- Inspiration: Forget cats and TIE fighters, there’s tons of tech for good at SXSW too
- Mission: Help us launch 10,000 happy startups
- Org design: The Organization Lab (o-Lab): How might we create the next iteration of our organizations?
- Future: This Amazing Computer Chip Is Made of Live Brain Cells
- Book (free chapters): Why does this always happen to me?
“I for one am afraid that our American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am wary in the face of this possibility: to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful over our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia from the system. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?” – Eric G. Wilson Against Happiness, in Praise of Melancholia
Last week I visited the awesome Studiomates collaborative workspace in Brooklyn, New York. When you visit the space, you immediately notice the collaborative, friendly atmosphere so I asked how they go about cultivating that. Naturally they are selective about who they accept as studiomates, but once people are in, how do they get people collaborating?
A big part of the answer over there is simply eating lunch together every day. You don’t have to have a Google-style free gourmet canteen to do this. Just have a set time every day and encourage everyone to eat their lunch together. It’s as simple as that, but don’t under-estimate the power. Humans have been talking while they eat together for thousands of years. It’s a very natural way to find out what’s going on and who needs help as well as creating and strengthening relationships and having fun.
We’re starting this practice at The FuseBox today. How about doing this at your workplace?
One of the most valuable things I’ve done in the past year is mindfulness training. Essentially this is training to become more conscious and in control of your attention. This might sound banal, but it can help you step out of the auto-pilot in which we spend much of our time thinking and reacting. It’s clinically proven to make people less stressed and anxious, and feel happier more of the time. I’m still at an early stage in my journey but already I can see how mindfulness practice is life-changing.
If you have a healthy skeptical mind and are curious about the science behind mindfulness, here’s a fantastic video which includes some fascinating studies such as the effect of mindfulness training on troops serving in Afganistan.
OK, I appreciate that this video is over an hour long, and here on the Internet we only have very short attention spans. But perhaps that’s the point.
Here’s a great little meme you can start today which will make your workplace just that little bit happier. Thanks to Tom Bailey who told me about it over a cuppa the other day.
You know those times when someone makes a mistake and goes overboard with “sorry, sorry, I’m really sorry, arrrgh, my fault, I’m sorry!” Or conversely, when someone points the finger of blame at someone else for a mistake? The next time one of those things happens, simply say the words “Hacky Sack.” This, of course will be met with complete bewilderment the first time they hear it, giving you the opportunity to explain something wonderful about the simple game of Hacky Sack.
In a game of Hacky Sack, failure is part of the process. At some point, the Hacky Sack will dropped. Probably many times in a session. This is just the nature of the game. And if it’s just the nature of the game then there’s no need to go overboard with an apology when it happens, and no need to chastise anyone for screwing up. So in Hacky Sack, the etiquette is to just pick it up and carry on. No apology expected; no blaming allowed.
This sounds a lot like how workplaces should be. At work too, failure is just part of the process. It’s not something we need to go over the top with apologies or blame for. Hell, it’s even something to celebrate at times.
OK, I’m sure there are exceptions like where you’ve broken trust or failed to respect someone and a sorry can go a long way towards repairing a relationship. And perhaps it might not apply quite so well where lives are at stake, but that’s a tiny minority of workplaces. But for 99% of the everyday failures and mistakes that are made at work, make Hacky Sack the rule in your office.
This week I’m at BluCamp in beautiful Missouri, USA – a retreat for leaders wishing to build freedom-centred, democratic workplaces. I’m here partly to help out but mostly to learn, and already it’s been mind-blowing.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt today is that the first step towards building a freedom-centred workplace is to adopt a freedom-centred mindset. Sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to dive into adopting crazy new working practices or trying to change the culture before working on yourself first.
At WorldBlu, when we talk about ‘freedom’, we mean freedom from fear, since it’s fear that narrows our thinking, causes us to try to control rather than develop opportunity and at a most basic level, it’s a whole lot more fun feeling a sense of freedom than fear. Unfortunately most workplaces are dominated by fear and control which makes us unhappy and leads to poor performance. It’s not about being fearless. It’s natural to feel fear. The important thing is to recognise and free yourself from fear by taking action.
So how do you begin to go about adopting a mindset of freedom? Here’s a very simple exercise that we did today which really opened my mind.
1. Write down up to three challenges that you are facing in either your personal or work life which give rise to any kind of fear. This could be a direct, adrenaline-fuelled fear; more subtle, long-term or unconscious fear; or even well-intentioned fear. Write down how the fear manifests itself as well as the specifics of the challenge.
2. Now ask yourself the question: ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?‘ and write down the solution for each challenge.
3. Reflect on how you feel about the challenges. Do you feel different?
It’s as simple, yet powerful as that. When I answered this question for three meaty challenges I’m facing, I was amazed how easily the answers flowed onto the paper. And not only that, it genuinely did change my mind-set from one of fear to one of opportunity, confidence and even excitement. This is the power of freedom.
Please give it a try it now and let me know in the comments if it worked for you.
I had an email from a reader who gave me permission to anonamise it and share:
[After working in sales and feeling something was missing] I moved into the care sector, retrained and was running the company after 3 years. He’s where it differed, there was and still is very little margin in the sector for any financial rewards. Care practitioners are on slightly more than minimum wage and do not have a reasonable fuel allowance. In domestic care they are accountable legally for the care/support they give and must attend quarterly supervision (by law) and have to retrain yearly. They work 24/7 365 on a rota.
Last year I moved to a new company and had to explain to 300 staff why their duties would expand due to ward closures, their area of travel would increase, but I wasn’t or rather couldn’t pay them any more. They were not happy. As qualified care practitioners, they were on less than staff on supermarkets check-outs.
I had of course checked the budgets, asked the directors for an increase and took another look over the council contract, where I realised that the contract was worth less than the previous year. When I queried this, I was told “carers do it because they care, not for the money“.
How about that for assumption. I handed my notice in soon after…
Classic management screw up, making an assumption about their people ‘they do it because they care, not for the money.’
The huge flaw in that logic is not understanding the difference between being happy IN work and happy AT work. The carers were happy to be IN work in a profession where they had real meaning and improved people’s lives, but it´s impossible to be happy AT work if you’re paid so little that money is a huge, pressing stress and you’re worried sick about paying the bills.
This is all too common in the charity sector where employers believe it’s enough for people to be working for a cause they feel passionate about and so don’t pay people enough or create a good working environment. At best, this is de-motivating, and at worst it makes great people leave and take their talents elsewhere.
Conversely, in many corporate jobs, including sales much of the time, the opposite is true. You get paid really well and have a nice comfortable life so you feel happy AT work but if you feel like you’re just being paid in order to make even more money for shareholders then there’s very little to make you happy IN work. And again this can cause great people to lack motivation or leave.
The key therefore is to create organisations with a very clear, higher purpose that people believe in and want to be a part of, and to ensure that you pay people enough to take money off the table as an issue so that they can focus on work. Once these base level needs are met you can then work up to higher levels of human satisfaction through recognition, social belonging and mastery of their craft which will take their motivation and performance to soaring heights.