This is a small, very short, easily read book by one of the lead researchers in psychology and neuroscientists of our time. I read all 130 pages in one morning and I am not a particularly fast reader.
I hope my short version of the 71/2 lessons below inspires you to get a copy and read it.
Lesson ½ “Our Brains are Not for Thinking”. Evolution “gave us brains to manage the systems going on in our bodies, (body budgets) and foster our efficient survival in the world. Our brains are prediction machines. Based on past experience and our view of “reality” Our brains predict what will happen in our environment. Predictions are designed to keep us alive and to save energy resources. Our predictive brains find it annoying when we don’t finish the…
Lesson 1 “We Have One Brain Not Three”. We don’t have a Lizard brain for survival, a mid brain for emotions and one logical brain to rule them all. We just have one brain. There is no tension between three fictitious ideas. Emotion and reason are not separate things.
Lesson 2 “Our Brains are Networks”. Not every cell is connected to every other. That would create what she calls a meatloaf brain. A homogeneous mass not capable of anything interesting. Our brains are also not like swiss army knives. They are not a fixed set of tools pre wired together in a particular way that can do a few different things. Our brains are networks. When we learn something new a network is created. If we use it often it is strengthened. If we don’t use it the connections fade away. A process of “Tuning and Pruning”
Lesson 3 “Little Brains Wire Themselves to the World.” Unlike most species we develop late. The whole wiring process takes about 25 years. This allows our brains the flexibility needed to wire themselves for the environment and societies we are born into.
Lesson 4 “Your Brain Predicts (almost) Everything You Do.” This is one of its main functions. Based on current circumstances and past experience our brains are continually predicting our environment and planning our next moves, even executing the next moves before the sensory data of the “real world” is processed. “Your brain is designed to initiate your actions before you are aware of them.” Predicting and acting is almost always ahead of understanding. Fighter pilots talk of the OODA loop. Observe Orientate Decide Act. This is a misconception. It would take far too long and you would end up dead. Our brains use a Predict, Begin to Act, Correct, Predict again, begin modified action, correct again….. continuous system. The only thing remotely like deciding is the prior experience our brains are drawing from to make the predictions. This is where we have agency (free will) over our behavior. We can decide what we learn and how we want to perceive the world and gradually train ourselves to see it that way. Is it a world of scarcity or of abundance? Both beliefs are true. Which one are we going to choose to train ourselves to see more clearly? This is what the Dalai Lama calls “perspective”
Lesson 5 “Your Brain Secretly Works with Other Brains” We are a group species. We need and affect each other more than we know. Ubuntu is the idea that we call each other into being, this is really very close to the mark. Solitary confinement is really a slow form of capital punishment. We regulate each other’s brains and “body budgets”. “Have you lost someone close to you through a breakup or a death and felt you had lost part of yourself? That’s because you did. You lost a source of keeping your body systems in balance.” “The price of personal freedom is personal responsibility for your impact on others. The wiring of our brains guarantees it.” IE the freedom to say whatever we want comes with the responsibility of the effect our speech has on others. Because we are social creatures we will all enjoy the fruits of uplifting speech or the suffering due to harmful speech.
Lesson 6 “Brains Make More Than One Kind of Mind” We are not all the same. We have different personalities, and on top of that our brains construct themselves differently when we are raised in a different society. This is why immersing ourselves in a different culture where we don’t know the first thing about that society’s norms (or language) is so difficult. What was automatic in our own society now needs to be learned again. Understanding each other is going to be more critical to the future survival of humanity. As Abraham Lincoln said “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
Lesson 7 “Our Brains Can Create Reality” “Social reality can alter dramatically, in moments, if people simply change their minds. In 1776 for example a collection of thirteen British colonies vanished and was replaced by the United States of America.” This is a super power that only we humans have. We can create money, towns, and states, democracy and human rights just by believing it is so. And just as easily we can lose something valuable if we cease to believe in it. “We have more responsibility for our reality than we might realize.” “A superpower works best when you know you have it.”
Jane is a computer game designer. Here is a link to one of her TED talks. It is definitely worth watching.
Her twin sister Kelly is a researcher in the field of positive psychology. She also has several great TED talks. Something in the genes they share…?
Jane’s first book “Reality is Broken” was published in 2011. Why do so many people spend 10, 20, or even 40 hours a week, as much as a full time job, playing games online? Going on quests to save the universe or whatever. Why do people find these games this alternative reality so fulfilling and ”real” reality not so much?
Why is reality having trouble competing? Afterall it is the real one right?
Most work lives have a lot of room for improvement.
What makes a good game? How can we make reality more like a good game?
McGonigal makes a living designing good games. She was one of the first people to design her own graduate degree in game science before it was a thing, so she knows her stuff.
A good Game has 4 elements:
1. The Goal is the specific outcome that players will work to achieve. It focuses their attention and continually orients their participation throughout the game. The goal provides players a sense of purpose.
2. The Rules place limitations on how players can achieve the goal. By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push players to explore previously uncharted possibility spaces. They unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking.
3. The Feedback System tells players how close they are to achieving the goal. It can take the form of points, levels, a score, or progress bar. Or in its most basic form, the feedback system can be as simple as the player’s knowledge of an objective outcome: “The game is over when…” Real time feedback serves as a promise to the players that the goal is definitely achievable, and it provides motivation to keep playing.
4. Finally voluntary participation requires that everyone who is playing the game knowingly and willingly accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback. Knowingness establishes common ground for multiple people to play together. And the freedom to enter or leave a game at will ensures that intentionally stressful and challenging work is experienced as safe and pleasurable activity.
These are all key to a good game and you can probably already see how they can fit nicely into the work environment.
Goals are easy, business and work are full of them. We need to make sure they have been clearly articulated and people have agreed that it is a worthy goal and they are reasonably clear on how they can help get us there.
The rules of the game in business and our jobs are also usually fairly clear. There are accounting rules that a business follows to make sure of our results when compared to other companies also playing the game. If the goal is to make money then the accounting system is a good way to keep score. If however the goal is human happiness, quality, or environmental impact we will need to find a different scorekeeping system. Sometimes the rules are very few which can allow for a lot of creative ways to get to the goal. What rules are there about how your job gets done?
A quick way to track progress is easily found in a well run company. There will be KPI’s (key performance indicators) that we can use to track progress towards the goal. We need to make sure they are really related to the goal of course and not some unrelated stuff our boss wants to track. The usual problem with KPI’s in most companies is that the “score” is not updated frequently enough. Imagine playing a game online and then a month later getting a letter in the mail telling you your score or how you did relative to the other players. Or worse yet it is an average of all your scores over the last month. Annual review anyone? Quarterly or monthly department performance report? If you want motivation and engagement the feedback needs to be immediate. When we score a goal we need to hear about it now. When the zombies are overwhelming us we need that feedback right away. This is why I set up a system in our company for production operators to find out how much profit we made on that batch they just finished as soon as they completed it. Supervisors are no longer hassling me, they are coaching me on how I can get a higher score.
