See also: The POwer of Fun. Fun in the streets.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
A healthy dose of joy could transform the corporate sector and put it on a more sustainable footing.
By Jo Confino
Do you ever have the feeling that we spend our lives trying to learn the same lessons over and over again? We hope always to find answers but perhaps a better approach is to ask more profound questions.
I mention this because of a story told to me at a meeting of 300 CEOs and senior executives at the Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, California.
It was not a story about energy efficiency, nor was it a story about how to convince your chief financial officer to invest in greener technology. Instead it was about a chief executive who did not know how to incorporate fun into his work.
It goes like this. The businessman was having an interview for a senior position and told the CEO he had three main criteria for taking any post: it had to have a purpose, it had to be fairly paid and it had to be fun.
The feedback he received was that the CEO was comfortable with the first two but just could not get his head around what the third one meant. Quite understandably, the gentleman in question did not take the job, and learnt a year later that the CEO had died at the age of 58.
Are we having fun?
And therein lies a question we could all do with asking; are we having fun and does it matter?
My own feeling is that the adrenaline of making money and beating the competition can seem fun for a while, but like any drug it wears off over time and then people need a bigger dose to try to recapture the original thrill. At its worst, this pattern can end in naked greed and disaster, as we have seen in the financial markets.
By contrast, the ability to have fun is a gift of nature that is like a perfect dynamo. It keeps replenishing itself and never diminishes in its intensity.
More than that, while competition for its own sake is always a great taker, joy is a generous giver and people find it infectious, as long as they are not threatened by it.
This is all obvious when we take a moment to stop and think, but in the hurly burly of life, we forget it. Go into a meeting that includes one person who is sour and negative and the energy of the meeting sinks like a soufflé taken out of the oven before its time. Go into the same meeting where someone is emanating the spirit of joy, and everyone benefits, with the result that space and possibilities open up.
Integrating a sense of joy
I have to say that the sustainability practitioners I meet who are taking the most risks and doing the most to transform their businesses are people who are able to integrate that sense of joy into their work. In fact it is the very feeling of joy that allows them to wake up every day with the knowledge of impending environmental and social catastrophe and still come to work with a cheerful demeanour.
I remember many, many years ago being shocked when an executive coach told me that business leaders become increasingly isolated and lonely as they move up the corporate ladder. No wonder they find it difficult to think deeply beyond shareholder value to the role of business in society. Because they feel trussed up in the straitjacket of their work lives, some love nothing more than bringing in outsiders who are able to inspire and challenge them in new ways.
I have written before about the power of epiphanies
(INSERT: I found the link worthwhile, and the link at the bottom of that page (The full filmed interview with Lynda Gratton can be viewed here.) also worthy. Gratton is a professor of management practice at the London Business School.)
to create radical change, because those who experience them first hand are freed, even if only for a moment, from the constraints they falsely believed were holding them down like a ball and chain. Second best, however, is being in the company of people who are able to represent that.
At Brainstorm Green, a few people suggested I meet Jib Ellison, who helped to create the Blu Skye consultancy, which concentrates on systems change. He was a prime mover in Walmart’s journey towards being a more sustainable company. What I was told was not that Ellison had the sharpest mind or the greatest ideas, which may or may not be the case, but that CEOs enjoyed his company.
At its heart, joyous people help to create a feeling of trust. They tend to be better collaborators because they like nothing better than finding common solutions, and don’t feel they have to go into personal sacrifice to achieve them.
Collaboration and competition
There may be lots of people who dismiss what I am writing as naïve. In fact, several people have said to me in recent weeks that collaborating is all well and good, but competition is what really drives innovation and technological advances. But those critics are looking to mark a spot on a spectrum that we have already moved beyond.
Collaboration and competition can be happy bedfellows, if you feel comfortable with both. Those people who bring joy to their work do not see them as polar opposites.
A couple of years ago I attended a meeting at the Houses of Parliament between the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh and a group of MPs, members of the House of Lords and others. One member of parliament said that political parties thrived on being competitive and in opposition and asked Thay, as he is known, about the Buddhist view of competition. Thay looked at him and asked the simplest of questions: “Does it make you happy?” The ensuing silence spoke volumes.
One of the more popular stories on the Guardian last year was about a palliative nurse who asked all those dying in her hospice what their greatest regrets were. The top five included: “I spent too much time in the office” and “I wish that I had let myself be happier,” which translated into the fact that they had pretended to be content “when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again”.
There was one, however, which particularly caught my eye because it had a certain subtlety, which made it all the more potent. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.
One of the reasons society gets itself into a mess is because certain ideas or thoughts become so embedded in a culture that those who come along later feel they have no choice but to fit in, for fear of being marginalised.
So may I humbly suggest taking a small chunk out of your work day, sitting quietly and asking yourself a question; “How well am I doing at bringing more joy into my life?” Better now than on your deathbed.
– – – – –
From the “Comments” on the Guardian website, Jo Confino . . . love without action does not work, neither action without love.