HELEN WILKINSON: working@life

HELEN WILKINSON: working@life - Society is becoming over-choiced. There are too many things to do, too many options, too many opportunities. In the new economy, the desire for the new product, service or next big thing is an addiction, and technology simp

by HELEN WILKINSON founder and CEO of www.elancentric.com. E-mail:Helen@elancentric.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Society is becoming over-choiced. There are too many things to do, too many options, too many opportunities. In the new economy, the desire for the new product, service or next big thing is an addiction, and technology simply accelerates the pace of change: the noise, the proliferation of new goods and services, offering more and more choice. No sooner has the new product emerged off the virtual production line than the next one is about to launch. The head spins, the mind dizzies, the fatigue sets in; the disconnection from life begins.

Success seems to require a never-ending desire to do more and more - at work and at home. Choice is the mantra of the new economy, but it brings with it complexity: time-squeeze, juggling, attempts to have it all at work and at home.

Here's the rub: more choice means more stress, less time and more complexity.

Hence a new trend is afoot. The search is on for 'simplexity' - the simple things that give meaning in an increasingly complex world. But simplifying your life is not easy in an age of economic excess. There are more basic brands of detergent, whiteners and breakfast cereals than we can ever need or want, more software upgrades, features and calling plans than we can keep track of.

Because of this, a wave of new businesses are being built predicated on the one-stop solution: acting as info-mediaries, positioning themselves as tried and trusted friends, getting to know you, your values, your lifestyle, making choices for you, saving you time, bringing clarity.

What's happening on the margins of business culture is moving mainstream, and even big business brands are getting in on the act, downsizing and simplifying our choices. P&G, for example, has announced an initiative to consolidate its brands and slim down product lines, while Nike's newest shoe, the Air Presto, comes in only six unisex sizes. Sometimes having it all means having less.

For business leaders, this is a brave new departure. In a world where choice is the baseline for business success, you need real confidence to choose on behalf of your customers. And having the courage to change one's life, not just the product innovation pipeline, requires a certain kind of self-belief. After all, new e-businesses or household names like P&G have an organisational ethos and brand recognition behind them. Individuals can feel powerless to swim against the corporate tide.

Nevertheless, the same kind of cleansing process is happening in the workplace; a new generation of post-material worker is emerging, with a new definition of success. Work is now as much about having fun and feeling fulfilled as it is about the size of one's pay packet or job title.

The term downshifting first appeared in America in 1994 to describe a new breed of high achiever who was opting to work for a lower salary in exchange for a richer life. According to the Henley Centre for Forecasting, one in eight people would like to do something similar in the UK.

But the language of downshifting may be part of the problem. The very use of the word down implies a hierarchy of status, a retreat from success, rather than a redefinition. Perhaps tomorrow's downsizers should be dubbed right-sizers on the grounds that their choices are right for them.

Andrew Ferguson of the Breakthrough Network argues that these pioneers should be called life-shifters, because they are in essence seeking a new relationship between work and the rest of their life.

One thing is sure. Exercising the power to say no is difficult in a culture that glamorises getting to the top. It is not easy to turn down promotion on the grounds of quality of life without fearing that the choices we make now will eliminate opportunities in the long run. How many of us have the self-esteem to turn up to meetings without the badge of success that comes with the fancy job title and to just appear with our own-brand persona?

The key lies in returning to our own personal values, motivations and drivers and having the confidence and self-esteem to go after our dreams.

Of course, it's much easier to do this when you've scaled the conventional career ladder and achieved success and status on society's terms and are in a position to redefine success.

For some people, the things that drew them to their chosen professions got lost along the way. It takes real confidence to take a step off. But step off the treadmill we must if we are to build in time to reflect on the meaning of life, and to find our own definition of success. We must discover our core values and motivations, and have the confidence to live by them. For more and more people, this means having less to have more. It's that simple.

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