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Posts tagged with ‘meaning’


Why else would you work?


Why else would you work?

The futility of ‘Fungineering’

Happiness is found only in little moments of inattention.  - João Guimarães Rosa

Reading a great piece about the pros and cons of ‘fungineering’ in the workplace by Oliver Burkeman, I discovered some useful links and a wry sense of humor:

Countless self-help bloggers offer tips for generating cheer among the cubicles (“Buy donuts for everyone”; “Hang movie posters on your walls, with employees’ faces replacing those of the real movie stars”). It’s all shudderingly reminiscent of David Brent, Ricky Gervais’s wince-inducing character from the British version of “The Office”; or of the owner of the nuclear power plant in “The Simpsons” who considers distracting attention from the risk of lethal meltdowns by holding Funny Hat Days.

Lest my curmudgeonliness be mistaken for misanthropy, let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with happiness at work. Enjoyable jobs are surely preferable to boring or unpleasant ones; moreover, studies suggest that happy employees are more productive ones. But it doesn’t follow that the path to this desirable state of affairs is through deliberate efforts, on the part of managers, to try to generate fun. Indeed, there’s evidence that this approach — which has been labeled, suitably appallingly, “fungineering” — might have precisely the opposite effect, making people miserable and thus reaffirming one of the oldest observations about happiness: When you try too hard to obtain it, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.

study by management experts at Penn State and other universities, published last month, found that while “fun” activities imposed by bosses might slow employee turnover, they can damage overall productivity. Another concluded that the fashionable tactic of “gamification” — turning work tasks into games, with scores and prizes — reduced the productivity and job satisfaction of those workers who didn’t approve the notion.

Worse still, the pressure to maintain a cheery facade in such workplaces can be stressful and exhausting in itself, a form of what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild called “emotional labor.” In a 2011 study of workers at an Australian call center, where bosses championed the “3 Fs” (focus, fun and fulfillment), researchers found that many experienced the party atmosphere as a burden, not a boon. Pret a Manger, the British sandwich chain with branches in America, reportedly sends mystery shoppers to its cafes, withholding bonuses from insufficiently exuberant teams.

The ‘reportedly’ link above is to Paul Myerscough’s Short Cuts review (read my comments here), which is an indictment of Orwellian totalitarian be-happy-at-work-or-else at Pret-a-Manger.

Returning to Burkeman, what does he suggest as the right plan of attack for business?

Instead of striving to make work fun, managers should concentrate on creating the conditions in which a variety of personality types, from the excitable to the naturally downbeat, can flourish. That means giving employees as much autonomy as possible, and ensuring that people are treated evenhandedly.

Pleasure is elusive, at work and outside of it. The paradox of pleasure is that it must ensue from other activities, and not from direct pursuit, as Victor Frankl said. Happiness arises from our investment of self in something greater than self. An emergent property, like order arising from apparent chaos in living systems, an exaptation: for certainly, those who approach their work with only the goal of self-satisfaction are unlikely to become happy, or produce great work.

The miscast ‘pursuit of happiness’, then, must be manifested in our work lives as arising from engagement in our own work, and its consequence, its meaning. From this we miraculously can find happiness, but only out of the corner of our eyes, when it isn’t what we are looking for, at all.

Gamification is baloney — Stowe Boyd via GigaOM Pro →

A post I wrote at GigaOM Research about gamification is getting a lot of play on Twitter:

an excerpt

The need for a renewed push in the enterprise to reengage every person with their personal work, to find meaning and purpose, has never been greater. But adding badges to users’ profiles on whatever work management tool the company is on, showing that Bette is a super expert customer support staffer is the shallowest sort of employee recognition, like giving our coffee mugs to the folks with the lowest number of sick days.

We need to build deep culture, where the foundation of the new work ethos is on people’s relationship to their own work: gaining mastery in their work domain, acquiring higher levels of autonomy, and gaining the respect of coworkers. For that, we don’t need no stinking badges.