Here’s the thing we all miss at work. Players need to opt in. If I am making you “play” it is not a game. You all know by now that I promote maximum autonomy for intrinsic motivation. This is a good example of why that is important. I did not make people play the game. I just made it possible for people to get a score/feedback immediately and play the game if they wanted to.
People like games and we are more or less competitive. Once someone we know or another group starts playing, it is hard for others not to. People are different. We like different types of games. We want to participate in different ways, so we need to provide different options. You could play “Make the most good product in a shift” or you could play “Highest yield batch”, “fastest changeover time” or “highest quality score”. You can play “machine uptime”. If you are tracking a thing you can make a game out of it. We had objective measurements that everyone understood and gave feedback on these things every day.
We are just totally weird. This is a quote from Bernard Suits who is a philosopher of gaming that McGonigal quotes in her book.
This is how McGonigal explains it:
Let’s take golf to start. As a golfer you have a clear goal: to get the ball in a series of very small holes, with fewer tries than anyone else. If you weren’t playing a game you’d achieve this goal the most efficient way possible: you’d walk right up to the hole and drop the ball in with your hand. What makes Golf a Game is that you willingly agree to stand really far away from each hole and swing at the ball with a club. Golf is engaging exactly because you along with the other players have agreed to make the work more challenging than it has any reasonable right to be.”
Here is another quote from her book about the experience of a Sociologist who began playing a game.
It was a whole different business, nothing like I’d ever known, like night and day… Thirty seconds of play and I am on a whole new plane of being, all of my synapses wailing. Sociologist and Jazz pianist David Sudnow about playing the video game Breakout
So how do we make work more like a good game? I will let Mcgonigal say it in her own words:
The prevailing positive-psychology theory that we are the one and only source of our own happiness isn’t just a metaphor. It is a biological fact. Our brains and bodies produce neurochemicals and physiological sensations that we experience, in different quantities and combinations, as pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, ecstasy, contentment, love, and every other kind of happiness. And positive psychologists have shown that we don’t have to wait for life to trigger these chemicals and sensations for us. We can trigger them ourselves by… undertaking a difficult challenge… accomplishing something very hard for us…making someone laugh…or…being part of something larger than ourselves that has lasting significance beyond our individual lives. Jane McGonigal “Reality is Broken”
There can be more dimensions to the game of work. Want to level up? If you are a new operator (padawan) you will need to get training from someone more experienced. (a Jedi Teacher) When your Jedi teacher thinks you are ready to be a Jedi yourself another teacher observes you going through the process, You also take a written test that you have been studying for on your own. If you pass the written test and the practical exam you are now officially a Jedi operator you get a bonus for every question you got right on the test and your pay is increased. Want to level up again? Maybe you want to be a Jedi trainer? The only way to level up is to successfully train a padawan. You need to find a padawan to train.
Maybe training others is not your thing. You could work on becoming a Jedi Master. What do you need to do to become a master? You must be able to demonstrate that you can run all of the machines in your department and problem solve virtually anything that comes up. When you think you are ready you apply and if three other masters recognize you as a fellow master you are in.
What if fixing a machine is not ‘a work order’ for an apprentice maintenance mechanic but a quest should you decide to accept the challenge? How do you move from an apprentice mechanic, to journeyman, to master, to grandmaster?
Many of our workplaces could use a more engaging environment. Our planet also needs us to be more engaged. The right conditions can get us there.
If you decide to implement some strategies to have more fun at work remember you are there to create the opportunity for people to accept a challenge. You would probably do well to engage your people in a creative discussion on how you could transform the work environment.
Devise your goals together, decide on the rules and the KPIs as a group.
Just remember if you compel them in any way it is no longer a game.
This is going to be a combination book review and essay. I want to bring together the concepts in this book and some current concepts about the human brain.
So first some biology background to set the stage. Each of us is composed of billions of cells. 1.25 billion in our brains alone. Our brains consume about 20% of the overall energy we burn each day. This is the most expensive organ we have. Nature does not allow this much expense unless it is doing something important. What is it doing?
Most of us in western cultures will immediately leap to ‘rational thought’ being the work of the brain, but that is not true. We have this big cerebral cortex where rational thought occurs right? Wrong. Our cerebral cortex is proportional for the size of our brain. Elephants have a larger cerebral cortex than we do but it is proportional to their overall brain size. Smaller primates have a cerebral cortex in proportion to their brain size. The cerebral cortex is not exclusively for rational thought and we are only rationally thinking a small part of the time.
So what are our brains doing? In the words of neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, our brains are managing our “body budget” balance. When our bodies are in balance it is called Allostasis. This is why we have brains. (a budget theme emerges)
Our brains are managing our energy deposits and expenses internally and with the external environment.
There is a lot going on inside our bodies. We need to get glucose, protein, salts, hydration, and oxygen to every cell. Our heart rate speeds up or slows down as needed. We feel thirsty or satiated.. Our immune system needs to be on constant vigilance against intruders. Our brains are helping our organs and cells to maintain this balance and according to Barrett there is a huge amount of stuff going on. Most of this is going on beneath our conscious awareness and a good thing too, because it would be very distracting if we were aware of it.
Communication within our bodies is not one way. Our organs are communicating with our brains and back and forth. Our brains are working in service to our bodies. Helping to maintain balance in our interior world.
To maintain our body budgets efficiently our brains also work with the information from the external world as prediction machines. Being on high alert is biologically expensive but sometimes necessary. Feeling fatigued is a way our brains signal to us that resources are depleted and we need to slow down and conserve.
Our brains don’t think rationally ‘oh there is a rustling sound behind that bush it might be a lion or it might be the prey we have been tracking, which option is more likely? What should I do next? hmmm.
This would take too long. Approximately 0.5 – 1.5 seconds which is a lot of time. If we thought rationally about this we would either miss our lunch or be someone else’s lunch.
Instead our brains were already continuously predicting (situationally dependent) scenarios, taking in information and comparing it to the scenarios our brains predicted, then based on the differences making new predictions, over and over. All of this happens without us being aware. Because of past experience (or shared experience passed down through language, ghost story around the campfire anyone?) we were already on the lookout for lions, zombies, or other dangers and opportunities (smores?). In this type of situation our brains would have already boosted us with some adrenaline, (or in the case of smores our salivary glands have begun to run).
