Chapter 3 – Be Anti-OK
There is a Honda advert from 2004 called, ‘The OK Factory’. (watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o32OSQNWDvI)
On the advert, a husky-voiced man explains that ‘OK’ is the most commonly used word or phrase in the world. We are regaled with this statement whilst our eyes set upon dozens of workers on factory lines, seemingly doing the same actions over and over again…
“Man’s favourite word means ‘alright’, ‘satisfactory’, ‘not bad’”, continues the voice.
He then goes on to ask a series of simple questions for his audience to ponder…
“Why invent the lightbulb, if candles are OK?”
“Why make lifts, if stairs are OK?”
“Earth’s OK, why go to the Moon?”
The advert continues and suggests that, perhaps, not everyone thinks OK is OK, and challenges us to think about what would happen if we changed the most used word or phrase from ‘OK’…to ‘What If?’
This had a big impact on me at the time, and it still does today.
I began to ask myself the same sort of questions.
“If where I’m working is OK, why am I bored and frustrated?”
“If things in my life are OK, why do I feel unsatisfied?”
“If I think I’m OK, why do I not feel OK?”
At the time when the advert came out, I was working for Sainsbury’s (a large supermarket in the UK, if you’re one of my overseas friends reading this). During much of the nine-year period I worked there, I didn’t even think about asking, “What If?” and the reason for that was relatively simple. I was constantly learning, I’d seen a good level of success, and I liked my work. I was happy with my lot.
Now that I’d seen this advert, however… I was beginning to reflect, and it seems I was actually feeling like I was a worker on a factory line, doing the same OK things, over and over. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either – it was just OK.
Suddenly, OK didn’t seem, well, OK. It was time to start asking, “What if…?”
Only, that isn’t as easy as it always seems, is it? The trouble with beginning to ask, “What If?”, is that we are often surrounded with OK people; people who are happy with their lot and are comfortable within their status quo. Which is great (for them), but the minute you start questioning things, those people are there to inadvertently ask ‘trip you up’ questions, like, “You’ve got an OK job and salary, why take a risk?”, and “If I was in your position, I’d be really happy, so why aren’t you?” Let’s not forget the pandemic classic… “Is this really the right time to be making a change?” They mean to be helpful, but they’re imposing their own limits on you. This can be a negative influence.
What makes it more difficult, is that your OK people might be close friends, partners, or family members, and they have a strong influence on you and can both directly and indirectly make you question your thinking. This is not always a bad thing, of course, so for example, if you are thinking about getting a fried breakfast tattooed on your forehead, it’s probably worth considering the viewpoint of the people who know and love you best, and the ones who have to look at you or have regular photographs taken with you.
It’s your life, though, so do what you bloody well like!
I know! I’ve just contradicted myself and I’m flip-flopping. Argh, this is hard! So when should we listen to our OK people, and when should we not?
It sounds harsh calling this chapter ‘Be Anti-OK’, but let me tell you what I mean.
Being Anti-OK is about challenging the status quo (no, I’m not dissing the band, some people actually like them. No I don’t know WHY! Stop asking!). When I say status quo, I mean ‘the existing state of affairs’. If you think about it, there are two main areas that this relates to, so let’s look at each one.
Your Personal Affairs
There are a LOT of the big subjects in here that make up the status quo of your personal life:
- Remembering to put the bins out
How often do you get to the end of the day and you feel absolutely knackered (even if you haven’t done any work)? The concept of ‘everyday’ can sometimes be a lot tougher than we give it credit for. Life is hard, and we underestimate what actually goes into each day, so you can imagine how pissed off you’d be if someone started yelling at you to challenge your status quo and start asking questions at this time. You just want to get through the day, for god’s sake, and that’s fine, because the grass is not always greener anyway.
The thing is, sometimes the status quo is OK because you’ve worked damn hard to get to a place where you feel pretty good and you’re comfortable, and we need times in our life when we feel settled, balanced and happy, because there is always something around the corner ready to jump out with a big sign that reads, “You look way too happy! Here, take this shitload of shit!” Trust me, if you are in a good place right now, you’ve bloody earned it, and you should be enjoying it for as long as you like (or as long as you are able). It’s important to me to get you to think seriously about when to give yourself a kick up the arse and start questioning everything, and when to actually give yourself a fucking break. It’s all about balance. Which brings me on to my next point…
Personal balance – three important aspects that can affect our physical and mental wellbeing
We all have ups and downs. Sometimes we feel we can cope, sometimes we feel that we can’t. When things are going well in all of three aspects of work, health and personal life, we often experience a sort of equilibrium. It’s a steadiness that gives us a sense of control.
