Archive for the ‘Job, Career, Calling’ Category
If we’re going to see a job recovery in this decade, it’s likely to come from America’s entrepreneurs since 80% of the net job growth in our economy comes from small to mid-size businesses. So, if we know our economic recovery depends on incubating more entrepreneurs, it’s natural to ask, “How can we create more entrepreneurs and what drives an individual to relentlessly work eighty hours a week on a risky new venture?”
Conventional wisdom suggests the primary motivator for entrepreneurs is money or wealth creation and, in fact, much of the political debate tends to center around what kind of tax or regulatory policy changes will turn corporate suits into small business adventurers overnight. But, what drives someone to be an entrepreneur is a much more complex question and one that I’ve grappled with in the quarter century since I launched my company.
When I started my hotel company, Joie de Vivre, at the age of 26, I saw this venture as my ticket to freedom. I’d done my time in corporate America from McDonald’s making shakes to Morgan Stanley making deals and, yet, I felt awfully constrained by the uniform – not just my clothes, but how I felt I needed to conform – that a traditional job required me to wear. So, the freedom to be myself and develop a business based upon my own rules was my first driver. Right behind that was a need to be creative. I joined a maverick commercial real estate development company right out of business school thinking that it was going to unleash my creative juices, but instead, found that I was just a transaction jockey constantly toggling between negotiating high-stress development deals and having my eyes glued to a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. This was not fertile ground to explore my creative side. Launching a boutique hotel company dedicated to creating original, stylized small properties satisfied my need to be inventive.
As my company grew, I became aware of another motivating force that led me to entrepreneurial pursuits beyond just freedom and creativity. I became more and more curious about human nature and, as we grew to nearly 40 hotels and thousands of employees, I saw our company as a laboratory for trying things in one hotel – whether it was a new incentive plan for employees or a new unique service for guests – so that we could roll it out elsewhere if we saw that we struck a chord with this innovation. And, ultimately, this curiosity led me to writing books on the crossroads of business and psychology.
But, what’s most fascinating about what drives an entrepreneur isn’t necessarily what’s most conscious to the entrepreneur. For many entrepreneurs, the fuel that keeps them going could be power, fame, a trophy wife or husband, or – possibly – as is true with many workaholics, their business is a means of running away from other elements of their life that either scare them or make them feel small. More than a few entrepreneurs use their business and their success as a means to build their fragile self-esteem. As the business goes, so goes the entrepreneur’s sense of them self. So, for many of us, our ego is a major driver for why we throw ourselves with reckless abandon into a new venture.
Carl Jung said that we are powerless over what we’re unconscious of in our lives. For me, while it was enlightening to know that freedom, creativity, and curiosity – more than money or power – were the key qualities that made my work life a calling, it was when I came face-to-face with how much of my identity and ego was wrapped up in my work that I found real freedom. Becoming conscious that my sense of self didn’t have to be strapped to that inevitable rollercoaster that defines the ups and downs of a business gave me a “joie de vivre” that I never found by just chasing the next success.
So, as politicians harp on about the importance of various tax or regulatory policies that will lead countless entrepreneurs out of their corporate closets, let’s realize that fiscal policy alone won’t fertilize an abundant economic garden. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson – these folks didn’t launch their employment vehicles because they calculated how the government had made it more financially lucrative for them to launch their businesses. For every entrepreneur who is doing it to get rich, I’ll bet you there are three others who are doing it to either make a difference in the world or their community, make a name for themselves, or just make something that makes them feel good. The best way we can encourage people to create companies that create jobs is to celebrate the diverse entrepreneurial stories and the variety of drivers that led these entrepreneurs to sticking their necks out. Telling powerful entrepreneurs’ stories and aggressively educating people on how to start a business may have more of an impact on reducing our unemployment rate than some subtle or complicated change in tax policy. Silicon Valley didn’t become the entrepreneurial capital of the world because it has some uniquely attractive tax rate (in fact, quite the opposite, it’s in the high-tax state of California).
GETTING MORE MOJO FROM MASLOW: In Order to Survive the Struggles of the Economic Recession, We Need to Reframe Difficult Business Experiences as Opportunities to Find Meaning in Our WorkWednesday, November 24th, 2010
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp and wrote the influential tome Man’s Search for Meaning once lamented, “People have enough to live by, but nothing to live for; they have the means, but no meaning.” This is a predicament of modern man. Once we’ve addressed our basic needs in life, what do we strive for?
