Monday Mornings with Madison


In any American dictionary, you can find numerous definitions of the word “independent.” These include: not influenced or controlled by others; not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; not influenced by the thought or action of others; not depending upon something else for existence or operation; not relying on others for aid or support.  Meanwhile, the word “interdependent” has a simple definition: mutually dependent; depending on each other.

There’s no doubt that being independent is highly valued in our society. The United States, after all, was born in the War of Independence.  Independence is seen as a sign of maturity and strength. As children grow up, they’re told to stand on their own two feet, and the independent thinker or doer is admired by all. It’s true, of course, that in order to succeed, we have to learn to take responsibility for ourselves. But in today’s world, interdependence is equally, and perhaps increasingly, important for success in work and in life. Both literally and figuratively, we’re all wired together.

Interdependence means that we are mutually responsible for one another. It means recognizing that what happens to others has implications for each of us. Independence, on the other hand, stands in opposition to the larger community — just note how many times the word “not” appears in its  dictionary definition.  Independent people may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players. Without interdependence, they lack the necessary tools to succeed today in marriage, family, or organizational reality.

It’s important to recognize, however, that interdependence isn’t the same as dependence. An interdependent relationship is interconnected but not co-dependent. We are all equally emotionally, economically and morally dependent. Some people advocate freedom or independence as a sort of ultimate good; others do the same with devotion to one’s family, community or nation. Interdependence recognizes the truth in each position and weaves them together.

The concept of interdependence is relatively new, so let’s learn more about how it affects our lives at home and at work.

Learning how to learn Let’s say you have a novel vision for something brand-new, whether it is a product or a service, a work of art or a style of life. You should certainly strive to accomplish your unique goal. But in order to succeed, you have to know how to tap into the resources and experiences of others who have done something similar. Building on the knowledge of others is essential when working in a complex world such as ours, so you have to learn how to glean from others while staying true to your own vision.

Creating mutual support  All productive relationships, whether personal or in business, start from the understanding that each party will sincerely help the other achieve his or her own goals. Having people support you in achieving your goals is essential for happiness and success, but it must be a mutual effort.  And with this kind of support, you can create far more together than you could alone.

Building a team  In order to build a successful team from diverse individuals, you must learn how to harness independence. This requires a delicate balance, one that eludes many work groups. Some corporations, for example, are made up of people who seem completely disconnected from one other. Each seems to be running his or her own show, making decisions without communicating with anyone else. The company suffers because there’s no harnessing together of all this independent energy. In other companies, employees are stripped of their ability to think or work independently. Responsibility is passed from one person to the next because “that’s not my job,” and the company stagnates because there’s no incentive for creative solutions.  

A successful company, a happy family or a productive community consists of individuals who are each responsible for attaining their own goals but who all work collaboratively to create a larger good. That’s what it means to be independently interdependent.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

© 2009 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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