This equilibrium gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles that life might throw at us. However, we need to be aware how an imbalance in one aspect, be that a positive or negative impact, might affect the other two.
An impact on more than one aspect – or all three – can have a very strong effect on your physical and mental state, leading to feelings of not being in control and/or feelings of an inability to cope.
Let’s look at some examples…
- Things may be going great at work, but with you high on adrenaline and working long hours to pull off that success, how is this impacting your personal life and health?
- You love to keep fit and active, but let’s say you get an injury that means you have to take time away from exercise as you recuperate, and at the same time your work pressures increase. How might this impact your health?
- Although you’re naturally a resilient person, you find yourself going through a difficult time in your personal life, and it’s really starting to drag on. At what point to you realise it’s having an impact on other aspects of your life, too?
We usually understand that a significant devastating event, such as a death, an accident, or the loss of a job, will have a major negative impact on us, but it’s actually the everyday things we experience that have a more subtle effect and can easily be ignored or glossed over. Yet it is these very things we should be watching out for, as they can do a lot of slow and steady damage over time.
Phew, that was a bit heavy, Payne! I’m here for shits and giggles, not psychobabble! Why are you telling me this?
I know, and it is heavy, but if I’m gunna tell you to boot out bullshit, then I have to be straight with you. You follow me for some fun, but that doesn’t mean you follow me for fluff. Think about the following reasons why you need to hear this shit right now:
- If you are able to look at those three areas of personal life, work and health right now and say to yourself, “Everything is fine at the moment, I’m in a good place and those important to me are happy, too” – BE HAPPY, FFS!
Seriously, you have to give yourself a break sometimes, so take some time, take a breath, and (this is a bit of a wanky phrase), please be kind to yourself.
- If you look at those three areas and you know something isn’t right somewhere and you aren’t doing anything about it, brace yourself, and be ready to start asking some questions and taking some action.
This is what I mean by being Anti-OK. If you continue to work with phrases like ‘fine’, ‘not bad’, ‘so-so’, ‘could be better’, etc, when you know it’s ultimately going to have a negative effect on you or the people you care about… it’s not OK.
I’m willing to bet you there is at least one thing that you are not happy with. Go on, it’s there. It’s been there for a while, but now you need to address it.
Got something? Good. Now do yourself a favour… grab a piece of paper and a pen – or if you’re under 40 years old, some sort of electronic device and a ‘stylus’ (FFS) – and make a note of these questions:
- If I’m not happy, why aren’t I doing anything about it?
- What obstacles are getting in my way?
- What am I afraid of?
- Why do I continue to accept this situation?
These are hard questions, I know that. They’re hard because you might not like what you read back to youself. Hard because the answers might highlight your inertia or your inability to take control and make changes. Hard because you might have other people’s words and judgements running through your head.
You need to ask those questions, though, because you can’t move forward until you address where you are and why you’re there.
Now let’s go back to that ultimate question… “What if…?”
Then let’s add into the mix some others…
- Why not?
- How would I feel?
- What’s the best thing that could happen?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Once again, Simon, this all sounds utterly splendid, but this is my life, not yours, so why should I trust you?
Back in 2004, when I was a more corporate Simon who spent his downtime watching Honda adverts, I had what’s known as a ‘trigger’ event.
Most of my department had been told that we would be attending a number of team building events (ugh) across the coming days and weeks. They were mandatory. You might be familiar with the sort of ‘events’ I’m talking about… off you fuck to some country house, complete a questionnaire with jazzy highlighter pens that tell you what ‘type’ of personality/worker you are, and then venture outside into the freezing rain to climb ropes, build rafts, and scale rock faces.
Once this is all completed, you all go back to the office in the coming days, weeks and months, and the levels of team bonding and team performance are so awesome that productivity sky rockets, results go through the roof, and everyone smiles and high-fives each other much more often thanks to the loving bond that was created over a damp Tuesday afternoon in the sticks.
There’s a place for these events, for sure, but do they make a massive or even a long-term difference to every organisation and every individual within them? I’d like to see the case studies.