Modern man is a worker bee. To us, business means busy-ness. We work 25 percent more hours per week than we did a generation ago, not counting the time we spend e-mailing colleagues from home or while we’re on vacation. As we toil away to keep up with the cost of living, we often fail to recognize the high spiritual price we pay for being more focused on means than meaning. But why? Research shows that this approach can be counter-productive. Gurnek Bains, lead author of Meaning, Inc: The Blueprint for Business Success in the 21st Century, says that meaning directly drives employee commitment and engagement. Industry-leading companies like Google, Genentech, and Southwest Airlines—which regularly appear on lists of great places to work—have learned that the key to raising performance levels is to create a sense of real meaning for employees. “This has a tangible and demonstrable impact on business results. Now that other forms of competitive advantage have become commodities, creating a sense of meaning for people will be what makes the difference for most companies in the future.” It is critical, then, to transform the economic challenges of the recession into opportunities for us to understand and infuse meaning into our work.
When I started my company, Joie de Vivre Hospitality, nearly a quarter century ago, I decided that the name of the business should also be its mission statement. Joie de Vivre has since grown into America’s second-largest boutique hotelier, based on our commitment to “Creating Opportunities to Celebrate the Joy of Life.” We distilled our credo into a two-word mantra, “Create Joy” which is stamped into the blue rubber bracelets that all new employees receive during orientation and that many veteran staffers routinely wear.
But one learns the difference between a glorified mission statement and a belief system that guides behavior when a company faces a “once-in-a-lifetime” economic downturn— and, really, we’ve faced two of these in the San Francisco Bay Area in the past decade. In late 2001, I was struggling. I had 1,000 employees, and I didn’t know how I was going to make payroll. The combination of the dot-com crash, 9/11, and a worsening economy had put Joie de Vivre at risk. One afternoon, I walked into a local bookstore in search of a business book that would help ease my financial pains—or at least give me a clue about how to survive. I quickly realized that what I really needed was some serious personal guidance. So I moved from the Business section to the Self-Help section of the bookstore (conveniently located next to each other), where I reacquainted myself with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, one of the most famous psychological concepts to explain human motivation.
I suppose that a guy who names his company “Joie de Vivre” should naturally gravitate toward self-actualization. Maslow is known as an early leader in the human potential movement; he believed that psychology was too obsessed with our worst behaviors when a lot can be learned from our best practices. He first popularized the axiom, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail,” aptly describing his peers’ over-emphasis on neurosis in the mid-20th century. Re-reading Maslow helped me to see one of the most neglected facts in business: the fact that we’re all human. And, no matter what our role—CEO, line-level employee, customer, investor— in a particular business is, we each have a hierarchy of needs that determines what’s important to us. Late in his life, Maslow started applying his hierarchy of needs to organizations and businesses. Unfortunately, he died in 1970 at the age of 62 before he could closely examine how his theory might shift from the individual to the collective.
During that downturn nearly a decade ago, I started “channeling Abe” to see how I could apply his theory to my company. I figured the worst that could happen is we’d go bankrupt, so why not learn something along the way? I distilled the Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid from five to three levels, or key themes, which make up what I call the Transformation Pyramid: survive (safety and physiological); succeed (esteem and love/belonging); and transform (self-actualization). These themes aren’t just relevant in business; they’re fundamental in life. I looked at how to apply them to the three most important stakeholders in Joie de Vivre: employees, customers, and investors. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on employees.
Maslow concluded that individuals’ deepest motivations sit at the top of the pyramid—and take on an inspirational quality. For example, in his research on people’s relationship with their work, he asked dozens of nurses, “Why did you go into nursing?” “What are the greatest moments of reward?” and “Tell me a moment so wonderful it made you weep or gave you cold shivers of ecstasy.” The nurses answered by describing peak experiences that were virtually life-altering. Nurses who were most able to express a peak experience seemed most “called” by their work.