We are on alert (which is biologically expensive so we only do this when expedient). We hear a sound and compare it to the sounds of threats we have been anticipating, or the prey we have been tracking. If it is a close match based on past experience our brains immediately send action signals to our muscles to get us moving and boost our adrenaline further. We feel this adrenaline boost. In a different situation we might feel this very same adrenaline rush as an amorous feeling but in this situation we label it as fear or excited anticipation of the hunt. Our rational selves catch up much later when we are either 50 yards away, yelling at the top of our lungs, and still running as fast as we can, or when we have run forward and already thrown our spear into our prey.
Notice we were predicting and looking for dangers and opportunities according to the situation. If we were safe in our camp with our group around us, the same rustling sound would not have evoked the same response.
Our brains are prediction machines creating and matching concepts based on past experience to prime us for the most efficient response. When our friend who was rustling the bush with a long stick jumps out and yells boo! Our brains without any rational thought at all, readjust our concept of current reality.
So our brains are here for budgeting purposes and to do that effectively in the external environment they are prediction machines. What can we learn from our biology and apply to our company’s planning and budgeting processes and how we hold people accountable to meet those budgets? A lot!
Notice our brains were managing two things. Our internal body world and our external sensing and responding.
The internal world is a lot like a corporate budget. We intend to consume X amount of capital (calories) this year, get this many hours of sleep, walk this many miles, produce this quantity of widgets, etc.
Predicting the external environment is like a strategic plan in the moment.
Are our corporate budgeting systems situationally dependent? Are they flexible? Do they respond quickly? Are we constantly aware of our surroundings and comparing what we are sensing, to what we are anticipating? Are we rapidly making adjustments and communicating changes based on new information? Uuuh.. that would be a no.
Our companies spend a lot of time doing strategic planning and budgeting. An offsite strategic plan can take management a week to complete. A lot of time before the meeting is spent gathering info on customers, the competition, the marketplace and other possible variables. Outside experts and consultants are hired. (McKinsey Associates) Reports are generated that are ‘supposed to be’ read before the meeting.
The plan gets hashed out. People getting paid hundreds of dollars an hour sitting around and guessing.
It then takes even more time and internal marketing to communicate this plan to everyone. We then hold fast to it come hell or high water.
Budgeting takes the full time and attention of the accounting department. What happened last year, did you meet the budget you ‘agreed’ to under pressure? What cuts can you make (what can we pressure you into agreeing to) this year? The old negotiation process with the managers and the games that get played. The monthly or quarterly budget reviews to keep people on track. The elegant elaborately crafted excuses. The old “It would have worked out except for this one time thing” argument.
These are expensive processes to run. We do it every year so the expense is compounded again and again. There is also a human cost to budgeting. Running all these games and holding people accountable for things that are not really under their control is demoralizing. No one enjoys any of it. It encourages unethical behavior. (Enron)
In “Beyond Budgeting” Hope and Fraser point out all these problems. They also present solutions and examples of companies like Handlesbanken, who have gone “beyond budgeting” a long time ago. I am not going to go through these examples. If you want to read detailed examples about these companies’ journeys, please pick up the book. It is an easy read.
I will share their conclusions. From page 198 of 208. “In the long term, the objective is to reduce complexity and allow front-line people to use the knowledge at their disposal to make effective decisions.”
P 199: “The finance people who were previously under pressure to produce monthly accounts and explain variances are now able to spend more time understanding and supporting the needs of hard-pressed front line managers.”
Organizations need to be “adaptive” and “decentralized”
Essentially self organizing self directed teams are the way to go. Oh and that is exactly what we humans are really good at when obstacles are removed. It’s how we ran at Watson.
For people at the front lines to make good decisions they need to know the overall intent of the company. Both in the long term (company Purpose) and in the shorter term (how we intend to enact the purpose and intent today in our subgroup) This serves the same function as the strategic plan but we don’t need to do it every year because it does not change very much over time.
We know what happened last year, month, week, yesterday, and we use that to generate predictions on what is likely to happen today, this week, this month, next month, and the rest of this year. This is like the brain using past experience to generate concepts of our present situation and use that to predict the future. The future will be different from the predictions but it is still more effective to have a prediction and make adjustments continually as we go along.
Sales and marketing keep us informed about what is happening in the external world. This customer is launching this new product and discontinuing that one. This market segment is expanding rapidly and that one is contracting. This is not a once a year thing. This is continuous whenever ‘significant’ new information comes in. Just like our neurons synapsing or not, a few bits of minor info may not cause information to pass through the synapse but a big piece of information, or a lot of little ones, will tip the balance and information jumps the synapse and moves along the channel.
People everywhere in the company need access to actionable information. The new job of accounting is to gather and provide this relevant information on the functioning of the internal systems not to “hold people accountable” but so that people can make adjustments to their shared view of the current state of the company and their smaller part of it, and make good decisions quickly.
How this looks day to day.
We needed to get actionable information to production employees. I wanted them to know how much an hour of time on a machine was worth.
I took all of the expenses for a department and tallied them up. I took a proportion of the total overhead relative to that department’s size and added the department cost and the overhead cost together. I divided that total by the number of machines in that department and the number of hours each machine ran. I shared the cost per hour per machine with everyone.
We set up a stand alone computer system (using Microsoft Access and Excel) so that anyone could enter in the formula code, the time used, and quantity of the product they had just made. The computer then pulled up the raw material costs and took into consideration the time it took, the cost of that machine per hour, and based on the average selling price of that product over the last few months told the operator right then how much ‘profit’ we had just made.
With this information operators could experiment with things they could do to improve their numbers. Teams of operators made some amazing improvements just because we shared this information openly. Initially accounting was appalled that I was sharing profit information with the people making the product. Accounting thought this needed to be secret info, for management eyes only. This shows a decided lack of trust. Eventually they mostly got over it.
What we found out is that we were selling some products at a loss. No matter what an operator did there was no way to make money on it. We made pricing and accounting aware of this. We also found some products that were fabulously profitable. We shared this information also. Frequently it was much easier to make a great product awesome than to make a bad product marginally less worse.
Now (just like in our brains) information is going both ways. Management is learning from the production floor. Management’s job is starting to tilt towards support of operations instead of exclusively the other way around.
We held open process improvement meetings. We used these to dive deep into a process to see if there were things we could improve. Information from previous production runs from the data the operators entered into the system was examined. If we adjusted the temperature could we run it faster? Operators, supervisors and R&D normally participated in these meetings.
Sometimes purchasing or accounting would join us. Sometimes a particular supplier’s raw material ran better than another vendor’s material and this was a chance to let purchasing know, and quantify the effect. Hopefully they would buy more of the good stuff.
