Last week, some friends and I got a chance to try our hand at abstract painting. An artist friend, Lauren Florence, walked us through some amazing exercises before turning us loose on a 3’ x 3’ canvas to paint our own abstract masterpiece. The first thing she had us do was select three colors of paint, one from each of the three areas of the primary color wheel. Using just those three colors we then made other colors.
Lauren told us she never uses paint straight from the tube. By mixing paints from only three primary colors, the resulting shades, no matter how many, all work together since they originated from the same basic set. As I was mixing my three primary colors into secondary and tertiary colors, I was thinking about how it takes very few basic components to create a complex construct.
We all need three things: basic needs like food and shelter, safety (mental and emotional as well as physical), and connection or community. Taken alone, these elements are essential but one dimensional, like the basic three colors straight out of the tube. However, when blended, they create an unlimited number of ways we can demonstrate that we are all intrinsically and equally valuable.
Our organizational cultures are significant because they become the mixing palette for many people’s three needs where the more complex “colors” of life are lived out.
Historically, people had to risk their physical safety to “gather” or “hunt” for their food and shelter. It’s only been in the last 100 years or so that this has improved dramatically, but there is still much to be done. Combining good pay, good benefits, and safety creates the opportunity for people to meet their basic needs with less risk to their physical and mental health.
It is not unusual for people to organize themselves into groups for utilitarian reasons. True community is based on deeper connections. When we are around people that care about us and treat us with respect, it becomes safe to open ourselves up to meaningful relationships. To not have good relationships with the people we spend more than 35% of our lives with seems like a waste.
Community then becomes the place we can count on to help us when we are unable to meet our basic needs. Life is uncertain and difficult. Life alone is impossible. Admitting I need help is difficult enough. Doing it in a community that doesn’t care is impossible. It is only in the context and support of a caring community that we have a safe place to catch us when we fall.
Like the colors in my painting, when the people in my community care for and respect everyone, we all complement one another, even in our uniqueness and difference. Simple things can create complex structures that become beautiful cultures where we can live and work. My painting was abstract, but it wasn’t without meaning and order. Cultures that are built on the equal value of everyone are not abstract; they are the best representation of humanity, and they are the Bison Way.
You may have noticed the shift from “the Kimray Way” to “the Bison Way”. I am still writing about the culture we want at Kimray, but it has always been my hope that this would be the way other organizations want to generate their culture. The bison is the mascot for the Kimmell Foundation and represents the culture we are striving for, so from now on I will write about “the Bison Way.”