In A Simpler Way, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote, “People do not respond for long to small and self-centered purposes or to self-aggrandizing work. Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives. Those who offer us this petty work hope we won’t notice how lifeless it is … when we respond with disgust, when we withdraw our energy from such endeavors, it is a sign of our commitment to life and to each other.” Maslow helped me understand that my Employee Pyramid was defined by money (survive), recognition (succeed), and meaning (transform).
We all have basic needs that need to be met, and our work compensation package is the means to that end. But Gallup has shown in multiple surveys that money is not the primary reason that people leave a company (in fact, it usually comes in fourth place). People join a company, and they leave their boss. Recognition, which addresses people’s success needs and usually taps into one’s sense of social belonging or esteem needs, is what creates loyalty in the workplace. But money and recognition are external motivators for doing any job. Those who are engaged in something they’re passionate about—such as the nurses Maslow interviewed—have transcended the bartering relationship that defines most relationships between employer and employee. They have tapped into an internal motivation that fuels them. They are inspired by what they do. They have moved from just focusing on the tasks they do each day to imagining the impact of their work. As they become more aware of that intangible we call meaning, employees move to the transformational peak of the pyramid.
Most companies get a little lost in the ether at the top of the pyramid, because it’s easier for bosses to “manage what they can measure,” and it’s simpler to do a benchmark compensation survey than to try to gauge meaning. Someday we may have a “Corporate Meaning Index” just like we have a Dow Jones stock index, so that we can quickly scan who is playing at the top of the pyramid and who isn’t. In studying my own company and dozens of other meaning-driven businesses, I’ve come to realize that workplace meaning can be dissected into meaning at work and meaning in work. Meaning at work relates to how an employee feels about the company, their work environment, and the company’s mission. Meaning in work relates to how an employee feels about their specific job.
I believe that meaning at work is far more important than meaning in work. When employees believe in the work of the company, the whole Hierarchy of Needs is satisfied. Those employees clearly have their basic needs met because they have confidence in the financial stability of the company, which means they have job security. Believing in the company’s mission also typically creates deeper alliances among employees because the sense of being part of a connected crew and the pride that comes from group success satisfy our social or esteem needs. Finally, their self-actualization needs can be met by feeling that we are part of an organization making a difference in the world, plus there’s a halo effect that may render the work they do day-to-day even more meaningful.
One of the most profound decisions I made during the depth of that last downturn was to start managing the business based on meaning and to start measuring meaning in various ways, from asking questions on biannual work-climate surveys to querying line workers in monthly staff meetings, “What’s the best experience you’ve had in the past month here at work?” The question I really like to ask our employees goes something like this, “Most of us think of our job in terms of ‘What am I getting?’ What if you asked yourself daily, ‘What am I becoming as a result of this job?’” Helping our employees reframe their work, changing their tasks to make their jobs more meaningful, and creating a democratic culture in which employees help define our business strategy has helped Joie de Vivre’s turnover rate drop to one-third the industry average. We were recently crowned the “second best place to work” in the San Francisco Bay Area, a remarkable feat for a service company that’s full of people cleaning toilets in a region full of high-tech companies famous for plush corporate campuses.
I learned quite a bit about meaning in business during the last downturn, but this downturn has been full of lessons, too. During the dot-com bust, my desire to learn tended to be organizational, but the worldwide Great Recession has led to more personal lessons. I’ve found myself on an emotional roller coaster the past couple of years. I’ve had five friends or colleagues commit suicide, primarily due to stresses at work, and I’ve seen countless companies in the travel and design industries dissolve under the pressure of this relentless economy. My greatest epiphany resulted in a series of what I call “Emotional Equations” (also the title of my next book, due out in 2011) that help remind me how the world works. The most profound equation that I’ve used for myself and for the managers in my company has been despair = suffering–meaning. I learned this from reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
As teenagers, we learned algebra and found there were constants and variables in an equation. That’s true in life, too. The constant in a concentration camp, or in a recession, is suffering. There will always be suffering. Yet, the variable in life is meaning: How do we find a sense of meaning, even in the most difficult times? This is a question that I’ve asked my employees and myself, because if you can find meaning in the rubble, you will lessen your despair. That’s how this equation works: more meaning equals less despair. Yet, most of us in a difficult time put our attention on the suffering. Life and business are all about where you place your attention. If Frankl can live through a death camp by rediscovering the importance of meaning in our lives, we can live through a painful recession by reframing difficult economic experiences.