In one case a raw material came in three packaging types depending on the supplier. It came in bags, boxes and small drums. (sounds like Christmas in Whoville) Purchasing was aware of the cost from each supplier.
What they did not know was that bags were cut open and loaded into the equipment easily, boxes were a bit more difficult and the drums were by far the worst. About 25% of the production time was just opening bags and loading the batch. The drums took three times longer. The drums had twisted wire closures on them sealed with lead seals pressed onto the wires. QA very sensibly did not want the risk of lead seals falling into a batch of food product. Therefore when loading drums of raw material we had to first cut off and discard all of the lead seals and wires outside the production room. Only when QA had inspected them could we bring them into the production room to open the drums and load the product. This more than tripled the loading time. Purchasing and accounting were unaware of this. The cheapest raw material (which was the budget purchasing was being held accountable for) was really the most expensive when we took the loading time into the overall equation.
In a normal company purchasing would have gotten in budgeting trouble for buying the more expensive material. Production would have got in trouble for reallocating people from the sanitation department to help open the drums. But when viewed as a system, accounting was all behind buying the more “expensive” material because it paid for itself in time saved.
When new information from sales about increases or decreases to requirements or marketing info about changes in the market place came to light we would hold “Open Space Meetings” to share that information with everyone and act on it. The information was shared and we gathered ideas on how to adjust to the new information and people went ahead and just made the changes. (No internal marketing expense or delay in distributing the new strategic plan. People created the plan so they already knew what it was and were already doing it.)
Before we ran a series of batches of a product a team of operators and supervisors would gather and review the information and lessons learned from previous runs and talk about what we wanted to try differently this time.
How often does the plan or the budget ever work out? Traditional budgeting and strategic planning is energy and resource intensive and provides little benefit and a lot of downside. It is dispiriting, demotivating, and can lead to unethical behavior. (BTW bonuses are also demotivating)
We would be a lot better off to take lessons from the efficient brain operations that evolution gave us.
Based on our company’s purpose or intent:
Management’s job is to help everyone in the organization (all the cells in the body) to maintain a body budget balance (allostasis). Management does this by freely and continually sharing information from the internal world of the company and the external environment with everyone.
Everyone in the company is responsible for sensing and responding to what is happening in the local external and internal environment and communicating their observations and intended responses with each other as needed.
One last thought
Everyone is also responsible for each other. As Barret says, as a social species, “we regulate each other’s bodies”. The best thing for a human to maintain a “body budget” balance (Allostasis) is another human. Someone we can depend on and an occasional high five or a hug can do wonders. Potentially the worst thing for a human for maintaining a “body budget” is another human who disrespects us and is only acting in their self interest.
Our companies are only as strong as our people are. We need to maintain the health of the human system. Management sets the tone for this but all of us are responsible for it.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” Spend your time on culture and when that is done (and it is never ever done) then when you have retired, if it’s your thing, spend time doing a traditional budget, just for fun, as a game, nothing serious, just to see how it works out. (how could you take it a traditional budget process seriously in a complex world)
Lisa Feldman Barrett interview. This is almost 2 hours long and in my view, well worth every minute of it. In the first half they get the concepts sorted out, in the second half they have a great conversation with some deep personal reflection and sharing.
How can we facilitate more meetings that don’t, for lack of a better term, suck? A solution lies between the covers of this book. Open Space technology is a gift to the world, and one I have brought inside of US manufacturing plants to engage employees and solve thorny problems. But let’s back up.
I am sure you have been to at least one or possibly two 🙂 long boring meetings where nothing really gets done and you wished that you did not have to be there. These meetings have a pre-set agenda designed to constrain the discussion and avoid emotionally charged issues. Unfortunately, those tend to be the issues we really need to talk about. It is not unusual for the boss to simply want to dictate what occurs, and the meeting becomes a way to “perform” getting everyone’s buy-in. Weeks or months later, it will be as if nothing has changed.
The reason most meetings fail to provide maximum benefit is that they are not aligned with our internal human operating system.
It turns out, humans don’t like to be told what to do or how to do it. Instead, we want to choose who we are going to be working with. As a team, we prefer to figure things out for ourselves. We also believe – and latest entrepreneurial science will back this claim up – that those closest to the work know better than management what the real issues and pain points are and are generally well-equipped to get them sorted.
Open Space Meetings are like meetings from another planet. A completely new breath of fresh air in which the agenda emerges during the course of the meeting. Participants hold space together in order to express their views candidly to build up the intelligence in the room so that complex issues can not only get addressed, but solved.This is not for the faint of heart, (or control obsessed) but it works and feels amazing to be a part of. · · Open Space meetings work because, as Owen tells us, “human systems are self-organizing and naturally tend towards high performance provided the essential preconditions are present and sustained.” The technology or facilitation-style he invented serves to unleash human beings’ natural drive to self-organize effectively.
To further illustrate the contrast, let’s look at how the typical business meeting scenario unfolds.
Suppose you, the CEO of a company, see a problem that needs to be addressed. It involves several departments so you will need to schedule a meeting and write up an agenda. You will need to decide who to invite to the meeting. Manager X, Manager Y, HR, Accounting etc…. You probably already know what the outcome is that you want. The purpose of the meeting is really just to get everyone on board and agreeing with your strategy. Meanwhile, there is a lot of time and energy wasted among these so-called team members jockeying for position and not wanting to lose ground, power or face in the organization. This creates covert obstacles to change.
Whereas, this is how an Open Space meeting unfolds instead:
Maybe you are the CEO or, if you have a Conscious Culture, you can be anyone in any position in the company who senses there is a problem/opportunity that needs to be addressed. Rather than researching and preparing all the information ahead of time, you call a meeting to discuss the emerging situation. Anyone in the effected department(s) or any other group in the company (internal stakeholders) may self-select to opt in if they feel they have something to contribute. If you are a Conscious company and the issue is large enough you could invite other stakeholders outside the company. Your key suppliers or customers for example might want to help if you extend the invitation.
The goal is to get people together to figure it out. You post the problem/opportunity and you post a time, and location for a meeting. That’s it!
When the time comes around, people gather at the location. People were not told to be there. They were invited to come if they wanted to. Maybe some people that you didn’t even think of show up. This is a group that has a common interest. People who don’t care won’t show up.
When people get there they will find a room – or virtual equivalent – with a circle of chairs. It’s a circle – in spirit and in form – because it is non hierarchical. Everyone has equal opportunity to contribute.
In the middle of the circle is a small table with some paper and markers on it.
On one side of the room there is a wall space. This wall has a grid showing times on the vertical and places on the horizontal axis.
