The Inner Game Meets Corporate America
One day not long after the publication of The Inner Game of Tennis, Archie McGill, then the VP of business marketing at AT&T, unexpectedly showed up in Los Angeles asking for an Inner Game tennis lesson. Pleased and somewhat surprised with both the process and the results, he invited me to lunch to discuss his challenge to change the corporate culture at AT&T. He took about two minutes to describe the complex set of changes that had been set in motion by the Supreme Court’s decision that AT&T would have to break up its monopoly in telecommunications.
“If we can’t succeed in making this monumental transition from a monopolistic utility to a competitive, market-driven communications enterprise, we will be eaten alive in the new environment. And we have to do it now. We have no choice.” His summary was compelling, but his situation seemed light-years away from my experience using Inner Game methods to help students bring out their potential on the tennis courts. So I was quite shocked when McGill asked me for my analysis of the situation.
“So, tell me,” he said, in a non-nonsense tone, “what’s the real problem?” I said nothing for what seemed like a long time. Then a response came from my mouth that surprised me as much for its authority as for its content. “The problem is your people don’t know who they are,” I said emphatically. “Thus, they tend to identify themselves with their roles, their reputations, the company itself, and the current way of doing things. When the stability of any of these factors is threatened, their automatic response is to resist, and to resist as if they were protecting their own selves. Because they are protecting who they think they are, they do so with considerable force.”*
Self 2, the self that is born with the gifts of freedom and self-expression, can easily be forgotten in the drama of the play.
I ran across a quote recently that puts it quite well:
There is vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
The goal to work freely while maintaining the integrity of Self 2 is a challenging one. It requires great control over the factors that influence one’s inner environment. This in turn requires an increased awareness of and independence from the surrounding cultural conversation, as well as more conscious communication with one’s co-workers. Work culture can be changed only through the interactions between co-workers.
Any manager or coach of a team can make a significant difference in the interactions between individuals of that team. This can minimize the amount of self-interference and increase the team’s access to their collective capabilities to learn and perform. Furthermore, corporate leaders who recognize the far-reaching implications of the corporate culture are in a position to learn how to identify the important levers of cultural change. The goal is to make changes in organizational culture that minimize self-interference and acknowledge the inherent motivations and talents of the work force.
*Martha Graham to biographer Agnes de Mille in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham (New York: Random House, 1992).