The Power of Independence In The Workplace

Happy 4th of July, fellow Americans! Today is a day to celebrate freedom and independence, and what better way to do so than thinking about how we can bring those essential elements into the workplace?

We're Rarely Independent At Work

We're raised in a society that claims to favor independent thinking and freedom, but rarely allows us to do so. Schools teach us to stay in line, stay quiet, and stay seated. From elementary school to college, we're given a set of rules that we have to follow. We punish anyone who deviates from those rules.

That prepares us well for the real world, where we have bosses and organizations and quarterly goals we have to meet. There are rules about what we can wear, what we can say, what we can do and when we can do them. 

Some of it is self-imposed. At #CTAConf this year, Hana Abaza from Uberflip shared this crazy stat: 90% of marketers have waited to go to the bathroom because of a deadline. The bathroom! Why do we do this to ourselves? 

Because we're not allowed to make our own decisions or think ourselves.

Why Independence Matters

We have to break free of this constant go-go-go in search of success. We already know that the most successful companies take more risks and experiment more. But if you've always been taught to follow the crowd, how can you be independent enough to come up with the next crazy idea?

Employees need the freedom to work, and work the way they need to, to be at their best. That might mean something like Google's 20% time rule—an initiative where you spend 20% of your time on completely unrelated projects or teams, one that created Google Earth, Google Streetview, and more—or just giving your employees the ok to work remotely

Company culture matters. If you feel like it's mandatory to sit down and shut up, butt in the seat, from 9-to-5 and not ask questions, you're probably not in a place where growth and innovation will happen. If asking questions reads as challenging authority, rather than seeking to drive the best results, that's a huge red flag.

I'm so lucky to work at a company that encourages failure because that's the best way to learn.

Instead, ask the questions. Get curious. Allow your mind to open and think about the possibilities. Without freedom, we have very little to celebrate. Say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done; in the end, you'll achieve much more than by sitting down and shutting up.

The real question is: what will you do with your newfound independence? What will you create?

Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
— Independence Day (1999)