The three antidotes to a life of thoughtlessness seem to be being curious, creative and thinking critically. Yet much of what we do in formal programmes and organisations will often push us in the opposite direction. Our modern life seems filled with practices that encourage control, conformity and compliance. The two sets of three Cs seem to reflect not only different logics but also have different effects on us. The first three help us to bring out that which is unique to us as persons, the latter three will typically regress us to the mean.
Most of my educational and work experience had strong traits of control, conformity and compliance. The stronger they exhibited themselves, the more they seemed to have driven out people’s curiosity, creativity and critical thought. The conventional wisdom in management seems to suggest that a trait of an effective manager is to be in control. One expression of being in control is that people comply with their wishes and expectations (however reasonable or unreasonable) such as target or operating procedures. Compliance is hard to achieve without some degree of conformity. Think alike, act alike in some sense of an ideal.
Perhaps, after all despite our love for free-roaming chicken and eggs, our organisational lives resemble that of caged chicken. One of my experiences showed how being curious, creative and critical can pose a threat to senior managers. A CEO in one organisation hunted down those who exhibited such traits openly and most people ended up leaving the organisation sooner or later. In some sense control, conformity and compliance align and contain our thoughts and actions with the larger group, but especially so with those of the higher up.
The paradox seems to be that as many parents want their children to be curious and creative, the investment made in their educational development will often contradict that aim. Indeed to succeed, we are often rewarded on the basis of conforming and complying with the wishes of those who hold the strings or purses. In some way, to survive as individuals we need to comply and conform. But for us to flourish as persons, we need to be creative and curious.