When you think it feels like the right time to start, you stand in the middle of the circle and reiterate the problem or opportunity that brought everyone here.
You invite people, if they like, to come to the center of the circle and take a piece of paper and write down an idea they have related to the problem (or more than one if they have several ideas each on a separate sheet). They then stand in front of the group, and briefly state the idea and they go post it somewhere on the grid on the wall.
Each of these posts on the wall represents a meeting on that idea in time and space.
This process continues with some people briefly sharing their idea and posting it until no one else is standing up to do it.
When this is done we take a break and during this break people peruse the wall of ideas which Owen calls the “Market Place”. They can grab a pen and sign up on that sheet for a session that they want to participate in.
Then the small meetings start. During these small meetings someone takes notes on what was discussed and decided. These notes are posted on another wall the “NewsRoom” People who were not able to attend a session can read the notes there.
Notice the group itself created the agenda and the group self organized into smaller groups to effectively talk about things that those people really care about.
There is only one law. “The law of two feet”. If you are in a meeting and you feel you are not contributing or not as interested as you thought, you can use your “two feet” and go join another meeting or discover some other soul in the hall and have your own spontaneous meeting.
We held Open Space meetings at my family’s former company on a regular basis. If something new came up that we needed to work on, we added another one.
One meeting was about the fact that we were close to capacity in one department and sales was predicting significant new business. We posted an Open Space meeting about this. Around 20 people from that department and other departments came to the meeting. Sales spoke for a few minutes sketching out the opportunity and answered questions to clarify what they needed more of.
We then started the meeting.
Around 10 people brought up ideas. Some were about ways to speed up the manufacturing process, some were about ways to change over products more quickly. Some were about clarifying the directions on the batch sheets. Some were about parts and tools. Some were about raw materials. Some were about doing some steps concurrently instead of sequentially. Some were about improvements we could make to the equipment.
Few of these people were managers or supervisors. They were the people who did the work each day. They split into groups. R&D people self selected to go to the meetings that involved changing processing directions. QA people naturally went to the meetings that were about cleaning faster and more effectively between products.
At the end of the day we had lots of actionable items on to do lists and lots of decisions already made.
Just think about the difference. Everyone who came wanted to be there. The group generated its own agenda in just a few minutes, held meetings, made decisions and got stuff done. No one directed anyone. Instead of one person doing the thinking and directing everyone else, everyone is thinking and collaborating together, coming up with many more ideas than any individual ever could and then just going ahead and doing it. Everyone is now highly engaged to see it get done and keep the gains they made.
That’s where Open Space officially ends.
For us the process continued
We then switched to a self managing, modified Scrum process. (Scrum is a highly productive way of running projects. More about that in another post!)
The “To do lists” that were self generated during the Open Space meeting were on large poster size Post It paper. We posted these lists in the hallway outside the department that needed more capacity. People were encouraged to get a teammate or two and pick an item on one of the lists and sign up on that sheet to get it done. When it was done they just wrote DONE! next to the item. This was a way to make it easy to see who was working on what so you could join them if you wanted or what things still needed doing that you could take on. It also made it easy for me to see who was doing what so I could help remove obstacles for them.
In case you are wondering, there were plenty of improvements made and we had no trouble meeting the new customer’s needs.
I look forward to hearing from people who have also used Open Space Technology, particularly as I work on ways to deliver this in a virtual environment, for the benefit of remote and hybrid (partially remote and partially co-located) teams.
How are we going to get through this pandemic? How are we going to put this country together again? How are we going to ameliorate racial and financial inequality. How are we going to collaborate globally to deal with climate change? How are we going to deal with the next global crisis after that?!! We can be sure there will be more and we need to develop our skills and be capable of dealing with them effectively.
David Sloan Wilson is an Evolutionary Biologist. His book “This view of Life” has an answer.
It is what he calls the third way. THe third way is based on his work in evolutionary biology and Elinor Ostrum’s “Core Design Principles” for successful human groups.
Ostrum is the Nobel Prize scientist who studied groups that did not have a tragedy of the commons. They managed their water resources or their fisheries effectively and sustainably. She found that there were 8 key principles embodied by these groups. She called them “Core Design Principles.”
This book is about a whole lot more than this but I am pulling this nugget out because it seems the most relevant now.
I sometimes think it is just going to be too hard to put this country back together so maybe we should just split up and go our separate ways. Unfortunately we can’t afford to do that. In fact we need to develop even stronger relationships within our country and between all nations if we are going to succeed as a species. We will not overcome this pandemic unless everyone on the planet works together. Same goes for all of the other major crises we face now and in the future.
Originally life was single cell organisms, then multi cell organisms evolved. Multi cell organisms had advantages over the single cell organisms so more of these developed over millennia. Each of us is a combination of billions of cells working together. Every one of our cells does a job. Some, like the cells in our immune system, sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole. If our cells work together the whole survives. When one cell starts to take too much and ignores the good of the whole it is what we call cancer.
Laissez Faire does not work. We see this in capitalism run amok. Selfish individuals taking too much. Cancerous, homoeconomicus behavior. Financial inequality.
Central control ie. Communism does not work either. It is too slow to respond and the world is too complex. (many large corporations try to run themselves through tight central control, Information travels up and approvals travel down the chain of command, instead of being agile they are slow and ponderous)
What does work is a third way. A society (or a company) based on Ostrum’s Core Design Principles (CDP’s)
There are 8 of them. Here they are in brief.
Strong group identity and understanding of purpose
Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs
Fair and inclusive decision making
Monitoring agreed upon behaviors
Fast and Fair conflict resolution
Polycentric Governance. (Groups of Groups within Groups)
Here are the design principles through the lens of a Conscious company or B Corp.
Employees are proud and passionate about their work. They know they are a group and they know their mission. Their Higher Purpose
People are paid generously and are appreciated for their work. It is not a work life balance thing. Work itself is fulfilling.
People are included in decision making. Stakeholders’ interests are represented when decisions are made, not after the fact as window dressing and greenwashing.
They care about and monitor their company’s performance in areas of social responsibility. They monitor behavior within the organization to make sure it is consistent with their principles.
When there is a transgression of principles, they first of all gently remind the individuals involved before escalating sanctions, if needed. Most people want to do the right thing and just need a gentle reminder. They may even be unaware of the inconsistency in what they did.
When things get out of hand, when transgressions escalate, then respond quickly and fairly to fix the problem. This could mean disciplinary action, demotions or dismissals. If it is not addressed the group will begin to fall apart. If someone is allowed to commit sexual harassment and get away with it everyone will become demoralized.
