I heard that you should not judge a book by its cover; the same may be true of a company’s name. But in our case, at Future’s People, we believe the opposite. We do want to be judged by our name and how the name came to be.
There are two things in our name we care immensely about: the future and people. We believe our mission is about the wellbeing of both. It may come across as overly ambitious for a company that focuses on employee happiness, let me explain, we have a simple origin story. It starts many years ago at a conference called Overlap, where a friend presented the story of Gillette, the company he was both ashamed and proud to be working at. At the time, he was one of the few people expressing this contradictory position, at least publicly, the shame and pride that came from his success inside an icon of corporate America. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more common for all of us to feel this way. We are both proud and ashamed of our success at work because today, professional and financial success happens in most cases at the detriment of our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of the people around us.
What was most surprising about the story is that Gillette was born out of a utopian dream. A solution that would empower and liberate working people, one that would generate a new economy and society, all driven by the ability to both cheaply produce and dispose of shaving blades. Unfortunately, after more than a hundred years, what we are left with is a glaring example of a company whose sole reason to exist is to generate corporate growth through planned obsolescence, incremental innovation, and unsustainable resource extraction. The disposable innovation and the economics of it came to drive the company to take precedent over the transformative and utopian dream. I am not here to judge Gillette; at the time, the story and my friend’s choice to leave the company appeared to me to be a story about personal decisions, moral choices, and the impossibility of being happy while working within the system.
But why are we ok with this narrative, why do we think is normal that someone who is unhappy at work should liberate him or herself from it and move on. Isn’t this the very reason why organizations don’t change? Why are we ok with the idea of unhappiness at work? With the idea that if you are making a good living, you are probably doing so to the detriment of your wellbeing and often the welfare of the planet? And why do we think looking at the planet before profit is the unreasonably high moral ground? We keep accepting this narrative, and we keep failing and making a more just and livable world. We are working ourselves into extinction. We didn’t come up with our name, our friend at Gilette did. He was using a construct of future and people when he left corporate America and tried to build a sustainable marketplace, that unfortunately was too early to succeed. We took and riffed on the name, made it ours.
To build a future, we need people at work to have ways to improve how they feel, to work on what they believe in, in ways that reflect their values. We have seen that change can happen when employees engage with their happiness singularly and collectively, often, and in measurable and actionable ways. By enabling employees to do things differently, we can all participate actively in the redesign of our organizations. We can give the future a chance because you can’t change the world if you are miserable while doing it.
We hope that embedded in our name resides a new way of understanding what we can be and do at work, a way forward to a better future.