Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Connecting People with Passion

When I ask someone “what most inspires you?” the answer rarely comes back as simply money. Money is the thing that must be taken off the table in order for people to be able to think clearly about their life and it is definitely the vehicle for meeting most of our basic needs. Where it is being offered by the truck load it is cited as pretty inspiring (as in the case of banking). Most companies however cannot offer this much and even if they can, it does not guarantee that the right decisions will be made. In fact, at best money has a pretty inconsistent effect on human motivation and at worst it interferes with making good decisions. Social studies have shown that where even rudimentary cognitive skills are required, where more money is offered as the incentive, poorer decisions are reached. Many companies know this already and view profit as a necessity rather than their ultimate goal. The classic business doctrine “Maximise shareholder wealth” is understood, however businesses that are run simply to fulfil this tend to have bad things happen, to the environment, to their company, to the products, or to people. Companies that continue to innovate and prosper, do so based on other guiding principles. A more meaningful and inspiring raison-d’etre. Read on to explore the meaning or purpose of some of these organisations.

Stanford University:

To enhance and disseminate knowledge that improves human kind.

Lost Arrow / Patagonia (outdoor clothing and accessories):

To be a role model and tool for social change.

The John Lewis Partnership (UK Retailer):

The Partnership's ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business.


To be disruptive, but in the cause of making the world a better place.

Atlassian (software developer):

Our mission is to build a different kind of software company — one that listens to client needs, values innovation in development and solves customer problems with brilliant simplicity.


Your future is our purpose.

Waldorf Schools (Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophical schooling methods):

Teachers in Waldorf schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child… This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and behavioristic rewards to motivate learning. It allows motivation to arise from within and helps engender the capacity for joyful lifelong learning.

The Dandelion Time Project (UK social care trust):

Dandelion Time is a charity dedicated to helping children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties, and their families, through engaging families in every day activities and reconnecting them through nature.

An interesting point about these is that they are not very prescriptive. Rather they succeed in creating a positive mood, a sense of self-worth, and movement in a positive direction. I have worked for some organisations intent on nailing down values and behaviours into a menu-style list for everyone to follow. There is a place for these "behavioural contracts" (e.g. where behaviour has derailed into a conflict) however the rest of the time it's pretty much a passion-killer! Who wants to be so tightly controlled? People tend not to be too inspired when being told exactly how to behave; nor do they tend to behave in the way intended. It risks creating an unhealthy parent:child dynamic and interferes with our need for autonomy.

Few people come to work every day with the intention of maximising profits for their organisation; or to create a greater number of widgets than yesterday; or to cram in more tasks into their daily work routine. In fact, the real reasons are varied, and will differ from employee to employee. I say few do, because under certain conditions which have been quite manipulated (I'm thinking about the UK schools' league performance tables here), there are people becoming focused on productivity measures. When intelligent and flexible thinking is manipulated however, as I said before, the cost is that undesirable and often bad things happen. The opposite to behavioural manipulation is putting into practice what truly inspires and motives us towards a common goal.

Mostly, people are guided by their pursuit of meaning, mastery and autonomy, whether at home or at work. Removing obstacles to delivering one's best and inspiring sufficient meaning, respect and challenge, is the golden opportunity of our time.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Are you suffering from Holiday Deficit Disorder?

The holidays we Europeans are granted are often marvelled at (and sometimes ridiculed) by our North American colleagues. Currently however, the average vacation in America is being quoted at a mere three to four days - a long weekend. And this year, according to a recent survey, one in seven Americans will take no holiday break at all. In strong defence of the benefits of taking a break, read on to discover what happens when we do not switch off and how you can begin to redress the balance, if you think you are suffering from holiday deficit disorder:

- Working more than 48 hours a week doubles the load of stress our bodies are under. It puts one on course for heart disease due to a poorer quality lifestyle and also to our bodies increasing cholesterol production.

- A culture where working overtime is the norm is counterproductive as work is conducted by fatigued brains. This fatigue then seeps into regular working hours. Many studies show managers to be running on too little sleep.

