I have been meaning to revisit my so-called “manifesto”, to expand on the thinking behind each of its 5 elements. In particular, I have found the first element - “Self Authorship” - to be somewhat problematic. First of all in terms of my capacity to clearly articulate what it means. And secondly, to ground the abstract nature of the term into a meaningful relevance that shifts it from the realm of high-minded philosophy, into practical usefulness.
More than once I have removed it from my manifesto, because I felt uncomfortable with both of these issues. But it keeps coming back, so I thought that if I sat down to write something about it, I might find some more peace and clarity with its presence. And so here I am.
Self Authorship is a term that I have been working with for almost two decades, and I have owned the domains selfauthorship.com and selfauthor.com for nearly as long. Every year I keep renewing the domains, and wondering whether or when I will ever do something with them.
The term “authorship” has an interesting etymology and range of associations. It means;
the origination of any action or circumstance, especially with reference to an author, creator, producer, etc
It is related to the word “authentic”, which builds on authorship to mean
Real, actual, genuine; original, first-hand
The third word that authorship is related to is “authority”, which has a number of meanings, including
the power to influence action , opinion , belief , etc
All in all I think these are a great constellation of words, which together mean
original or authentic action or power
The notion of influencing action and outcomes is fundamental to any activity where change is desired, and where someone is willing to make a stand for it happening. This idea lies at the heart of any entrepreneurial activity, or any other project where we want to make our world, or the world, a better place. But doing so, necessarily flies in the face of all that has come before, and all those who, in the past, have played a part in creating or advocating that. Our parents and teachers, our institutions and governments, our bosses and organisations, and even (or especially) our habits and beliefs. Self Authorship calls us to challenge the status quo, and to live in the tension of innovation between an outdated old and a better new.
And here lies the fundamental inspiration and courage of Self Authorship which makes it such a revolutionary and aspirational ideal. Self Authorship is the foundation of all intentional change which sees beyond the "authority" of what has come before. To go on to imagine, champion, and execute on building a better product or process, a better team or organisation, a better belief or self.
Anyone who makes a stand for this is a hero in my eyes.
It takes courage to confront the comfort of accepted familiarity, and step into the unknown of something that hasn’t existed before. Whether you are an entrepreneur experiencing the self-doubt of your vision, or a change agent within an organisation advocating a better way, or you are simply challenging your own self-limiting beliefs. It demands the reclamation of authority that previously existed "out there", back into the authority of oneself, providing the necessary foundation to support your vision of a better world.
Why is Self Authorship the first item on my manifesto? Because ultimately it’s the ideal I most want to stand for: as an entrepreneur, advisor, director, investor, or husband, father, friend, or human being. It stands for the hope and potential of a better world, and the belief in our individual and collective capacity to shape this.
Still sounds fluffy, right? Yeah - I thought so too.
But the value, relevance and grounded practicality of Self Authorship is brought into sharp relief when I imagine the task of trying to make genuine change without it. Self Authorship reminds us of the challenges of the road ahead, and that these are all a natural part of any evolutionary process.
- The resistance of people to change and new ideas
- The self doubt that makes you question whether that apparent flash of insight was inspired or delusional
- The difficulty of changing individual or organisational habits
- The courage to say no (or yes) when the consequences of that decision are big
- The capacity to persevere in the face of yet another person who tells you that you and your ideas suck
These are all expressions of Self Authorship and the situations that conspire to keep us from reclaiming it as a natural and integral part of our lives. The message of Self Authorship boils down simply to this: We are each the only authentic author of our own values, beliefs and choices. The difficult task of being human cannot be accomplished without remembering and exercising our Self Authorship. Likewise, the challenges of building businesses, teams, products and services are dependant on believing that, just possibly, we are the prime agent of the innovation we want to seed in our organisations and markets.