Freedom Without Structure Becomes Its Own Slavery

Anne Gomez, AirPusher Collective
Image by: Anne Gomez, Airpusher Collective, Burning Man 2014

I have many friends who attend Burning Man every year. I learned of its popularity the first year I came to California. My English tutor told me about this festival and how he had been attending for 30 years. They all have talked to me about the freedom they experience during that week and how magical everything is.

Needless to say, I’m curious about Burning Man and can’t wait to have the opportunity to experience it myself; however, this article is not about Burning Man. What I want to explore here is the common thread of people craving for “freedom”, and uncovering how structure plays within.

Entrepreneurs Seeking Freedom

I use the word “thread” because in my business journey working with entrepreneurs, the common reasons for starting a business are:

  • “I’m looking for freedom.”
  • “I left my job because I wanted freedom and want to be my own boss.”
  • “Freedom matters to me.”
  • “I’m not free. I’m trapped in a career that’s just okay. But it’s not fulfilling.”

I’ve found that a majority of entrepreneurs express a yearning and strong desire for freedom in the same vein that reminds me of how my friends describe the freedom they feel at Burning Man.

And the thread continues beyond, by coincidence, that these same entrepreneurs also love Burning Man! But when it’s time to start working on the business itself and discuss systems, processes and/or the structures that will hold their businesses, they usually don’t want to know about it; they prefer someone else to deal with this part of the business. They resist the systems because they see it as a threat to their “freedom”.

Is freedom something temporary?

Hearing it once or twice is very much expected. But after hearing the word “freedom” all too frequently from people around me and experiencing their resistance towards the structures that will sustain the business, it deepened my curiosity to learn more about this perception of freedom. I was intrigued to learn that in this perception, the experience would not -and could not- necessarily prevail beyond one moment, one festival, one act of self-expression or art. This had me thinking: is freedom something temporary?

Why can’t the state of freedom my friends shared at Burning Man be sustained throughout time? And why is it experienced in just one concentrated location? What is in “freedom” that people crave for at an event, or in their careers, or business endeavors? What does freedom really mean for people? Is freedom something we are surrounded by, or something that comes from within? And why do people who feel they have “freedom” resist structure? Is structure good or bad? Or have we simply overlooked that it’s the structure that provides freedom?

Have we overlooked that structure provides freedom?

There are lots of questions, and I don’t know the answer! However, this curiosity led me to further explore freedom and structure in the realm of business, which is a part of my day-to-day life and something I believe can inform our business practice. The purpose of this article is to share my process and understanding of these words, “structure and freedom,” and how I continuously apply it to our business. Bear with me!

Context:

During this process, I noticed that for some of us who usually perceive our lives within structures, freedom has been idolized as something we either dream of having more, or something we don’t have at all and desperately need. Yet as creative people, we tend to get attached to an unsustainable sense of freedom in which people struggle to make money or expand their business without losing creativity.

When working with entrepreneurs, I often sense a resistance towards systems and structures and continuously witness the rejection of structure because they perceive it will take away their sense of freedom. The bottom line: structure has gotten a bad rap by many who boast of providing a creative work environment. But what is our understanding of freedom and structure?

Basic understanding:

What is freedom?

Based on Merriam-Webster, freedom means:

1: the quality or state of being free: as
a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous
d : ease, facility
e : the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken
f : improper familiarity
g : boldness of conception or execution
h : unrestricted use

I feel I can have this at all times, no?

What is structure?

Again, according to Merriam-Webster, structure means:

1: the way that something is built, arranged, or organized
2: the way that a group of people are organized
3: something (such as a house, tower, bridge, etc.) that is built by putting parts together and that usually stands on its own

I feel I need this to execute my freedom, no?

In applying these definitions of freedom and structure to my reality, I understand that I want both. I need both. And both are equally important for me to build the business and life I want.

Further exploration:

Many textbooks and information shared online tell us that thinking about structure is an activity for large-size business, or for businesses that have 15 or more employees. In fact, I believe that any entrepreneur can benefit greatly by thinking about structures early in the development of their business.

To understand why I explored what typically happens with construction developers when they build a house:

First, the developers know the house they want to build. Then they get an architect who considers all the elements that influence the building of the house –the vision, the land, environment, budget, materials, etc. The architect then creates the first set of drawings (the blueprint). Next, the architect tests the viability of the blueprint, checking with engineers, designers, and other architects as well as the client (planning and projections). The architect adjusts where necessary thereby creating the Master Blueprint. Once the Master Blueprint is ready, the architect transfers the actual building of the house to the developer for construction. The developer relies on the contractor to assemble and manage a team of specialists to actualize the blue print.

When they start construction, the contractor and his or her team (crew) immediately start with the foundation (not the plumbing, the second floor, the electrical work or the roof). It’s the foundation that sets the support structure to hold the entire house together and keep it strong, regardless of how long the actual construction of the whole house can take.

When I use this analogy, I see a beautiful process where freedom and structure are dancing together to achieve the goal: a nice house with the desires of the homeowner and the calculations and planning for the house to last.

Building a Strong Foundation Towards Freedom

As small business owners, we often misperceive that running a business simply involves executing our talent or skills. While this has us feeling “free” to do what we love, it doesn’t build the business itself. We further assume that planning-and-action on certain matters can be handled when the business grows and is not necessary in the present. Or that when the moment comes, someone else will be responsible for this. Therefore, we don’t work on the foundation or the proper structure needed for the business to function and thrive.

Without a strong foundation, your business is susceptible to “putting out fires” where the work is aimed at reacting, as opposed to leveraging your systems to aid in your decision to accommodate both issues and opportunities that may arise. A business with a strong foundation can build, adjust, or course correct in a timely way.

Your business is a living organism that requires a structure to develop and grow, as well as an environment to thrive. This structure exists to support you in cultivating your gifts and talents so you can focus on doing what you love and experience the type of freedom that comes from within.

By this phase in the discovery process, I learned that structure doesn’t mean working in a box with rules. It’s actually the opposite. Structure means there is a reliable flow of logic and best practices for how things or people operate with each other, and how all the moving pieces within your business come together to benefit the whole. Everyone knows what’s expected and they can move and make decisions on their own because the structure allows them the freedom to perform.

Without structure, entrepreneurs can create another type of prison

Without structure, we as entrepreneurs create another type of prison. We make our business a prison where things don’t flow if we don’t show up. Decisions are not made if we don’t make them, and income doesn’t come if we don’t work. Therefore, lack of structure leads to lack of growth and stifles creativity and great thinking from the entrepreneurs and the team involved.

I concluded that by combining structure and systems creatively, a business can increase efficiency and enhance impact. You can get more done with fewer resources. Most importantly, you build from a strong foundation that sets yourself free.

It helped to stop thinking about freedom as something “flowy”. I see freedom now as something I choose within myself.

It’s hard to be fully creative without structure and constraint. Try to paint without a canvas. Creativity and freedom are two sides of the same coin. I like the best of both worlds. Want freedom? Get organized. Want to get organized? Get creative.

– David Allen

We continue the exploration of freedom and structures and we invite entrepreneurs to pioneer in this discovery for convergence. In our community Booming Collective, every entrepreneur engages with systems and structure regardless of the size or stage of business. Join us in the journey.

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