CAN BUSINESS BE ENLIGHTENED?
[Originally posted Nov. 8, 2010 on the Huffington Post]
A half-century ago, few would have suggested that the world’s companies might have a bigger impact on the planet than would the various governments of the world. But, today, there’s no doubt that business — for better or often worse — impacts our lives in more and more profound ways, whether it’s how we communicate with each other in the digital age, whether we are surrounded by pollution, or how we look for global solutions to an ever more connected world. Consciousness and commerce need to feel less and less like an oxymoron.
Recently, I had the good fortune of leading a five-day global teleconference with nearly 14,000 registered listeners from more than 100 countries as 40 different worldwide business leaders and academics talked about how an enlightened business community can make a difference in the world. If you’re interested in learning more, all of the audio is free if you register here. This blog is meant to be a guide to the four key themes that arose from the varied speakers: Great companies have great purposes; Be conscious about your culture; Harvest leaders; and Think bigger than your company.
Someone once said, “our purpose in life is a life of purpose,” and this applies to companies also. One of our esteemed speakers said that the best companies think of themselves as “purpose maximizers” rather than “profit maximizers,” as with a noble and magnetic purpose you are more likely to create sustainable profits. Another suggested some great legacy companies like Hewlett-Packard became truly transformative when they moved from a place of thinking of how they can be the best in the world to being the best for the world. All of this brought me back to Peter Drucker‘s profound management question, “What business are you in?” That’s a question that every leader should ask their people. The first time you answer it, your answer will be obvious, but by the fifth time you repeat the question, it is likely that you will have uncovered your purpose or corporate essence and this is far more important than coming up with a catchy marketing slogan (which is how most companies try to prove to themselves and the world that they have a purpose).
Secondly, a common theme that many speakers suggested was that corporate culture is an essential part of company vitality. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh surmised that a company’s culture is its brand in today’s more transparent world. And Monika Broecker, who founded the School of Personal Growth at Google, suggested that the best companies know that corporate training is just a disguise for personal development. An enlightened business recognizes that their internal eco-system is like a pond. Stagnant ponds smell and it’s hard for anything to live there. Healthy ponds have a flow of new water coming in and they create an environment where things grow. Ponds are also an apt metaphor for the ripples that are created when a stone is thrown. The most prevalent and contagious ripple in most companies today is the emotion of fear, yet a healthy culture dispels fear. So, if you want to inoculate your company against the debilitating effects of fear, invest in your culture.
Thirdly, everyone agreed that the leaders we breed today are different than the command and control generals of the past. We’re looking for conductors today who are more adept at the nuances of bringing out the best in an orchestra. If the most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human, it’s not surprising that emotional intelligence was outlined as the most important quality of leadership today. The ability to empathize and understand the other is progressively more important in this small world we live in. Authenticity, transparency, and humility were also qualities that emerging as more important for leadership in this century than the last. Anne Mulcahy‘s rein as CEO of Xerox, which she took over when it was very troubled, and her succession planning to help make Ursula Burns the new CEO a few years later shows the importance of healthy and effective leadership when a leader realizes their most essential task is to create the next round of leaders in their organization.
Finally, Richard Barrett suggested that companies are starting to realize that “a business is a wholly owned subsidiary of society, and society is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.” Social responsibility needs to be intrinsic within the mission of a truly conscious business and reflected in everything it does, rather than just grafted on for marketing purposes (which sometimes can be the case with Corporate Social Responsibility programs). Companies and leaders are role models — not just with the business community — but in the broader world. And, when any of us thinks of ourselves as a role model — whether that’s as a parent being observed by their kids or a leader under the microscope of their followers — it creates a natural stepping up of how we carry ourselves and what we expect from ourselves. If individual business leaders are willing to approach their work with this level of consciousness, we may actually experience a more enlightened business community with great collateral benefits to the world.
For one who aspires to a daily peak experience, I can become awfully cynical when the subject turns to work/life balance. In fact, I love what Barack Obama’s impressive wife Michelle recently said: “I don’t know about you, but as a mother, wife, professional, campaign wife, whatever it is that’s on my plate, I’m drowning. And nobody’s talking about these issues. In my adult lifetime, I feel duped. People told me, ‘You can do it all. Just stay the course, get your education, and you raise a child, stay thin, be in shape, love your man, look good and raise healthy children.’ That was a lie….we can’t do it all.” Michelle tells it like it is.
