Really, is that possible? To be alive at work? I know lots of business owners who wish their associates would share more ideas and be more creative. In fact, I’ve probably felt that way over the years myself. In his book, Alive at Work, author Daniel Cable offers some suggestions for those of us who want to love what we do.
Before I get to the main subject, I’d like to offer an observation. Let me start with a story. Probably 20 years ago, I had the privilege of hearing the famous MIT economist, Lester Thurow, speak at an executive forum. He said something that day that I’ve never forgotten. He stated that he’s often asked how he predicts the future. To answer those questions, he said he merely looks at what’s already happening, and then extrapolates into the future.
I’ve noticed in the past year or two that many of the “business” books I read make reference to the brain and how it functions. Cable, for example, quotes Gallup research that I’ve mentioned before, indicating that 80 percent of workers don’t feel they can be their best at work and 70 percent say they aren’t engaged at work. According to Cable, the reason for those numbers is the fact that many organizations are deactivating the part of the employee’s brain called the “seeking system,” which controls an employee’s drive and motivation. He suggests that the opposite of the seeking system is the “fear system,” which was created by the Industrial Revolution and is a result of the Command & Control approach to management. Cable goes on to say that when the seeking system is triggered, rather than the fear system, the chemical dopamine is released and employees experience an urge to explore, understand and contribute.
I’m going to stop there, but suffice it to say that treating your associates one way shuts them down and treating them another way causes greater engagement and excitement. Once again, I’m stepping outside of my area of expertise, but I personally experienced what Cable refers to as the “seeking system” and the related dopamine for most of my 40-year career at Plante Moran.
Cable also offers some great examples of companies that have embraced the seeking system approach. I’ve talked about many of these types of behaviors before, but I had no idea that doing the right thing can cause a positive reaction in the brain.
If you’re interested in this subject, I would recommend Cable’s book.
To close, I’m going to provide this quote from the book: “To prompt employees’ curiosity and learning through experimentation, a leader can start with the humble purpose of serving others and being open to learning from employees. When leaders express feelings of uncertainty and humility, and share their own developmental journeys, they end up encouraging a learning mindset in others.”
As I’ve mentioned before, my mentor, Ken Kunkel, has modeled this for the almost 50 years that I’ve known him, and he continues to have a positive impact on the world today.