On this particular occasion for me, I was even less enthused than usual about how a spot of abseiling was going to help me bond with my work colleagues, and it actually pissed me off that we were being forced to spend days away from our work to focus on something so trivial as bloody canoeing in the grand scheme of things. Said colleagues felt the same, so instead of bonding over it with some ropes and crampons, we did what normal people do. We headed down the pub and moaned about everything.
We appreciated that team building/bonding/whatever it’s called has a place, but the generic outward bounds thing… really?
- There must be a better way to do this sort of thing, right?
- Not everyone likes the outdoors/physical stuff, so is this even fair or inclusive?
- What would we really like to do instead?
- I wonder what other companies are doing for their team bonding tick-boxing?
These questions piqued our interest further as we opened them up, so we did some research. To our amazement, we couldn’t find one other company that seemed to be doing anything different.
We decided to ask ourself a very big question – and it was a “What if…?”
“What if we started a venture to fill that gap in the market and address different needs?”
To cut a long story short, by the end of that year (2004), myself and a colleague had launched a brand new team building company called Mind Adrenaline. The company took a new and more creative approach to developing teams, and it proved so popular that in our first year we turned over £250k. The company continued to run successfully for 8 years, took us all over the world, and gave us a freedom that many people don’t always get to experience – to be there every step of the way in watching our young families grow. Ahhh, the elusive work-life balance! So much more than OK.
Now, tell me that being Anti-OK and asking “What If…?” is a pointless exercise.
Your Work Affairs
“That’s how we do things around here.”
“This is the way it’s always been.”
“Suck it up, sweetheart.”
Oh, go fuck yourself.
Alright, maybe saying that out loud is not good business practice or the most proper profesh you can be in the workplace, but we’ve all thought it, and we’ve all most likely said stuff like this under our breath when we’ve heard the standard ‘status quo’ statements in response to any challenge we may have made to shake things up a bit.
Organisations these days are big on buzzwords; Creativity, Innovation, Empowerment, Trust, Vision. You see the words literally everywhere, but you see evidence of them in action practically nowhere. I’m Anti-OK with this. It’s one thing to rest on your laurels and not be willing to change it, but it’s another thing completely if you’re claiming on the surface that you are striving for better, but not actually doing anything about attaining it.
Does living with the status quo kill your happiness at work, do you think? And I know, being ‘happy at work’ is a ridiculous notion that will never catch on…
It is possible, though! And it should always be possible!
- Knowing that you are part of something bigger
- Being part of a team (that actually works as a team)
- Having excellent colleagues who become your friends
- Using your skills, knowledge, experience (and being recognised and championed for them)
- Being productive, getting shit done, and feeling like you’ve made a difference
- A sense of moving forward in your career
- Achieving success
- Gaining trust, respect and autonomy
- Feeling empowered
- Giving and receiving support
- Learning and growing from your role
- Getting paid and rewarded well for your work
I know what you’re thinking… there’s no way you can get all of that in one job or in one company, but I completely and utterly disagree. Why would you want to stay in a job or company that didn’t give you these things? Those competitor jobs and organisations are out there if you turn your back on the status quo and start questioning. And if the job isn’t there… what if you set up your own business?
Now, before you start screaming at me for being unrealistic and wandering into guru unicorn territory, remember, I’m no different to you. I’ve had the mortgage, the young family, and the debts/commitments, and I understand it’s not easy being a maverick and taking risks with massive changes when you’ve got serious responsibilities. It’s easier to keep your head down, take the money, and get back home at the end of each day to whatever it is that’s most important to you. Status quo.
But here’s the rub. ‘Keeping your head down’ can turn into hanging your head down if you’re not careful. The first scenario is your choice and you are in control of it. The second scenario is the opposite of that, because it means something else now has control of you.
When you’re in control, it’s easy to draw the line between work and the rest of your life, and with some confidence you are able to say, “I’m done with work today”, and equally, “I’m committed to work today”. It’s when the lines begin to blur that we have to start to focus in a laser-like fashion.
It’s OK to be content, but it’s not OK to ignore your potential.
It’s OK to go with the flow, but it’s not OK to be constantly swimming against the tide.
It’s OK to seek the opinions of others, but it’s not OK to let them exert influence over your choices.
Ask questions, challenge the system, and seek help. Don’t accept the status quo – believe in better.