We had our annual Executive Committee Retreat last week with our top 16 execs. Given how much we have going on right now (in the process of taking over 5 hotels in a three month period), I was looking forward to diving deeper into a variety of meaty management and marketing subjects. But, I got the “whoa Nelly” from a handful of my team suggesting that we needed a little reflection time on just how out of balance we are and how that’s messing with our executive team’s personal “joie de vivre.” We spent half the day on the subject of work/life balance and I learned a few things. Maybe my cynicism comes from the fact that I finally broke down earlier this year and got a Tre, so now my email messages follow me whenever I’m at one with my PDA. (I got nearly 350 emails one day earlier this week. They say that you need on average 5 minutes per email to either discard or respond which means I would need more than 29 continuous hours to just digest and deal with one day of my email. No wonder I feel like I’m getting further behind in my correspondence.)
Actually, what I learned is that there’s a huge psychological boost in sharing our stories together about how this balancing act is making a mess of our lives. Did we come up with some solutions? Yep. We’ve thought of some new email etiquette. One idea is to educate everyone in the organization to segregate who they send an email to: those who truly need to read and respond on the “To” line while all those on the “cc” line can read if they have time and are not expected to respond. And we came up with new ways to streamline some of our other systems. It also gave our senior execs a chance to hear more about my expectations. I’m a chronic early morning emailer, which scares some of our team as they feel as if they need to be up and reviewing email by 5 AM to see what Chip has communicated. They now understand that I don’t expect immediate responses and, if I do, I will use the exclamation point to help amplify the importance of that particular message (which I may use twice a month). The reality is that leadership is role modeling so how I relate to email will have a big influence on our company’s culture. Just talking about this kind of stuff helped people’s shoulders drop a few inches below their ears as email can truly mess with your nervous system.
A few days after our meeting, I read a NY Times article about how IBM – that venerable icon of American business – now no longer keeps track of their 355,000 employees’ vacation time. Instead of having a formal, top-down corporate vacation policy, employees at all levels make informal arrangements with their direct supervisors guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Everyone gets a minimum of three weeks of vacation a year, but all employees can create alternative means of taking much more vacation time as long as they’re productive. Given that more than a quarter of Americans (and probably 75% of white collar workers) check email or voicemail while on vacation, IBM’s new policy makes all the sense in the world. If our work is going to intrude on our play, then our ability to define our play time better expand. So, it’s less about a work/life balance and more about a work/life blend or maybe a work/life frappe. IBM points to employee surveys showing that the self-directed work and vacation policy is one of the top three reasons their employees choose to stay there. This also makes sense since 40% of IBM’s employees have no dedicated office — they’re mobile. A handful of other companies have followed suit like Best Buy and Netflix. Others compete with each other to see which can be the most generous in creating this work/life frappe. Ernst & Young created a four-day weekend policy around traditional three-day weekends so that their 114,000 employees don’t have to catch planes or sit on crowded freeways on the same exact days as the rest of us. Not to be outdone, Pricewaterhouse Coopers has created a firmwide shutdown twice a year (over Christmas and over July 4th) when virtually everyone goes on vacation for a week so you don’t have to worry about coming back to loads of emails from your work associates.
Here at Joie de Vivre, we recognize that time is about the most valuable commodity in our lives and we’ve stuck to our guns with our liberal sabbatical policy (even during the big downturn from 2001-2005 when we were under a lot of pressure to end it) that allows all salaried employees in the company to take a paid month off every three years. We’re in the travel business and people visit us here in California from all over the world. It would be a crime if we didn’t allow our hospitality employees the time to take extended vacations and visit some of those exotic places they hear about from our hotel guests.
