The categories of happiness

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Yesterday, I read an article that was sitting in my “to read” folder for a while. It is called: “Positive Psychology Progress – Empirical Validation of Interventions” by Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson. Most of the article is highly technical but I encountered two interesting paragraphs that I want to share. Today I want to talk about this paragraph from the article:

We work under the assumption that happiness is a scientifically unwieldy term and that its serious study involves dissolving the term into at least three distinct and better-defined routes to “happiness”… : (a) positive emotion and pleasure (the pleasant life); (b) engagement (the engaged life); and (c) meaning (the meaningful life). Our recent research suggests that people reliably differ according to the type of life that they pursue and, further, that the most satisfied people are those who orient their pursuits toward all three, with the greatest weight carried by engagement and meaning… We continue to use the word happiness, but only in the atheoretical sense of labeling the overall aim of the positive psychology endeavor and referring jointly to positive emotion, engagement, and meaning.

Like every other goal in life, the first step to achieving it is to break it into smaller, easier to handle, steps. In some way or another, all of us have the goal of “being happy” somewhere in or mental to-do list. However, I think that this breakdown into three distinct categories is a great way to start the long journey towards it.

In addition I like the fact that authors emphasize two important issues:

  1. People differ in the proportion of significance they put on each category.
  2. One category by itself is never enough, it is about a mix. This means that the people who are trying to sell us a silver-bullet solution to happiness are scan artists. It also means that it is not wrong to dwell in a little bit of transient pleasure now and then. Life is not only about meaning and engagement but also about simple hedonistic delight.

In particular, the breakdown into three distinct categories can help managers and leaders create better environments and workplaces. A mix and match of the three categories allows for better planning of a happy workplace. More importantly, the understanding of the preferences of each individual allows for a personalized approach that supports and sustains the individual employee’s motivation and happiness levels.

So, how do you think about happiness in your own personal life and in your work setting? Do you find the three categories to be helpful?

Elad

Full citation: Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson (2005) “Positive Psychology Progress – Empirical Validation of Interventions” American Psychologist Vol. 60, No. 5, 410–42

Capitalism, unions, equality, the fallacy of the average and mediocrity

Photo by finsec

A short caveat: while this post is not totally unrelated to my regular line of writing, it does somewhat detaches from my usual subject matter and is focused more on personal doubts, questions and thoughts and less on practical implications.

 

I see myself a capitalist. I believe in its basic premises. And while my views have become less extreme in the last few years and I do think there is a need to rethink and change some of the basic practical behaviors we derive from the concept, it is still a part of how I define my world views.

Within this framework I have always wondered about the idea of work unions. On a very shallow level it seems incompatible with the some of the ideas I used to think capitalism represented, so in my younger years I immediately thought of unions as something wrong. However, over the years I understood the importance of mechanisms that will put some balance into the capitalist system so it will not undo itself. Having said that, maybe because of my biased viewpoint, wherever I looked I saw unions resisting change and progress, upholding stupid rules (see this Gates talk on TED for some examples) and keeping the interests of the top quartile of employees instead of those who actually need protection. This has always bothered me.

Lately, because of current political and economic issues in Israel, I have been thinking about this issue quite a bit. This week, while listening to a freakeconomics podcast about the negotiations between the NFL league and the players union (negotiations, many of the players themselves are not privy to) I came to a realization that what troubles me about unions is something that has been troubling me about other fields as well. The misuse of the idea of equality. I have written before (see also here):

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, I know so well, as a former lawyer. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two.

In western societies, equality is part of the ethos. People fought for the right of equality for ages and it is so commonplace and understood (even if not completely practiced) we regard it as a given right. The quotation “All men are created equal” is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America’s political documents. And if all men are created equal, they should be treated as equal in the workplace as well. And they think as themselves as equal. And this creates problems. Because we are not equal. We are unique. Special. With different talents, skills, perspectives, life experiences, likes and dislikes. And that means that treating us as if we are the same is wrong.

In the case of unions, the idea of equality means that unions can act like all workers are equal. If they are equal, they can talk about the average worker. It is a classic case of the fallacy of the average. Because of everybody is equal and we are taking care of the average worker we are losing the individuality. And that is the fastest way to mediocrity.

In Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe write:

That’s what Aristotle meant when he said that practical wisdom as opposed to a universal rule was necessary because of the priority of the particular. A wise person knows how to do the right thing, in the right way, with this person, in this situation. To be wise, we need cognitive and perceptual machinery that picks up on similarities without being blind to differences.

I am not an expert on the issue of unions, their history and their contribution to society. I am also not against the idea that workers should be protected to some degree and have a right to be represented. I do resent the fact that some unions focus their attention on keeping the status quo and base their thinking on a misconception of equality that leads to a discussion of averages. In general, the work of any leader, political, business, union or other, is to balance similarities and differences. I am not sure that many of the union leaders or those that sit with them to the table of negotiations are actively thinking of this balance. What will happen if both sides of a labor dispute (or even better, prior to the dispute) will start doing just that? Isn’t it worth a try?

Elad

Converting people to your style of management

Photo James Bowe

Paul Hebert just did a three post series on Zappos (1, 2, 3), its culture and invectives & recognition practices. It is insightful and interesting and his insights on the issues (as usual) are worth reading. However, I was deeply impressed with what he wrote in the first part of the series:

Most companies create a mission and values statement on what they “want” to be known for and then hire for positions and hope they can convert the new hires to the values prominently displayed in the visitor’s waiting area of the company. Zappos, on the other hand, created a mission/values statement based on what they “are” – and hired people to that standard.

This is not something new. I have written about hiring the right people and even about Zappos before. But when I read this, maybe because of the fact that lately I have been reading so much about how to create teams that innovate (for a research project I am working on), suddenly something in my mind lighted up.

I write a lot about best practices (even though I don’t like this term). How to manage and lead. How to facilitate teamwork. How to create purpose and help people reach flow. All well and good. But it all depends on having the right people. I am the first to admit that not every method, great as it will be, will work with every person. But it is more than that.

I am willing to admit that a lot of what I write about and think about will probably work with some kinds of people. With the right people, these approaches will lead to excellence and to outstanding performance on every conceivable aspect. Performance levels you will never be able to reach otherwise. But, and here is the point. If you try to use these approaches on the wrong people, it can go bad. Really bad.

Maybe the best management, as Hebert points out, is one that is able to find people who do not need to be “converted” but are already receptive to open, demanding and purpose driven management style.

Not all of us have a say on who works in our team, even as managers. I guess if you are a manager with a given team this could be very frustrating. And while I still believe that the way you will manage those people will make a lot of difference, you should always remember to find out who is standing in front of you and what his fit to your management style is. Conversions can happen, but they are rare.

Elad

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The “other minds” problem

Photo by Guaciranaves

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I the last few days I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, What the Dog Saw (one chapter every night) and I must admit it if a fascinating ride. However, up until now, what stuck with me the most is a paragraph in the first page of the book, as part of the preface:

This was actually a version of what I would later learn psychologists call the other minds problem. One-year-olds think that if their like Goldfish crackers, then Mommy and Daddy must like Goldfish Crackers, too: they have not grasped the idea what was inside their heads is different from what is inside everyone else’s head. Sooner or later, though, children come to understand that Mommy and Daddy don’t necessarily like Goldfish, too, and that moment is one of the great cognitive milestones of human development.

How many times in your life have your said or heard something like this: “I treat others this way, because that is the way I like to be treated”. Think about it. Seriously, how many of your daily decision are based on that rule of thumb – that what you like is what everybody likes too? It is even an important religious concept – “The Golden Rule” which we hear about all the time and which I wrote about in the past:

This is a good general concept and at a religious (and maybe political) level it is a smart rule. But the problem is that if you move into the world of management, this well intentioned rule leads you to bad managerial decisions (like many conventional wisdoms). Because, if we agree that we are all different it also means that we like and hate different things. This means, I may hate the way you like to be treated. And if I follow the rule (and treat you like I want to be treated), I will avoid giving you what you want.

Isn’t it time to reach that cognitive milestone in managerial development as well? Isn’t it time we understand that the people we work with are different from us and thus enjoy and appreciate different things? They don’t want to be managed like we do. They don’t want to be recognized like we do. They are not driven and motivated by the same thing we are driven and motivated by. They might absorb information differently than us. They are different and unique. Each and every one of them.

