is a nicer one to have than describing work as 'the corporate ladder' or 'the rat race'.

Tym said...

Haven't you heard? Even "activist" has been co-opted by the corporate world? Pah! Nothing is sacred.

ampulets said...

I think that is why we all feel so attached to work. Some of us even become workaholics. The line of work and life is so blurred these days, that we are so disillusioned that we imagine miles stones, work achievements are measures of who we really are, what we are worth. A creation of a power-hungry, achievement-hungry corporate creature. And the self keeps diminishing day after day - TOHA.