- Companies who have a competitive "last to leave the office" culture generally suffer from poorer creativity, poorer tolerance of new ideas and are more prone to conflict. When we are stressed for too long our intelligent thinking capability goes out the window. As the brain's frontal lobes shut down (the intelligent thinking part) our "prehistoric brain" (the amygdyla) kicks into action, severely inhibiting intelligent thought in favour of survival.

- People who bring the "productivity" mentality on holiday go back to work exhausted (e.g. measuring number of sights seen, trying to cram in too many things into a short three day break, etc.).

So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:

- Do things relating to your passions and build a holiday around the things you like to do with your friends or family.

- Practice the fine art of aimless wandering when on holiday. Practice letting go, exploring and discovering, with no other purpose than that of wandering!

- Linger with friends or family over at least one meal time per day.

- Put on your play hat. Connect with play, with your kids, your pets and loved ones.

- Enjoy the medecine of laughter. When was the last time you & loved ones laughed together? Relationships are much more resilient and mistakes more readily forgiven where laughter is present.

- Learn to live well in the moment as well as for the future. Life will pass by quick enough. Will you discover later on that most of yours was spent trying to fulfill the ambitions of your organisation at the expense of yours & those of people close to you? If this is not possible in your current job, consider what you need to do to find work with a better employer, one who actively promotes work-life balance.

- Recognise the impact of your own ambitions. Are you being guided by achievements which in hindsight no longer matter; or simply feel the need for high-adrenalin? If so, try to explore what it is you are really seeking? People who describe themselves as "Type A" (high-achievers); or "Type T" (high risk-takers or "adrenalin junkies" even) are prone to compromising important relationships and longer-term quality of life in order to experience the short-lived highs of achievements or thrill-seeking. Learning what you need to address in order to adapt to longer-term rewarding alternatives will bring healthy balance to your life and more harmony to your relationships.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Great Ideas That Almost Didn't Make It!

Good ideas usually come from outside sources rather than from inside the company or culture. This is largely due to our conditioned ways of thinking, which encourages us to think in terms of the common good, but unfortunately frequently makes us blind to new opportunities. The most creative companies rely upon ideas being generated outside of their walls as well as from within them. Here are some of the most famous ideas that nearly didn't make it (extracted from a great book - "Beyond Entrepreneurship, Turning Your Business Into An Enduring Great Company" by J Collins & W Lazier):

"the devise is inherently of no value to us" - Western Union internal memo in response to Bell's telephone, 1876

"in order to earn better than a "C" the idea must be feasible": a Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's proposal for reliable overnight deliveries. He went on to found the Federal Express Corporation.

"So we went to Atari and said, "Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you." And they said, "No". So then we went to Hewlett-Packard and they said "Hey we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.": Steve Jobs speaking about attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Wozniak's PC. Jobs & Wozniak founded the Apple Computer Co.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?": HM Warner, Warner Bros, 1927.

"We don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.": Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles.

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy.": any number of experienced drillers who Edwin L Drake tried to enlist in his project to drill for oil in 1859. He later became the first man to strike oil.

"That is good sport. But for the military, the airplane is useless.": Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief, allied forces on the western front, World War I.

"The television will never achieve popularity; it takes place in a semi-darkened room and demands continuous attention.": Harvard Professor Chester L Dawes, 1940.

NB: Apple didn't create the basic idea behind the Mackintosh; those ideas had been around for years, developed by defense, and later at Xerox. A group of Apple executives attended a demo of mouse and icon technology at Xerox (which became an investor in Apple) and carried the basic ideas over to Apple.

The NIH syndrome (Not-Invented-Here) can be countered by various practices introduced by thought leaders, the media and if in companies, by structured processes. If you hear of someone saying, "that will never work", or "we don't do things that way here" then you can be sure that somewhere else, someone will be saying "how can that work?" or even "I love it, let's try it". If you're the one with the ideas, the music, the project or the curiosity then just continue on your path until you have found the receptive thinkers or audience for you. Good luck!