If we see what we do as performance, we can be more creative
Transcript of this video:
I’m gonna talk about performance, a word that carries a lot of luggage in organisational life. I only have to say performance review to send shivers down the spine of most of you, I suspect. Or to remember accusations of not having performed against some target.
But there are other ways to think of performance. 70 years ago, a guy called Erving Goffman went to the Shetland Islands and he told them he was there to study their agricultural processes but that was what we would technically call a lie.
He was really there to study them and he came up with a theory of human behaviour based on his time there, in which – and I’m stripping it down to its essentials here – he says, who we are changes according to the context that we’re in and that we are actually always performing in one sense or another.
We’re a different person on our own. We’re a different person with our aunt than with our work colleagues, and that we are constantly in the process of giving performances of ourselves.
It’s an idea that Alan Bennett latched on to. I think he said that most of us realize that we are giving performances all the time.
What we haven’t cottoned onto is that so is everybody else. Now, this theory is quite disturbing to some people who say, well where is my authentic self if I’m constantly putting on a show for others, which is, I guess, a pejorative way of thinking about performance as something somehow false.
But if you think of how children learn, in the early years of their life at any rate they learn by performing into things by sort of faking walking until they can walk.
We’ll all know stories of young children who in the middle of a sentence will use some rather grownup term or swear word probably out of context and we’ll laugh because they’re still sort of trying to figure out where the language fits in.
They’re giving a performance, stumbling rehearsing into being a, a speaker of the language. And if we think of performance this way I think it’s potentially very liberating. So often with life’s challenges, we think too much.
And you know, we’ve succumbed to those cosmo quizzes of personality types where we’ve laboriously answered 150 questions to figure out what sort of personality we are and how we might adjust to situations. Or how we can tell people that we are a Red or an INFP or whatever so that they can adjust to us.
But what if we engage with the challenges of life in a more experimental way, where we’re less attached to being some single authentic version of ourselves and we simply try different performances of ourselves? It’s actually what gives us the freedom to change.