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Home page: http://www.jaystandish.com
Posts by Jay Standish
Being home for Christmas in my family means getting the “what are you doing with your life” questions over and over. My life happens to make more sense on paper these days (graduate school! software consulting firm!), so these conversations make me feel less vulnerable than in years past. But I still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up.
I feel allergic to the cultural assumption that people should “settle down” into a singular, unchanging story. I’m still waist-deep in a process of refining what I’m passionate about, and figuring out what form the next phase of my journey might take. And maybe that doesn’t make me flaky or ungrounded. Maybe that means I’m being true to myself, however difficult that may be. I wrote earlier about research that shows how happiness is really about being engaged in an ongoing process of discovery and transformation. This wisdom is starting to sink in for me. Maybe I don’t ever need to be a finished product.
In school at BGI, we’re talking a lot about how to support students in developing career plans. But the notion of a “plan” sounds wrong to me. It feels more like discover > prototype > refine > reinvent > discover > repeat. Planning your life is like writing a business plan: the only thing you know for sure is that you’re going to be wrong.
Its been wonderful the past few months to explore the realm of happiness, personal growth and development as they pertain to the business world. I feel pretty open-ended and a little lost with these questions, but I know I’m still passionate about this space. I think I’m at the stage of finding my context and framing, and finding the right question within that framing to explore.
As my friend Jean Russel says, “Everything is always just a prototype.”
I’ve recently started working for a company that consults on Agile Software Development, which is sortof like Toyota Lean for software. For those of you who don’t speak business jargon, let me briefly explain.
Toyota has the most efficient manufacturing process in the world, and it is very different because it attempts to do away with inventory. It achieves this by “pulling” work from the end of the assembly line rather than “pushing” it forward from the beginning. This way, there is less likely to be a backlog along the way because the person in front of you is always ready for what you’re about to pass over to you. There’s a lot more to it than that, but we’ll start with that.
Agile Software Development achieves a pull system in the sense that tasks are not assigned to workers by managers. Instead, a team collaboratively lists all the things that need to get done, and chunks them out into tasks that can be finished within a day. Then, team members go to the board and signs themselves up to work on the tasks they think they are most qualified for and excited about. When they are done, they pull another task to themselves.
Just this one process makes the work environment so much better. It gives workers both a sense of independence but also their context within the team is visible- everyone knows what they are working on and when it should be done.
I have a hunch that this kind of freedom and self-determination helps create a happier workplace.
In the last 20 years, the study of happiness has moved from the realm of poets and philosophers and into the psychology lab.
A recent book called “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Shimon Edelman suggests that,
…a changing, growing self, constantly shaped by new experiences, is happier than the satisfaction any end goal can give us. It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most.
(Excerpt from a Salon.com article)
Some of the research he cites tells us that more money, a new spouse, or a new car can make us happier, but usually only for a very short period of time.
We’ve mismatched the ends and the means.
Happiness itself should be the ultimate goal, not the intermediate stuff like new cars or even meditation that we seek to achieve it through. The word “end” doesn’t really work for me- it elicits the same falsity that there even is an end. In nature this would be homeostasis, which is another word for death.
Below is Herman Daly’s Ultimate Means – Ultimate Ends spectrum. It makes a lot of sense to me:
These last few months I’ve been writing my way through the role of personal development in organizations. I’ve uncovered more questions than answers. Some of these important questions have been posed by my readers, so I’d like to share some of insights that I’ve received from you guys along the way.
Carol Sanford zoomed in on the distinction between evolution and development in a comment on my post, “What is Personal Development Anyway“:
Development is about revealing the essence of something and making it more present and available. Ansel Adams understood this when he “developed” a film in the lab. He revealed something that most could not see but was at the heart of what was there. That is development.
She goes on to give her description of Evolution:
Evolution is what systems do. In the same way a Forest evolves, but not individual trees. … Evolution is about systems capacity, including Earth to evolve itself.
Mushin Schilling spoke to the role of happiness in organizations in response to my post “What am I trying to figure out?”
Happiness has all to do with the personal, but organisations are really not there to make anyone personally happy, they are there to fulfill their purpose. And people play a ROLE in that. The fusion of person with role is one of the diseases of the times.
Jean Russel continues the conversation about my post, ”What am I trying to figure out?”
The personal development world is taking some criticism right now. All this make yourself better stuff has been a bit like a girl reading fashion magazines – demoralizing. The field needs to do a better job of helping people feel satisfied as they ARE instead of always helping to push them further and make them better.
Purpose? Personal development in teams? Happiness?
I’m circling around a bit in my inquiry. I have this hunch that it will pencil out if companies and organizations invest in the personal growth and happiness of their employees. My thinking is that resulting improvements in team communication, drive and creativity will more than pay for the efforts to support those qualities. Oh yeah, and its the right thing to do. Oh yeah, and maybe the purpose of our companies should be to make the people within then (and without them) happier.
The issue is, “personal growth” is horribly vague and subjective, and a culturally loaded term.
It has something to do with people finding deeper meaning in their lives, and showing how that ripples positive effects all around them- including through their work.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about psychology and behavior change but I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. I would love to sit down with someone who is a PhD in behavioral psychology or brain science or consciousness studies and learn all the established facts about how people tick.
One thing I have learned is that happiness appears to be a fairly objective and observable phenomenon using EEG machines to monitor brain activity. So perhaps I need to switch to talking about happiness.
I need a stronger framing for how I’m looking at this question. Perhaps I need to learn more about the flow state, positive psychology, the benefits of meditation, etc. and begin to look at how companies can create work environments that help people get into those states. Is that it? Is anyone already doing that?
I’m running up against the limit of what I can do as a guy reading books and writing blog posts. I need to talk to other people who are actually doing this stuff! Help me out!
(For the lineage/background of this post, check out the posts that have led up to it in the “co.purpose” tag)