So, having just celebrated Labor Day weekend, let’s be conscious of the risks of the workplace. Think of the word “labor.” It’s a painful time for pregnant women and it’s a word we use when we are “laboring” through something difficult. And, what of the word “occupation?” This word, which is meant to describe what we do for a living–or, more specifically, what we do to make money to have a good life–also describes the hostile overthrow of a land by another force. Work can be labor and it can occupy us if we allow it to. What habits do I use to create a little sanity in my life when it comes to my labor and occupation? First off, I’d better love what I’m doing and feel passionately about it. Otherwise, sign me up for the 9 to 5 job and I’ll find my “life” elsewhere. Secondly, know when to say NO. There was a time when I was living across the bay from San Francisco in Mill Valley. I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t check voice mail or email once I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and that I wouldn’t do any work at home in the evenings. So, in that Pavlovian dog kind of way, my evening drive home became a true stress reducer, as I knew that I could go for a run or mountain bike with my dogs or maybe just read a great book. The last part of my healthy habit frappe is just knowing what things I can do to get me out of my brain. For me, it’s a combo of exercise, yoga, meditation, massages, acupuncture and certain kinds of herbs, and occasionally a book of fiction or spirit-minded thoughts. And, of course, I’m a vacation junkie so that doesn’t hurt either.
It’s a new world of work we’re living and laboring through, so make sure that you are conscious about how your occupation occupies your precious time here on earth.
Are there times when your life just feels out of control? I’ve been feeling that way lately – given all the travel, the fast growing company, and all the preparation for the launch of another book. Fortunately, this weekend I went back to a practice that my good friend Jon Staub and I have been enjoying for years and years (but one I’ve neglected too often lately). Each season, Jon and I would come up to his mountaintop ranch in Sonoma and do a three and a half day organic grape juice fast interspersed with meandering hikes, long steam baths, and the occasional nap. It’s amazing how a fast can slow you down and put you back in touch with what’s essential in who you are.
While up here, I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Darrin McMahon called HAPPINESS: A HISTORY . McMahon charts the history of that ephemeral concept called happiness and how it has morphed through time. My favorite philosopher that he’s been quoting is Jean-Jacques Rousseau who wrote in the mid-1700’s. On a fast, how can I not be drawn to writing that suggests our happiness can be “nothing external to us, nothing apart from ourselves and our existence”? He made the point that happiness is not pleasure. He went on to write, “The happiness for which my soul longs is not made up of fleeting moments (of pleasure), but of a single and lasting state.” Rousseau questioned the era of Enlightenment with its modern concepts and new age of aesthetics. He pondered, “What if the advance of modern civilization was the cause of this conflict, leading human beings not closer to their intended end but farther away, farther away from themselves?”
There’s something about Rousseau, Thoreau, and Maslow – beyond the fact that these three scholars have names that rhyme – that suggests the true purpose in life is to strip away the non-essential crap that tends to weigh us down (although they didn’t put it in those terms). Rousseau wrote, “Let us begin by re-becoming ourselves, by concentrating our attention upon ourselves, by circumscribing our soul with the same boundaries and limits that nature has given to our being; let us begin, in a word, by gathering ourselves here where we are.” McMahan, in the book, suggests that “this language, with its suggestion of self-exploration and retrieval – finding the self, collecting the self, returning the self – is so common to our modern vocabulary that it is easy to miss both the novelty and the essential strangeness of Rousseau’s words.” Rousseau – more than a quarter-millennium ago (yes, that’s more than 250 years) – wrote a very Maslovian statement when he penned, “As soon as man’s needs exceed his faculties and the objects of his desire expand and multiply, he must either remain eternally unhappy or seek a new form of being from which he can draw the resources he no longer finds in himself.” This is the dilemma of modern man – constantly striving for things just beyond our reach (that typically have some external motivation). Strangely, we pursue happiness when, in fact, we should settle into happiness as oppose to chasing it.
Such are the meandering thoughts of a writer/CEO/overworked American who hasn’t had solid food in nearly 70 hours (yes, I do remember my last meal very well…but don’t get me started as I’ve done a phenomenal job of not thinking about all my favorite San Francisco restaurants). On a fast, one has the time to do some serious self-reflection beyond how many inches will I lose from my waist. What’s most been on my mind is something I write about in the last chapter of PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow. It’s the idea that we have one of three relationships with our work or how we make a living. As with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, the goal is to transcend the tangible base of the pyramid to find what’s more essential and personal at the intangible peak of the pyramid.