Deb Lavoy, Find Your (Corporate) Greatness
'Not Just Narrative, Purpose'
A solid piece about the motive force inherent in aligning a company’s narrative with its mission. From upper right, clockwise: Leaders, Niche, Lost, Marketers. 

Deb Lavoy, Find Your (Corporate) Greatness

'Not Just Narrative, Purpose'

A solid piece about the motive force inherent in aligning a company’s narrative with its mission. From upper right, clockwise: Leaders, Niche, Lost, Marketers. 

Meaning 2012: More Information About The Event

I learned today that Umair Haque, an old friend, will be joining me and a stellar list of other participants at the Meaning 2012 conference in Brighton this October 1. I am really excited about the event, and a chance to spend time with the conferees, and the folks at NixonMcInnes who are wrangling the conference.

via email

Meaning conference is the annual gathering for people who believe business can and must be better in the 21st century. It’s happening on Monday 1st October 2012 in Brighton’s beautiful and historic Corn Exchange.

The purpose of Meaning is to build awareness and community around the practical possibilities of progressive business so that the world becomes a better place.

The speakers are international thinkers and doers from business, academia and activism, each bringing their view of the challenges and opportunities available to us.

At Meaning you’ll learn from pioneers and build connections with like-minded peers. Together we can change the world of business.

Speakers so far:

  • Umair Haque, radical economist
  • Caroline Lucas, MP and Leader of Green Party
  • Stowe Boyd, social tools researcher and speculative designer
  • Alexander Kjerulf, happiness-at-work expert
  • Vinay Gupta, inventor of the hexayurt
  • Margaret Elliott, employee ownership advocate
  • David Hieatt, founder of Howies, Hiut Denim and The Do Lectures
  • Professor Karen Pine, behaviour change expert

I have proposed the topic of ‘Post-Normal Humanism’, but we’ll have to see what shakes out as I write a short series of posts about what ‘progressive business’ means leading up to the conference.

We are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift from a mechanistic ideal of organizations to a humanistic one.

From the traditional notion of the ideal company as a well-oiled machine, controlled by a CEO, to one where the ideal company is a synthesis of minds that is constantly and continually learning, improving and producing.

We’re not all at the same point along the path of this transition – and even within organizations, some people are further along than others. You guys here are in the lead, of course.

And, in the midst of this new-found humanism it is tempting to embrace the “its our people” mantra ever more tightly.

That’s because we’ve discovered that we have vast untapped human potential hiding within our organizations, and the pressure to figure out how to engage it is skyrocketing. You’ll hear a lot about how to engage people here this week, and with good reason.

But we’ve been out there for a couple of years or so building and selling an enterprise social app that supports team collaboration, and our research and, even more, our customers and also many of you, have taught us a lot. We’ve learned that we can predict with close to 100% accuracy which of our clients will fail and which will succeed.

There is a single criterion that we can use to predict this and it is a sense of purpose. Without a strong sense of purpose, even the most talented collection of people will founder.

With a sense of purpose you will get the best work out of whatever crew you have assembled. With purpose, people strive.

Without purpose, personal interests, infighting, and worse, apathy, takes the place of vision, and becomes the dominant force in decision-making. With Purpose, people strive.

Their iron cores align to a common magnetic north. This alignment unlocks their collaborative, collective potential.

Personal politics – though still there – takes a back seat.

- Deb Lavoy, my E2Conf Keynote

Deb Lavoy was one of the best things about the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference.

I might quibble a bit with terminology, because I find that what is really needed for groups to succeed is meaning: the significance of an activity, and its import for others. Purpose emphasizes the end of some activity, which is fine as far as it goes. Meaning carries the additional nuance of shared understanding, which is primary for me.

I am looking forward to the Purpose Driven speaker series that Deb is running for Open Text, starting with Simon Sinek in NYC, July 12.

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