The people around us, our employees, our bosses, our peers, they all have “other minds”. The sooner we realize that, stop assuming and starting talking to them, the better equipped we will be to really start creating partnerships with them.

Elad

Why grow up?

Photo by BaronBrian

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Thomas Barlow thinks we should all grow up. All of us, in our twenties and thirties (and maybe more), in our insignificant search for self-fulfillment. We should stop with all this soul searching and start living. Living  the real life. And what is the real life according to Barlow in his Financial Times article titled: Tribal workers? It is not really clear. What is clear is that he does not think it will be found in working long hours or in changing jobs and looking for the self-fulfillment on the job.

Here is part of his argument:

At the heart of this disillusionment lies a new attitude towards work. The idea has grown up, in recent years, that work should not be just a means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social prestige – but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of itself. Jobs are no longer just jobs; they are lifestyle options. …

The notion that one can do anything is clearly liberating. But life without constraints has also proved a recipe for endless searching, endless questioning of aspirations. It has made this generation obsessed with self-development and determined, for as long as possible, to minimise personal commitments in order to maximise the options open to them. One might see this as a sign of extended adolescence.

Eventually, they will be forced to realise that living is as much about closing possibilities as it is about creating them.

While I do agree that there is a possibility that the almost infinite number of choices a well educated people in western countries have might be paralyzing due to the famous paradox of choice, I am not sure I understand why the answer could not be found in work and should be found in personal commitments.

Yes, it is true, some people take this idea to the extreme. Some people engulf themselves in their jobs and live as if this was their life. And you know what? While I cannot understand that, they might actually be happy. Not because their job is so great, but because it fits them. They are different then me and probably different than Thomas Barlow.  They enjoy different things and get a sense of fulfillment from different things. And who am I to criticize that?

However, the issue is not about quantity of work, but about whether people can actually find fulfillment in work. And to that my answer is an astounding YES. I admit, I don’t think it happens a lot. As we know, so many people are dissatisfied with their jobs. But it does happen. And some people actually wake up every morning and go to work with a big smile on their faces and a feeling that they are changing the world. And who am I (or who is Thomas Barlow) to tell them to change what they are doing?

I think the disillusionment is the one we have been living in the last two thousands of years or more, where work has been considered a punishment (go back to the story of Adam and Eve). Barlow might want us to return to the era of our parents and grandparents who worked in a factory (actual or not) and enjoyed great lifelong personal commitments. Yes, like that worked really great for ALL of them…

No. I don’t buy that. There is no one solution that works for everybody. Some people can find their fulfillment in a work environment.  Every job can potentially provide a sense of purpose for every employee. And every person has a different path and a right to look for it. Above all, I don’t think that I have to right to tell anybody to grow up… who says growing up is a good thing anyway?

Elad

My world, your world and the world

Yesterday I was watching Devdutt Pattanaik talk on TED about East vs. West – The Myths that Mystify. I am a big believer in the power of stories and actually going through a process of understanding my own cultural mythology and basic stories these days. In a world that is turning more and more global where cultures clash almost on a daily basis, the understanding of our differences and the respect for the other is becoming more and more important. Pattanaik does a wonderful job in explaining some of the basic concepts that shape the Indian culture, and while theses are generalizations, I do believe that there are some truths in them (especially after reading Outliers). I highly recommended you watch this talk whether you plan to work in India and with Indian people or not as it casts a light on our own perceptions, assumptions and what shapes them.

However, one point resonated with me more than any other point in the talk. In the beginning of his talk Pattanaik tells about an Indian legend where the gods Ganesha and Kartikeya enter a contest. Who is the first that will go around the world? While Kartikeya flies around the world, Ganesha goes around his parents seven times. The he declares himself winner. When asked to explain, Ganesha says: “Kartikeya went around the world but I went around my world”.

The message that Pattanaik is trying to convey is that there is a difference between Indian and western cultures. While the west looks for rules and truth (the world) Indians have several truths (my world). We have to understand how these differences present themselves when these two cultures clash.

I think the idea of my world, your world and the world is even more profound and common. We actually deal with it every day. People tend to see the world through their own eyes. They perceive themselves and their actions as more important than they actually are. And they perceive things through personal lens. When they meet somebody else with the same disposition, they have a hard time to accept that there is a different world from theirs.

