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What holds people back from choosing freedom when they're offered it?

The idea of freedom sounds wonderful but, in reality, people are often hesitant to adopt it. Here’s why:

The dominance of individualism

Giving people more freedom only works if it is accompanied by a strong sense of community and common purpose. This means raising the importance of thinking and acting as a group, not just an individual. This might seem straight forward, but the narrative that encourages individualism runs deep within Western society and it can require intentional effort to overcome it. It is not simply a question of selfishness, it is a mindset problem. A focus on the individual is entrenched within the traditional organisation because the underlying worldview says "optimise the individual parts, and you'll optimise whole". This is why the traditional organisation is so focused on improving and incentivising individuals as the way to maximise performance.  We have believed this narrative, in part because it plays to our ego and self-interest.

The issue of socialisation

We are arguably freer than humanity ever has been; we can vote, travel, study, make our own financial way. Yet despite this, our social structures and institutions are remarkably lacking in creative freedom. And we learn this very young. Our education system is not characterised by free thinking, a sense of partnership or the veneration of the creative arts but by a test-based learning model, the absolute authority of management and the veneration of maths and science. Following our schooling, virtually every institution we come up against - from government to employment - appears to confirm this operating paradigm. So, with our lack of experience of anything to the contrary, we feel comfortable continuing to exist within this dynamic.

Fear doesn’t like freedom

Fear likes distrust and control where it can thrive and apportion blame - so, it should be no surprise that fear is a dominant factor of the status quo. Consequently, fear does its best to ensure we don’t choose freedom. It distracts us from the adventure, humanity and identity we will find when we choose freedom. It highlights the uncertainties, risks and personal vulnerabilities that form part of the journey and seduces us into inaction. Fear is so rife within the norm that it has effectively socialised us to believe we have little other option. So, we remain in the comfortable familiar - in what we pretend is a controllable, predictable reality (see: "What is predict-and-control?"). But that’s not the real world. The real world is too complex for that. And we must accept that truth if we are to flourish within it. (see: "What is the difference between a complicated and complex system?").

People love rules

More freedom means fewer rules, but rules and processes are easier than the authentic relationships required to operate without them. Discussing freedom based change often prompts the questions; “how do we do it?”, “what should we measure?” etc. Because people want a roadmap when the reality is much less certain. To achieve a more human way to work we must engage with those around us in a genuine way rather than defaulting to having our interactions mitigated by rules.

We pay a price for freedom

Freedom doesn’t come for free. We must purchase it: the price is more accountability, responsibility, insecurity and vulnerability (see: "What price must we pay for our freedom?"). We cannot expect our liberty if we do not want to shoulder the cost.

Indifferent cynicism

People have change fatigue. Everyone has seen change programmes come and go like the seasons, yet nothing really ever changes: because they’re not real. So we’ve lost faith in those that tell us “change is coming”. So why bother trying; it will only fade away as the others did. Won’t it? (see: "How do you deal with cynicism?")

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  1. John Featherby

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