In the early days of asset management, enthusiasts, seeking to expand the boundaries of their craft, would argue that we should consider people as assets. At the time it was meant positively. For example, if you invest capital in an employee’s training, then you need to maintain that capital by providing opportunities for practice and maybe refresher courses, or the new skills and learning will gradually fade and disappear – or depreciate.
Others, however, argued that thinking of people as assets was unwise. Assets are a means to an end but people, in any civilised context, are the end in themselves. People are citizens. Public infrastructure, in particular, is to serve the citizenry.
We lose sight of the ultimate end game – the wellbeing, strength and resilience of our communities – when we focus on people as merely cogs in a production machine.
Moreover, if we are to cope with future change – political, demographic, climate and technological change – we need people who can respond imaginatively, can be flexible, and can innovate, not for personal gain alone but for the sake of the community as a whole, to be part of civic improvement. So important for infrastructure decisions.
Which brings me back to Virgin (see previous post). But not only Virgin. To all companies that treat their people as cogs in a machine, and to all governments that do the same. Companies can change, governments can change, but it is unlikely that change will come from within.
Where then does change come from? I am reminded of a comment by Michael Breen in an online forum on change that I ran many years ago. It was shortly after the death of Princess Diana and, in answer to the question of where change comes from, Michael referred to the strange thing that happened at Princess Diana’s funeral. After the eulogy by her brother, the very upright audience clapped. (This was completely not ‘the done thing’ at a solemn state funeral!) Michael observed that the clapping at the church ceremony started outside in the park. The insiders were too culturally bound to change things – even spontaneously. The outsiders were less bound, and therefore more able to be spontaneous, so much so that the inside people were able to ‘join in’. So the ‘opinion makers’ were able to change their behaviour with permission from commoners outside the elect group.
Question: As ‘commoners outside the elect group’, what can we do to get the positive change that we need to ensure that the infrastructure decisions we make will serve our future well?