Give people and groups autonomy in how they get their work done. Trust them to find new solutions and to try them. The more experiments we run the better.
Join forces with other individuals and groups on the same mission. Whether they are suppliers or customers or competitors it does not matter. It is the mission that is critical. Even our competitor is our partner when we are working to solve the same issue.
This works on all levels. It works on the level of the small group of 5 people working together. It also works on a global level.
First of all recognize that what is good for me may not be good for my group.
What is good for my group may not be good for my… company, organization etc.
What is good for my Company may not be good for my community.
What is good for my community may not be good for my state
What is good for my state may not be good for my country
What is good for my country may not be good for the global community and environment.
At what level are we engaged? Are we being selfish for ourselves, our company, our nation, or are we putting the good of the whole larger group first?
Here is what I think it looks like through the climate change lense.
We are all of humanity. Climate change due to human behavior is a fact. We have only one planet, one ecosystem, and we have to protect it. This is the mission. Everything else comes after this.
We need to treat each other fairly. Economically, racially etc. This needs to go into our decision making on how we address the crisis.
We need to be democratic. We need to hear each other out. We need to respectfully discuss the issues and share ideas based on factual evidence. Where there is no evidence we need to get it ASAP. The planet’s voice is the main voice we are representing and hearing from.
We will monitor each other. We will agree on what will be effective solutions to the climate crisis and what we will do.
When we fall short others will first gently remind us of our responsibility and what we agreed to do. (This happens at all levels. The level of the individual person right up to the level of a nation.)
If there are repeated and severe violations (at any level) there are swift and measured pre agreed upon consequences and solutions.
Allow autonomy to achieve the goals in the way the local community thinks best. The more experiments we run the more good solutions we will discover and the more we can refine them. Complex issues can not be solved by central control. It requires diverse experimentation.
We are all in this together. Our generation may not see much in the way of benefits for ourselves but future generations will be depending on us to do the right thing for them NOW.
I am sure you can see now how this can be applied to racial justice, economic inequality, the pandemic, and putting our country together again.
I can’t help myself so I will go on a bit more.
I want to point out that doing things to disenfranchise people, or just to make it difficult for them to vote is a violation of CDP #3 fair and inclusive decision making.
I think it is also worth mentioning that some people have been observed fostering misinformation CDP#4 monitoring behavior,
They have been gently reminded that continuing to sow the misinformation about the last election is a violation of our republic’s democratic principles CDP#5.
If they persist in these transgressions then the result must be a swift, just, and definitive response to that behavior if our country is going to be effective for its people and even for our republic’s continued existence. CDP#4
Plomin is a genetic psychologist. He studies the effect of our genes on who we are.
We all share 99% of our genes with each other. That’s what makes us human. We share about 97% of our genes with chimpanzees. It would not surprise you then to know that most of the 99% of the genes we share are controlling things like the fact that we have two arms and two legs are mammals, have a digestive system, etc.
The 1% of our genes that are responsible for all our human variation controls things like eye color and height. that is easy to understand. You would not be surprised to learn it also controls other things like our BMI body mass index. What might surprise you is the extent to which our genes are responsible for our personality.
It turns out that body mass index is 70% heritable. Diet and exercise and the environment in which we live are a factor but the largest part is genetic.
Our personality is also highly heritable. About 50% of our personality is encoded in our genes. Plomin studied identical twins adopted at birth and raised apart and found that they are remarkably similar. Children who are adopted show almost no correlation of BMI with their adoptive families but a lot of correlation to their birth parents who they only knew for a few days.
There are literally thousands of genes that give us our personality and many of these genes control other aspects of ourselves also.
There is another compounding aspect to this. The nature of nurture. If there are two children in a family they will each get a share of their parents DNA. Therefore they will be different in size and shape and also personality but also alike in some ways.
You can easily have a child who likes to read and one who does not in the same family. The one who enjoys reading may have been read to more when they were little. Did the parents treat them differently on purpose? Not at all. What happened is that one child asked to be read to and the other found it boring and did not. The parents are actually being modified by their children more than the other way around. (Like the humorous bumper sticker that reads “Insanity is inherited; you get it from your children”.) If one child is genetically anti-social the parents may treat them more harshly. In this case it is not the harsh treatment that made the child anti social. It is the other way around. If a child craves affection their parents will spend more time cycling them.
As we go out into the world a lot of random stuff happens to us and there is nothing we can do to control that. However there are a lot of things under our control. Who chooses our friends? We do! Our choice in friends reinforces who we are.
Some people who read this may find it upsetting because afterall getting dealt a genetic hand not only on our sex, skin color, height and weight but also our personality as well seems a bit unfair.
It does seem unfair that so much that contributes to our outcomes in life was determined genetically at conception. Then we tend to choose the things in life that reinforce our personality differences. The remainder of what influences us (socioeconomic status and the society into which we were born) is mostly random stuff that we have no control over. Genetic inequality to which is added, the inequality of our circumstances in which we grew up.
Here is my take on it though.
I think it feels unfair only because we are looking at it through a narrow lens of individual success. Individual selection in a game of survival of the fittest. But what if life is about group level selection. What if we do well because our group does well?
Take the Olympics as an example. Obviously success in pole vaulting requires a particular body type. Gymnastics is better suited to a person who is a bit smaller. Both of these people need to have little fear of heights though. The Olympics, like life, are not just one sport. We have been dealt a genetic hand of cards and the environment in which we grew up. But life is complex. Who is to say at conception which hand is best?
We are group creatures. Our individual success depends on the success of our group and our group’s success depends on having a wide variety of sizes and shapes and personality types in it. Equality is not helpful in group level selection. Individuality is. The only limiting factor in how varied our group can be is that we need to get along and collaborate at least most of the time. A leader determines the extent to which we either hold the space open for and celebrate differences or do not.
It is not so important what traits I have been dealt. What is important is that our group can collaborate well with different individuals. Making the best use of our differences to help the group.
If you can find a group that is highly accepting of differences and highly collaborative, where you feel you can openly bring your whole uniquely quirky self to work, you have probably found a group that is and will be successful.
Groups that are overly concerned and rigid about procedure, dress code, and job descriptions will not do as well.
I heard a talk by a young woman who had just got her masters in business and was hired by a large company who wanted to increase their diversity. She had a very different ethnic and experiential background. She really needed the job. She had school loans to pay off. She hated her job! She was required to comply with the strict dress code and do her work in the same precisely defined way as everyone else. “Why did they hire me? They could have hired anyone to do this job”!
