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.
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.