People with JOBS focus on the financial rewards of working more than the pleasure or fulfillment of what they’re doing. Many of these folks may find their true enjoyment outside of their 9-to-5 existence. Those with CAREERS focus primarily on growing their talent and advancement. While they may gain quite a bit of satisfaction in their work, it is often associated with the esteem that comes from external sources (like recognition or raises). The lucky few who pursue a CALLING find their work fulfilling in its own right, without regard for money or advancement. Those pursuing their calling would recognize Maslow’s statement in their own life: “One must respond to one’s fate or one’s destiny or pay a heavy price. One must yield to it; one must surrender to it. One must permit one’s self to be chosen.”
Each of these three approaches to work correspond to a different level of what I call the Transformation Pyramid (Sustain / Succeed / Transform) or the Employee Pyramid (Money / Recognition / Meaning) – to learn more about those, buy PEAK when it comes out in September.
How do you know which level you, your friends, family, or work associates would be placed on this pyramid? Based upon my fast and the reading I’ve been doing, it’s clear to me that happiness takes hold of us when we turn off the external antenna and tap into the internal. The fact is, a spirit greater than you may be calling to a particular path in life but you and I put up such a collection of distractions and excuses that we can’t even hear the whispers of this calling in our ear. Personally, that whisper has become a shout for me lately as the mud-wrestling between my career and my calling has been entertaining (if you’re the observer) but grueling.
Given that this talk of job, career, calling, and just the basics of happiness have the risk of being vague, I created a test in PEAK for the reader to try and understand where they are in their life. Feel free to take the following test, although beware that your answers will be influenced by your current state of mind, which means you may want to take the test twice, at least one week apart, to really gauge your accurate score. Read each of the following statements and place a check next to the five that best describe your relationship with your current work. Be careful, as it’s easy to think broadly about how certain statements SHOULD reflect your work life. What we’re looking for here are the statements that actually reflect your work life today:
1. While I enjoy what I do at work and am very good at it, I often feel like I’ve “topped-out” and I have to look elsewhere – my home, my spiritual life, my friends, my hobbies, my community service – for inspiration or fulfillment.
2. I tend to lose myself in my work. I just feel like I’m in the “flow” and I lose all sense of time.
3. I like what I do, but I don’t expect a lot from my work. It just provides me what I need to do the other more important things in my life. I enjoy my leisure life more than my work life.
4. My work truly makes a difference in the world.
5. The greatest experience I have at work is when I’m truly recognized by others for what I’ve accomplished.
6. If I had to choose between receiving a 10% raise at work or finding a new best friend at work, I would probably choose the raise.
7. I quite often feel like the work I’m doing is coming from some source bigger than me. I’m just channeling this energy or this talent and I’m quite often amazed by its power.
8. I’m often not that excited to go to work on Monday morning.
9. My goal in life is to rise to the top of my field.
10. There are moments when I think to myself, “If I were independently wealthy, I’d probably still be doing this work.” I do what I do because I just love it.
11. I’ve thought pretty deeply about where my work will take me the next ten years and what I need to do to excel in this field.
12. I’m pretty conscious to use my vacation time and sick days off so that I can create more balance and ensure that work doesn’t dominate my life.
13. I often feel like my work allows me to show the “real me.” My work lets me use my deepest creative gifts.
14. I think work is overrated when you consider what percentage of our lives we spend working as compared to enjoying life. I don’t think much about work when I’m not there.
15. I will do what it takes to become a success in my work.
Okay, I know that wasn’t easy. You may have had either a hard time trimming down to just five, or you may have found it difficult finding five statements that represent your perspective on your work. Here’s how we’ll score them. The following statements reflect someone who has a “job” perspective: 3, 6, 8, 12, and 14. The “career” statements are: 1, 5, 9, 11, and 15. And, the “calling” statements are: 2, 4, 7, 10, and 13.
How many did you have in each category? Your dominant category will tell you a lot about your relationship with your current work. If your dominant category wasn’t “calling,” don’t be alarmed, as most people find their calling outside of their work—whether it’s as a Girl Scout leader, a gardener, a tri-athlete, a devoted friend, or an ardent political activist. The big question you need to ask yourself – and you don’t have to go on a half-week fast to figure this out (and credit to poet Mary Oliver for a portion of my phrasing) – is “Left to your own choice with no external influences, what would you do with this one precious life you’ve been given?” Or think even bigger, “What’s the legacy you’ll leave long after you’re gone?”
