Monday, July 9, 2012

Paracosm: Fantasy and Invention In HR



According to Wikipedia, “A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world, or fantasy world, involving humans and/or animals, or perhaps even fantasy or alien creations. Often having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.”

A lot has been written recently about how fantasy games or online fantasy worlds are being used by companies to bring out our creative juices. As human beings we are so bounded by our day to day, that it can be difficult for us to break out of that mold to see new patterns. By adopting a new world in these fantasy environments we can break the mold altogether, we can be someone and live somewhere that is totally alien to where we are today. I ran across the word Paracosm when I was reading an article in Wired Magazine about Fan Fiction and creativity. The article suggests that all you who look down your noses at people who “waste their time” playing in these fantasy worlds are somehow geeks with no life might have missed a major point! Apparently, in 2002 a couple of researchers named Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein discovered that recipients of the MacArthur Genius Grants are twice as likely to be active paracosmics.

I don’t know of any HR people who have won genius grants, but I do know a lot of very smart HR people with a great sense of play and fantasy left in them. The only problem is they don’t bring it to work anymore. HR is being left out of the innovation game. Rarely do you see a company meeting where people are brainstorming on new product innovations that involves the head of HR. And more rare still do you ever see the HR department truly brainstorming on new ideas. HR tends to follow the pack. For them, brainstorming is picking a new benefits provider. It does not have to be that way. Some of the HR people I know and work with are among the more creative people I’ve met. But they aren’t encouraged or rewarded to be that way. HR has become all about risk management.

Therein lays the problem – and the seeds of the demise of HR if things don’t change. The rapidly changing work environment is going to force new ways to think about how employees and employers interact. The fantasy world of what the workplace could look like 10 and 20 years from now is limited only by our ability to fantasize. HR would be well served to engage in a little paracosmic play. Think about it, what kind of HR manager did they have on the Starship Enterprise?

Live long and prosper.