We just needed a different freedom

Today, our responsibility is to design what we want to be tomorrow.

by Michele Scian

Future of work 20 April 2021

I’m 2.02 meters tall, and in 2004 I decided to quit basketball. In a way, it was a painful choice. The truth is that I hated basketball: I was never really good at it, I was bored at games, and I was bored at training sessions. If I stuck it out for so long, it was only because I thought that not taking advantage of my gift was a waste. A couple of years later, the first time I went to a concert, I realized something: I was the one with the best view among my friends. So I got that strange feeling back, as if I was indebted to nature, and went back to sports: cycling. For sprinters, having long legs is fundamental, especially at the end of the race. Mine were very long.

The Covid pandemic had similar impacts on our lives, distancing us from our talents and locking us into a choiceless dimension. It was a bit like my height: in the worst of times, I figured out how to make the most of it. History teaches us that times of change and uncertainty inspire our best ideas. A survey done by WeTransfer revealed that out of 35,000 respondents, 45.3% say they feel much more creative than before. In contrast, 40% admit to having achieved greater self-confidence with their ideas. Put like that, it seems that until 2020 our creative freedom was limited by something. By our daily routine, mainly.

Then Covid came along, and we found ourselves holed up at home, isolated. Following a natural instinct, we began to attach value to things other than our routine: family, friends, mental and physical health. Work dropped from first to fifth place. We reprioritized: many of us started studying again, others acquired new skills. We regained an appreciation for the simple things in life. The freedom we needed was the freedom to think; before, we were chasing the wrong freedom. As Erich Fromm argues, modern people have shifted the concept of freedom to quantity. But we don’t need more freedom; we need a different kind of freedom, a freedom that first of all enables us to achieve our happiness.

The pandemic restricted our physical movement but freed our mental space. The limits that we set for ourselves, or that are imposed upon us, sometimes help us grow. The concept of absolute freedom is not the same as fulfillment. Here’s a trivial but everyday example: on Netflix, we can watch whatever we want, but it takes us at least half an hour to choose the right movie, and we often end up falling asleep on the couch.

While an individual’s happiness depends on the ecosystem they live in and the goals they set for themselves, the organizations we work for will also have to change. They will have to take into account that today we are no longer pursuing unattainable ideals; they will have to realize that we want to study, develop, give full value to time while enabling us to pursue our personal goals as well. The companies of tomorrow are like a large operating system in which the APIs of knowledge are embedded: us. They are APIs that turn on and off based on the need for expertise. The period we live in is certainly holding us back, but it also certainly allows us to build and improve our APIs.

Unknowingly, when I stopped playing basketball and got on my bike, I started redesigning my personality. In 2020, we all stopped playing basketball and started discovering that perhaps there are other sports, hidden talents, and, most importantly, new ways to experience and bring projects to life. We are in one of the darkest and most restrictive but at the same time most creative periods of the past decade. Now, the freedom we have – both our personal freedom and that of organizations – is to redesign the operating system. When we finally get past all this, we’ll find that we’re not “on hold” but that a new track is now playing.

For all of us this period has been difficult, for many a drama. There are several open questions that we will carry forward. This is the right moment to define what we want to be after the pandemic and to start answering these doubts, being aware that our balance must be rebuilt and perpetuated.