When you head off to work, do you feel passionate about the challenges and opportunities you’re about to face? Looking at the numerous studies that have shown the rise in employee disengagement found in today’s workplaces, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see most of you responding in the negative.
Of course, just to be clear, when I’m talking about being passionate about work, I’m not referring to those sentimentally-driven aspirations we had as children; of those feelings that had us dreaming about being an astronaut, a firefighter, a doctor or a teacher when we grew up.
Rather, I’m talking about that sense of passion that exists in all of us which fuels our drive to be a part of something bigger than our personal aspirations. That part of us which we use to gauge whether our lives matter because we’re making a difference in the world by doing work that has a purpose and meaning
Unfortunately for most of us, it’s this sense of passion that becomes the greatest casualty from the pressures of ‘growing up’ and entering the workforce. If there’s one thing most of us have experienced in those formative years early on in our careers, it’s being told by those more experienced than us that there’s no place for passion and its associated emotions in business or work.
In technology, a big part of our job involves solving problems. Perhaps we’re trying to figure out how to integrate a new software package into our existing architecture, or maybe we need to find a way to make a program run faster. But no matter what the work situation, problems are always challenges to be met with creativity, energy and persistence.
Some think that problems in a business are evidence that people are doing something wrong.Sometimes leaders deny or ignore dealing with problems because they’re afraid of such negative judgments. Others simply feel too busy to focus on problems until they become big, fat, hairy monsters.
Running a strong business, writing software, working with others. . . or whatever else you’re doing on this planet means there will be challenges. I’ve found if you don’t accept these little monsters, embrace them and meet them head on – early on – they can turn into insurmountable ogres pretty quickly.
Voltaire is usually credited with the saying “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” When you change your mindset to one that sees problems as challenges to be conquered, it’s pretty easy to find them and solve them. Although dealing with problems is part of any job, leaders must be particularly skilled problem-solvers.
As this is the last week of the year, many of us are understandably looking back at the past 12 months and discussing what we consider to be the significant events of 2011. In most cases, such discussions tend to focus on the numerous challenges and upheavals we’ve either watched from afar or witnessed first-hand. From natural disasters to political uprisings, there’s no question this year has placed our collective humanity within the frame of adversity and unimagined change.
Of course, adversity in and of itself is not necessarily a good or bad thing. Rather, it’s what we do and whether we’re open to learning from it that should decide whether it’s been of benefit or harm to us.
Certainly for businesses, the state of the global economy and the growing level of competition coming in from multiple fronts counts as one of the biggest challenges organizations and their leaders have had to contend with. And yet, contrary to what we might be reading in the papers, this doesn’t mean that weren’t some bright spots to be found amid all that doom and gloom.
One such example of this comes from the article, “Business Lessons Learned in 2011”, where a number of business leaders look back at the past 12 months and share their experiences of the lessons they’ve learned which will help them to improve and build on their business in the coming months.
Imagine walking into work one day and your boss decides to divide you into teams of four with the following challenge – to build the largest structure you can using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and one marshmallow, which has to be placed at the top of the structure. It’s an unusual assignment, to be sure, but it’s also the basis of a sociological experiment on teamwork called “The Marshmallow Challenge”.
In his TED talk “Build a tower, build a team”, Tom Wujec shares his findings from performing this challenge with a variety of different groups – recent business school graduates, lawyers, engineers, CEOs, and even kindergarten students. As you’ll see, his observations about how the various groups approached the challenge gave rise to some surprising, and at times humorous, results: