Here is an excerpt from article written by Dave and Wendy Ulrich for the Harvard Business Reviewblog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We like to ask random people in airports and elevators what they like about their job. Answers vary from “the challenge” to “the people” to “Are you kidding? I hate my job.” A few of the people giving these answers make big bucks in big companies and others sweep up after the people who make the big bucks, but neither position nor salary seem to have much to do with finding meaning in work.
Even in horrible work settings that are degrading and dangerous, some people thrive. This doesn’t mean they are happy about their circumstances, but it does suggest they manage to find meaning despite them. “Finding meaning” is probably a misnomer, however. Meaning is not a dropped coin we pick up by chance. It is more like fine pottery we craft. People have to create the meaning of their work and their lives, and that process requires skill and practice, not just luck.Those who succeed at creating meaning — either on their own or with the help of their boss — tend to work harder, more creatively, and with more tenacity, giving the companies that employ them a leg up in the marketplace. What’s more, study after study suggests that when employees experience meaning, their employers enjoy higher rates of customer commitment and investor interest. Considering how much meaning can contribute to building a sustainable and competitive organization, it’s important for leaders to understand what makes an employee experience meaningful and what role they can play in this process.
Even in unfavorable circumstances, people can experience an activity as meaningful when it resonates with chosen values, connects them with people they like, raises their sense of competence, or gives them an “ah-ha” moment of insight. From what we know about how the human brain works, the ability to create meaning is also enhanced by challenge (solving a problem that is not too hard or too easy), emotional safety (fostered by friendship, fairness, and self-esteem), autonomy (structure but not micromanagement), and, perhaps most importantly, learning from experienced meaning-makers. In other words, we learn to create meaning like we learn most things — from watching and listening to others who do it well.
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The Ulrichs discuss what leadership is needed and then suggest specific steps by which to get beyond engagement to creating meaning at work. They conclude:
“To paraphrase Nietzsche, ‘He who has a why to work can bear with almost any “how.’ To get the most from their employees, leaders should do all they can to make this ‘why’ clear.”
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
Dave Ulrich is a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and partner at the RBL Group. Wendy Ulrich is a practicing psychologist and founder of the Sixteen Stones Center for Growth, located in Alpine, Utah. Their book The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Win was published by McGraw-Hill in June (2010).
This could be a costly loss.
There’s a lot being written about the way that our reading is changing due to the shorter-attention-span internet world we live in. Now Nicholas Carr identifies two specific potential losses that could be costly.
Robert Siegel of NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed Nicholas Carr, the man who wrote the article in the Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and the author of the new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. (Read and/or listen to the interview here – it also includes a link to the transcript). Here’s a portion of the interview:
And in fact, if you look at a lot of recent research on multitasking, it shows that in fact, as people optimize their ability to multitask online, they become less creative in their thinking. They become, you know, more likely to simply process information rather than think deeply for themselves about it.
So even if we get better at jumping from bit to bit to bit of information, we’re still losing – in fact, we’ll probably lose even more – that other, contemplative, introspective mode of thought.
The two losses:
1) The loss of creativity.
2) The loss of the ability to pay attention, thus the loss of the ability to be contemplative, to be introspective.
I don’t know if Carr is right. But I know this, from my own experience. Recently, I was “stranded,” away from my computer, for quite a chunk of time. I had two books with me – The Big Short, and Imprisoning America. I needed to prepare synopses for each of these books, The Big Short for a private client, and Imprisoning America for the Urban Engagement Book Club. I read nearly both books in what was, in essence, one sitting.
It was great.
No distractions, no internet, no e-mail, no phone calls. Just me, my thoughts, and those books.
I think I got more out of that experience than I have from any reading experience for quite some time. I thought more deeply about what I was reading – with more introspection. I “felt” more contemplative (yes, I realize how subjective that sounds).
And I think I grasped the point of each book more clearly than I would have in my usual world of distractions.
So – maybe Carr is onto something. And maybe the simple lesson is this – do some heavy, extended reading, in a different chair, away from computer/smart phone/any phone. For a chunk of time.
These words form the 37Signals guys from ReWork, make even more sense to me now:
You should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
Here is an especially valuable blog post from Marty Neumeier who is among the thought leaders whom I’ve been privileged to interview. Neumeier’s professional mission is to “incite business revolution by unleashing the power of design thinking.” He does this by writing books, conducting workshops, and speaking internationally on brand, innovation, and design. He began his career as a brand designer, and later added writing and business strategy to his skills, working variously as a communications director, magazine publisher, and brand consultant. By the mid-1990s he had developed hundreds of brand identities and architectures for companies such as Apple, Netscape, Kodak, and Hewlett-Packard. In 1996 he launched Critique, the magazine of design thinking, which quickly became the leading journal for improving design effectiveness through analysis and criticism.
In editing Critique, Neumeier joined the growing conversation about bridging the gap between business strategy and customer experience, which leddirectly to the ideas in his bestselling “whiteboard overview” books, The Brand Gap, Zag, and The Designful Company. The Brand Gap was named Fast Company’s “Surprise Book of the Year,” and Zag was listed as one of “The Top 100 Business Books of All Time.” He recently released a 45-minute video called Marty Neumeier’s Innovation Workshop, based on his three books.
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As I said in my book The Designful Company, if you want to innovate, you have to design. Yet design is a foreign language to most business managers. This is because the principles of traditional business management principles evolved to serve the needs of the industrial age. They rely on a mechanical two-step process for making decisions: knowing and doing. You “know” something—from a past experience, a case study, or a best practice—and then you “do” something.
The problem with this process is that what you “know” is limited to either “what is” or “what was,” while innovation is all about “what could be.” It’s impossible to know what could be without the process of design. To generate new ideas, the design process inserts a middle step: making.
Through the act of prototyping—using sketches, models, maps, mockups, simulations—the “making” step puts options on the table that weren’t there before. It pushes back on what we think we know, and also changes what we’re likely to do. It shifts the emphasis from “deciding” the future to “designing” the future. In a business climate that requires perpetual innovation, industrial-age thinking is useful, but woefully inadequate. We also need design thinking. Here’s a simple pair of slides you can throw into your presentations when you build a case for a more innovative culture. You are welcome to download some slides.
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Click here to subscribe to Marty’s blog and access all the resources he provides, including the slides to which he refers:
Animal metaphors remain popular among authors of business books. Credit Jon Katzenbach and Zia Khan with taking full advantage of a term they first encountered during a meeting with Mark D. Wallace, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the (George H.W.) Bush administration. “Fast zebras was one of Wallace’s favorite metaphors for those people who have the ability to absorb information and adapt to sudden challenges capably and quickly…The fast zebra is, in essence, a person who knows how to draw on both the formal and informal organizations with equal facility.”
Especially now during this severe economic depression/recession/whatever, I wholly agree with Katzenbach and Khan that “fast zebras can help the stiff joints of overly formal organizations move smoothly [and expeditiously] again. They help the formal organizations get unstuck when surprises come its way, or when it’s time to head in a new direction. They have the ability to understand how the organization works, and the street smarts to figure out how to get around stubborn obstacles. They draw on values and personal relationships to help people make choices that align with overall strategy and get around misguided policy. They draw on networks to form teams that collaborate on problems not owned by any formal structure. They tap into different sources of pride to motivate the behaviors ignored by formal reward systems.”
Moreover, “it can be lonely to be the only fast zebra at the watering hole. So wise leaders identify their fast zebras and help create conditions that will attract more of their kind. By creating a herd, leaders can accelerate more quickly and on a broader scale than any one fast zebra could on its own.” So this book is about how and why formal managers should make purposeful use of informal networks to achieve a goal or bring about a change while realizing that informal initiatives alone are insufficient to effective response to either a crisis or an opportunity. Formal and informal management of both formal and informal initiatives are needed to achieve the given strategic objectives. The “fast zebras” need to be released from arbitrary and unnecessary constraints so that organizations can benefit from their unique and invaluable ability to “navigate treacherous waters of complexity,” both internally and externally, as well as the wisdom to cultivate the informal relationships that will guide them to perform well. What is more important, however, is that even though the instinctive fast zebras are rare, most people in most organizations have the potential to improve those skills.”
Those who read this book are urged to retain and strengthen their formal management approaches – but realize their limitations; to avoid viewing the informal organization as subordinate, inferior, and “unruly chaos” because it can be supervised and energized to accelerate high-impact results and achieve strategic imperatives; and meanwhile, to refuse to manage the informal with the techniques that work for the formal because that “will only make things worse.”
If you live in the DFW area, come join us tomorrow. I will present my synopsis of Drive tomorrow morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis. (Register here).
I have had a run of good books lately. Here’s my list for the last four months, including tomorrow’s presentation (and, of course, Karl Krayer has also had some terrific books that he presented):
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
by Atul Gawande.
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel H. Pink.
Drive is a good, important book. Consider this quote:
This is a book about motivation. Most businesses haven’t caught up to this new understanding of what motivates us. Too many organizations – not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well – still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science… Something has gone wrong.
For too long, there’s been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The goal of this book is to repair that breach.
Most of the presentations are now up (or soon will be), with audio + handout, for purchase at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.