With those audacious questions hanging in the air, I’m off to pursue my calling of this very moment: a deep-tissue detox massage.
I’ve noticed those full page ads in the New York Times these past couple of Sundays with the big, bold headline “YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” While I have a few idealistic friends here in San Francisco who believe in that credo, I didn’t think they had the $100k to fork over for that sentiment in newsprint. Actually, the ads were taken out by Starbucks, which you quickly learn as you scan the page. Being insanely-fearful of a potential coffee addiction–I’ve probably had a half-dozen cups of joe in my adult life–I’m no devotee of Starbucks. But, I will say that I’ve always admired their pluckiness, whether it was the generous benefits they gave employees in an industry where it wasn’t common or whether it’s been their venture into the lifestyle/entertainment genre. Yet, this ad caused a partial scowl on my face. I’m starting to get a little tired of the ubiquity of social responsibility and the marketing machine that’s hitting us over the head with corporate do-goodism.
Maybe I’m just a rebel at heart and love being contrarian. There was a time, not long ago, when I wore a badge of courage by speaking up for the environment or for social justice when I was at some stodgy hospitality conference full of suits. My willingness to speak my mind was equal measures of passion for the cause, my desire to be different, and my joy in upsetting the apple cart of conventional wisdom that surrounded me at these sober conferences. But, today, even Wal-Mart has jumped on the bandwagon as they’re likely to be the largest purveyor of organic products in the world in five years. I’m experiencing serious cognitive dissonance imagining that this transformation happened so quickly. Are there no more bad guys in the business world? That’ll be the day.
OK, OK, I know you’re thinking, “Chip Conley, what has gotten into you? You wrote a book with the subtitle How to Profit Your Business and Change the World” just last year (MARKETING THAT MATTERS). Yes, I did and I truly, deeply believe that the business world has enough power and resources to be the primary initiator of positive change in the world. In fact, if you Google “change the world,” you don’t see any politician or government’s website show up on the first page of results. What comes up is former Apple marketing guru Guy Kawasaki’s blog. You see David Bornstein’s book and website on how social entrepreneurs are making a difference. You sense the earnestness of people’s desire to use private enterprise for public good. And, yet, then, you come across rocker Joan Jett’s Cadillac Story at the top of the Sponsored Links. Once again, how can a big Escalade create a positive change in the world? The ad men are up to their old ways.
So, we have a good problem. PC Pollution (and I don’t mean the personal computer kind). Every business out there knows they need to be perceived as being Politically Correct. Otherwise they risk becoming a stock market dog like Wal-Mart (don’t believe those Bentonville execs went green on us overnight because they saw the light on their own). So, Joe & Mary Customer start getting a little confused. Who should they believe? Is that GAP ad campaign featuring the Red merchandise a good thing because it suggests that a small portion of proceeds goes to a worthy cause? Or is it a bad thing because it’s a crass attempt to get people to buy things they don’t need which just adds more crap to the planet? I don’t have the answer but I do believe we’re likely to see a big shift in the next 5 years which will help Joe & Mary see beyond the PC BS.
The number one change we’ll see in the socially responsible business world will be transparency. It’s already happening as smart companies are opening their books, processes, and boardrooms to activists and journalists to show that they aren’t just bluffing with their ad campaigns. While the stock market world has had social indexes like Domini for years (which has allowed investors to invest in socially responsible companies), the consuming public hasn’t had any “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval that globally says “this company walks its talk.” There are a number of very savvy folks who are in the process of creating those kinds of seals of approval and I welcome them because it will be a nice editor for all the socially responsible advertising clutter we’re starting to see.
In sum, can you truly change the world? Perhaps not by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I’m encouraged that the business world has jumped on the bandwagon en masse, but let’s see how long some of those companies stay on the bandwagon when they realize there are responsibilities that come with looking socially responsible. Given the big shift of leadership we’re likely to see in the next ten years (with the retirement of the Baby Boomers), I’m optimistic about the new crop of business leaders I’m meeting when I go out and speak at business schools–a different breed from even what I experienced nearly a quarter century ago. This new breed doesn’t just believe that we can change the world–they actually know that the consequences of not changing our collective habits will be devastating.