What I would really like you to take away from this is that each of us is unique. I can’t help being who I am, and you can’t either. Neither can that young person you just hired. Work with the grain of human personality not against it. A company’s success comes from respect, and collaboration. Instead of trying to control people with rigid job descriptions, encourage job crafting. Let everyone’s individual strengths come to bear on what we sense needs to be done at this moment in furtherance of our group’s mission.
This book covers human history over the last 200 thousand years but it is much more than that.It gives great insight into what sort of creatures we are and how we were shaped by evolution.
The reason I picked this book this week is for one particular topic he covers. Our ability to collaborate is based on our biology. Our brains reward us intrinsically for the behaviors that benefit our groups. I discussed this in my reviews of the books The How of Happiness and The Book of Joy.
However it is not all roses in a garden of Eden. There are people who take advantage of others and act selfishly. How do human groups cope with this?
In Sapiens Harari writes about the importance of gossip. Many organizations attempt to stop their people from gossiping. Gossiping however is how we humans keep track of who is behaving and who is misbehaving in our tribal groups (or small companies) up to about 150 people. (Dunbar’s number) When our groups get larger than this we can’t keep track of the bad apples in our group and we either need to split into two smaller groups or we need to find another solution.
When we invented agriculture we became stationary and we began to live in larger and larger groups numbering in the thousands. If someone ripped you off in the market place there was a good chance they would get away with it. It is about this time that for the first time religions emerged with gods who cared about laws, were vengeful, just, and would hold people accountable in an afterlife. IE Zoroastrianism. (Previously gods were mischievous trickster gods or nature gods who might require sacrifices to appease them.)
This belief system in a just and vengeful god and an afterlife was a useful thing. If I know that you also believe in the same vengeful god then I know I can trust you, and if you cheat me, I know that in the afterlife you will get what is coming to you. This allows the economy to operate more smoothly.
Our belief in our currency is a similar thing. A $20.00 bill has value because most of us believe it does. If most of us now believe it is only a piece of paper (which objectively it is) then it is just a piece of paper.
Only humans can do this. We are the only creatures who can create and share a fictional belief system that can promote cooperation of millions of individuals. You are not going to convince a chimpanzee to give up a banana for a $20.00 bill. It is not possible for 10,000 chimpanzees to gather peacefully in a stadium to hear a speech or attend a ceremony either, but humans can do this because we can believe in ideas and these ideas can unite large numbers of us.
What we have lost track of is how many other “fictions” like this we currently depend upon and believe in, and how dangerous a lack of belief in those fictions can be if they are undermined and too many of us decide they are no longer true.
It was not long ago that most people believed in the divine right of kings. Then overnight we thought that was just a silly idea and we chose to believe in government by the people instead. Democracy, and Human rights, are just as much “fiction” as was the divine right of kings. Objectively no god endowed us with inalienable rights. THere is no sovereign god protecting our democracy. The only way these rights are “true” is if most of us believe it is true. These truths are “self evident” only because we all believe it.
When a group of people undermines our basic beliefs and “faith” in our system by ignoring evidence, spreading lies, and engendering “false” beliefs for their own selfish aggrandizement they are literally taking apart our society. There is nothing, no institution or system to prevent its collapse. We believe the system is strong and can protect itself but that is not true. (hundreds of societies have collapsed in the past) As we have seen recently (I wrote all of this before the insurrection in the capitol building which just makes it more obvious) if it was not for a handful of people with hard facts in hand and moral spines in a few key positions, our democracy would already be over, or on life support. These people have performed heroically under a lot of pressure from very powerful people. Our society is still under attack and I am afraid it will continue to be for a long time.
We need to wake up and realize how fragile our democracy and freedoms are.
Freedom of speech is a value we all hold dear. Along with the good of being able to speak freely to authority comes the downside of people freely being able to spread false information and blatant lies. However opinions are one thing and facts another thing entirely. We may not be able to legally shut down these lies but we can speak up and reach out to others we know who have bought into the lies.
To change a person’s point of view you need to be respected by them. Therefore the only expedient way out of this is for the leaders of these groups to have the decency to now speak truth to their followers.
Lyubomirsky is a professor and a researcher at the University of California Riverside.
All human beings want to avoid pain and suffering and we all want to find happiness. How do we find happiness? This book is about 20 years of scientific research around finding sustainable authentic happiness.
In her book she shares her research and the research of others in the field of Positive Psychology. Sustained authentic happiness does not mean that you can do something once and be happy forever. It means that if you continue to practice these things you will continue to maintain a higher level of happiness.
There are three contributing factors to our happiness.
Our present circumstances. Did you just get a puppy? Did your cat die last week? Did someone unfriend you on Facebook? These are the somewhat random things that happen to us that we spend a lot of time obsessing about. We think if only I had this pair of shoes, or if only that person would… then I would be happy. These things only account for 10% of our overall happiness. We need to spend less time on these things. A new big screen TV will make us happier for a while but it will quickly fade.
DNA. Our genetic coding is responsible for a whopping 50% of our happiness. (at least 50% of our personality also but that is another book) We all live on a spectrum and have a happiness setpoint we naturally gravitate back to. This is called hedonic adaptation. We all know some people who are like Tigger. They bounce out of bed in the morning and are ecstatically happy nearly all the time. We also know people like Eeyore. They could have won the lottery yesterday but today, paying the taxes on their winnings is all they can think about. These people can’t help the DNA hand they have been dealt and neither can we. Just recognizing the impact of our DNA and accepting ourselves for who we are is the best we can do on this.
The good news is that the remaining 40% of our happiness is within our control. This 40% is what the book is about.
Lyubomirsky explains proven strategies for sustained authentic happiness; Gratitude, Cultivating Optimism, Avoid Over Thinking and social comparison, Acts of Kindness, Relationships, Coping Strategies, Forgiveness, Living in the present/flow experience, Savoring life’s Joys, Authentic Goals, Religion and Spirituality, Care of your body, and meditation.
As she explains not all of these are for everyone. She suggests that you just try the ones that feel right for you.
She goes into each one in depth. She shares the research and findings and her own experience.
As an example, here is a quick look at Gratitude.
Due to the exhaustive, exacting research, we know that practicing Gratitude really works. However, research shows that while writing a gratitude list is good you can do better. Optimally you should not count your blessings every day. The optimal frequency for most people is once a week. Ideally you should do this with a gratitude partner. Someone who you team up with (like an exercise partner). You would each collect the things you are grateful for over the week and then the two of you share them with each other.
Even better is a Gratitude Round, a practice we began at work first in our maintenance department years ago. Each week on Friday morning after we had discussed the plans for the day, about 10 mechanics and I would do a Gratitude Round. There is no pressure, it is entirely optional (I just explained it and I held the space open for it to happen).
