Each of us has our priorities. We should have our individual goals – both personal and professional. We should take responsibility for our own development and our own careers. But I’m not sure the triumphant Libertarian cry, “I’ve got mine, Jack!” reflects Everyday Courage as I would define it.
When you’re working with others, the greatest form of courage is interpersonal courage. Interpersonal courage requires you to work as a collective, in pursuit of a set of shared goals. Interpersonal courage requires us to overcome risk, ambiguity, and anxiety by looking to the team, rather than looking to oneself.
About two years ago, I sat with many of you and we discussed what makes DDB Health great. Almost to a person, you described “the people” as the greatest thing about our agency. Courtesy of the extraordinary commitment of your coworkers, this agency has become a family: your family. And, with apologies to Tolstoy, all happy families are alike in that they share a spirit of interdependence that is critical to their success.
As I mentioned at our Vision Meeting, many (many) years ago I went on an archeological dig in the Canadian Arctic. Despite the fact that it was high summer, the uninhabited island where we were digging was bitter cold. I learned many important lessons during that trip, not the least of which was that polar bears really like peanut butter. But the most important lesson came courtesy of the archeological record we uncovered about two very different groups of people who once lived on that island. One group was called the Dorset, the other the Thule.
The Dorset artifacts we found were beautiful and nuanced and each highly idiosyncratic. The Dorset were a people who valued individual expression and personal realization above all. In many respects, one can’t help but see an analogy between the Dorset and the blind pursuit of individual celebrity that animates our own time.
One of the great debates in Arctic studies is what exactly happened to the Dorset. Around 1000 AD, they seemed to have simply disappeared. A prevailing theory is that the climate was changing and by the time they realized it they were in trouble and needed to change, they had no collective will to be able to work together to survive. In essence, they had become so entirely consumed with themselves as individuals that they could not work together as a community.
Enter the Thule.
During my dig in the Arctic, the artifacts we found in ancient Thule dwellings had none of the individual nuance of the Dorset. They were functional rather than expressive. The Thule had advanced tools for both hunting and preserving meat. They had created new structures for their dwellings and innovated whaling boats more appropriate to the environmental conditions. Clearly, they had technological advantages.
But why did they replace the Dorset? Why were they able to adapt to the changing conditions and to thrive?
The critical difference seems to be that they privileged interdependence, rather than independence. Collaboration allowed them not only to survive, but to flourish. They embraced change. They had the wisdom to pursue collective greatness. It takes trust, and mutual respect to work as a collective. It takes courage.
There is no shortage of courage here at DDB Health. But, there is a temptation to privilege ourselves and our own narrow tribes (departments). In order to be successful, in these changing times, we need to work as a collective. The Thule learned this lesson many hundreds of years ago, while the Dorset, despite their many individual gifts, faded away.
This doesn’t mean giving up on creativity, but it’s creativity driven by a common purpose. Collaboration, interdependence and shared discovery of new firsts will make us stronger, smarter, and more successful. Sharing success can sometimes feel much more alien than pointing out the weak link. It takes courage. But it is that display of courage that will ensure our collective greatness.
In brief: Don’t be a Dorset. Smart money is always on the Thule.