As managers, we try to create “the world”. An organization or team with culture, rules, assumptions and yes, even stories and mythology. This “the world” that we are creating is not only in a clash with our own personal world, but with other people’s world. Every day we experience a clash of cultures and worlds. Creating “the world” of an organization or team is a difficult job. We have to let go of our own perceptions of how things should be done. A world cannot be forced. It has to be developed. It has to be co-created. It has to grow out of partnerships.

As managers we need to remember that each employee has a world of his own. We need to remember that his world is different than ours and different than “the world” we are trying to create. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Different does not mean wrong. The challenge is to acknowledge the differences and find similarities and connections between the worlds in order align them.

So, next time you talk to an employee try to think about this war of worlds. Ask yourself – what is my world, your world and the world.

Elad

My world, your world, the world

[TED id=686]

Yesterday I was watching Devdutt Pattanaik talk on TED about the myths that mystify. I am a big believer in the power of stories and actually going through a process of understanding my own cultural mythology and basic stories these days. In a world that is turning more and more global where cultures clash almost on a daily basis, the understanding of our differences and the respect for the other is becoming more and more important. Pattanaik does a wonderful job in explaining some of the basic concepts that shape the Indian culture, and while theses are generalizations, I do believe that there are some truths in them (especially after reading Outliers). I highly recommended you watch this talk whether you plan to work in India and with Indian people or not as it casts a light on our own perceptions, assumptions and what shapes them.

However, one point resonated with me more than any other point in the talk. In the beginning of his talk Pattanaik tells about an Indian legend where the gods Ganesha and Kartikeya enter a contest. Who is the first that will go around the world? While Kartikeya flies around the world, Ganesha goes around his parents seven times. The he declares himself winner. When asked to explain, Ganesha says: “Kartikeya went around the world but I went around my world”.

The message that Pattanaik is trying to convey is that there is a difference between Indian and western cultures. While the west looks for rules and truth (the world) Indians have several truths (my world). We have to understand how these differences present themselves when these two cultures clash.

I think the idea of my world, your world and the world is even more profound and common. We actually deal with it every day. People tend to see the world through their own eyes. They perceive themselves and their actions as more important than they actually are. And they perceive things through personal lens. When they meet somebody else with the same disposition, they have a hard time to accept that there is a different world from theirs.

As managers, we try to create “the world”. An organization or team with culture, rules, assumptions and yes, even stories and mythology. This “the world” that we are creating is not only in a clash with our own personal world, but with other people’s world. Every day we experience a clash of cultures and worlds. Creating “the world” of an organization or team is a difficult job. We have to let go of our own perceptions of how things should be done. A world cannot be forced. It has to be developed. It has to be co-created. It has to grow out of partnerships.

As managers we need to remember that each employee has a world of his own.we need to remember that his world is different than ours and different than “the world” we are trying to create. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Different does not mean wrong. The challenge is to acknowledge the differences and find similarities and connections between the worlds in order align them.

So, next time you talk to an employee try to think about this war of worlds. Ask yourself – what is my world, your world and the world.

Elad

Devdutt Pattanaik, TED, myths, storytelling, managing people, differences, my world, India, perception,

Shorts: Customer Experience Matters on leadership

I read so many things each day that are relevant to the subjects I write about in my blog . However, I don’t always have the time or the ability to write a full blog post about them. Usually, there is one quote I like, which it too long to tweet about. Therefore, I decided to start a new series of posts called: Shorts. Each of these posts will have the word: “Shorts” in the title, with the name of the source I am referring to and the subject. These posts will only include a short introduction by me, and then a quote.

Today, I am going to start with a post from Customer Experience Matters. Bruce Timken Quotes a few people interviewed for U.S. News & World’s America’s Best Leaders 2009 list. Here is the quote I like in particular, as talks about the balance between team and individuals in management:

Roy Williams, head coach of North Carolina, listed his three guiding leadership principles:

“(1) Everyone on the team must focus on the same goal. It’s my job to effectively communicate those goals to the team; (2) Emphasize those goals every day; and (3) Understand that although everyone has a common goal, individuals also have goals, needs, and dreams that must be cared for.”

Elad