Sure, it can feel a bit awkward at first but someone will start and eventually it can become a regular expected thing that people look forward to.
People who wanted to could thank someone else in the group for something they did during the week. Maybe someone shared their knowledge, maybe someone gave a helping hand, or brought in a birthday cake, or cleaned the shop, or reorganized the parts or accomplished a particularly difficult job for the first time. This weekly practice took just a few minutes once a week but gradually changed the dynamic between mechanics. People became more generous with their knowledge and looked out for each other more. It became more of a caring community. People would freely volunteer to try to fix something they had no prior experience with. (psychological safety) Others would quickly share some tips, or volunteer to help them out in case they got stuck.
We did other gratitude related things, we had a “Compliments and Accomplishments” white board in the lunch room so that people could write a note to someone thanking them for something or sharing an improvement that had been made.
If you read the “Book of Joy” you would immediately see the perfect overlap of Lyubomirsky’s research and the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s 8 pillars of Joy; Perspective, Acceptance, Humility, Humor, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, and Gratitude.
When multi millennium old religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions align perfectly with modern scientific research it is a good sign we have discovered the truth of Authentic Sustainable Human Happiness.
This book is set in the framework of these two great friends The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu getting together, possibly for the last time. Douglas Abrams knits the narrative together as these two old friends share their wisdom with their characteristic humility and humor.
They draw a distinction between the superficial happiness of external things and deep Joy. If happiness is reliant on external circumstances, it is not true joy. Joy is the happiness that comes from inside us, from our choice of perspective, and from intrinsic rewards.
Desmond Tutu describes his belief in what he calls “self corroborating truth” when many different fields of knowledge point to the same conclusion. Indeed when Positive Psychology research and Evolutionary Psychology point to the same truth as millennia-old spiritual traditions both Buddhist and Christian, and timeless philosophies we are most likely on the right track.
Self Corroborating Truth gets me excited. I see these same connections between this book and many others that I have read. Which should be no surprise. These books are all about us humans.
There are 8 pillars of Joy described in the book. Perspective, Humility, Humor, Acceptance, Compassion, Generosity, and Gratitude. They are very similar to the things that Sonja Lyubomirsky (a researcher in the field of positive psychology) describes in her book “The How of Happiness”, as the essential things that if practiced on a regular basis lead to true lasting happiness.
From an Evolutionary Psychology perspective, we are descended from ancestors who lived in highly collaborative groups. (The non-collaborative were less successful evolutionarily and died out) Can you imagine a group of people working effectively together without Humility, Humor, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, or Gratitude? Think about it for a minute and try to imagine it. Leave out just one of these pillars of Joy and a human group would be in serious trouble.
Turn the question around and imagine a group abundantly full of these things. How much would you want to be part of that group?
Evolution has baked these Pillars of Joy into us. When we do generous things or we express gratitude to someone, our brains reward us with the feeling of Joy as an intrinsic reward. We feel Joy when we are compassionate or when we see someone else in the act of being compassionate or even when we just hear about an act of compassion because it was and still is essential for our group survival. It is our true human nature, These 8 pillars of Joy bring us together. When our group lacks these we feel uncomfortable and may leave that group.
The first Pillar is Perspective. This is about how we choose to view ourselves in our world. It is related to our awareness of our Purpose. In addition to the 8 pillars of Joy there are of course other things that are intrinsically rewarding, like learning and teaching, for example.
This year has highlighted the issue. When we have a perspective that pits not wearing a mask as an individual rights and freedom issue that is more important than human compassion and generosity, compassion for exhausted health care workers and people who are not in good health it leads to catastrophic human loss. Our ancestors were successful because they put the larger group’s needs ahead of their personal and family’s desires.
If we continue down the path of material goals, extrinsic rewards, and selfishness not only will we be following a path of destruction, we will not find the Joy in life that is waiting there for us.
If we humans are going to make it for the next thousand years or so it will be due to these 8 Pillars of Joy and the other intrinsically rewarding things that make us truly human. It will be because we put compassion and generosity before selfishness. If our descendants are here 1000 years from now It will be because we learned to put the needs of all humanity and our planet ahead of our own desires, and our tribe’s, and even our nation’s desires.
We will need to believe in a perspective and a higher purpose that includes not only our families and those close to us but all of humanity and all living things. We will need to recognize these intrinsic rewards as our path to Joy and to saving our planet and ourselves.
Pink’s book takes what we have learned from decades of psychological research and turns traditional economics on its head. In a time of tying up loose ends in anticipation of holiday merriment, I give you the option to view his Ted Talk, The animated version is a lot of fun and an excellent recap of the ideas about human motivation revealed in the book Drive.
In a nutshell, the central concept is, “give people control over their own tasks, and they will enjoy and do them well.” In my experience at Watson Inc. and now in my consulting work at Watson & Associates, this truth gets revealed again and again.
Autonomy is not only personally satisfying to the worker to keep them engaged, but it also results in higher-quality work than that which can be achieved through top-down, command and control structures. The people closest to the work are in the best position to understand the nuances of what needs to be done and carry that out. Trust that, and you will be well on your way to better management.
There are three ways we can be motivated. First like all animals we require basic things like food and water and we want to reproduce, these are basic biological motivators. Secondly like most animals we can also be bribed to do a task (extrinsic motivation). Offer us a bonus and just like a pigeon you can get us to complete a project on time, sell something or (for the pigeons) peck at a lever for a food pellet. The third and more human motivation is intrinsic motivation. It comes from doing something good for our group. We are group creatures and we are hardwired for this motivation above all the others. Typical business practices however don’t treat us as humans. Typical practices treat us like pigeons.
As W. Edwards Demming Says “We have been destroying our people, from toddlers on through university, and on the job. We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with.”
HR spends a lot of time on the compensation package, we should be spending time on creating as much autonomy at work as possible and believe me a lot is possible.
When we maximize autonomy we maximize engagement. Some managers will hear autonomy and think chaos. For autonomy to work we need a North Star we need to know our group’s purpose and our purpose within our group. When we have a purpose along with group agreed upon values and behaviors we have all we need to craft our job ourselves.
However, managing this way is of course incomplete. We are social creatures and naturally like to be collaborative. So another key need that fuels motivation and pairs well with Autonomy as a companion design principle is Belonging. Together (and not just individually), employees are part of a social group that has intrinsic value. Keep that in mind, and you will have a stronger and more resilient organization.
I hope you will come to our Town Hall meetings with some ideas of your own about autonomy, belonging and other workplace motivations. You might find, as I have, that Dan Pink’s work resonates on a deep level. If so, then you may want to consider subscribing to his newsletter, called the Pinkcast. There’s some good stuff in there!