A WHOLE NEW FIND INSIDE A WHOLE NEW MIND

Books abound but time does not. So much to read yet so little RAM. Welcome to my world.

As sad as that reality is, occasionally you come across a book that is a true standout. A book that moved you when you first read it and it continues to move you today. Such has been the case with Daniel H. Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005). I read the book when it was first published, but I find myself constantly rereading it. So much of exactly what we see societally, technologically, economically, commercially, nationally, globally, institutionally, demographically, dynamically, culturally, and relationally continues to play itself out as Pink articulated 13 years ago. My excitement over Pink’s book during my first read is only exceeded by the excitement of my recent rereads.

My contention is that Pink’s book captures the foundational blueprint of where our world is today and where it must go. If you are willing to read the book, you will position yourself and your organization for greater success in the challenging and exciting future we face. Understanding the trends of the future allows us to participate in that future.

While I can in no way do justice to the writings of Pink, I would like to offer some words of review, response, and recommendation that might inspire you to give it a read yourself. This article will give you the key points of the book. Nevertheless, don’t allow this to rob you of the joy of reading the book in all its depth for yourself.

Seismic Shifts Underway

In studying who we are as a people, Pink describes a:

“seismic—though as yet undetected—shift now under way in much of the advanced world. We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.” (pp. 1–2)

I resonate with Pink’s thesis, especially because I have had the privilege of engaging in both the hard science and technology world and in the soft creative, holistic, artistic, and philosophical world. I believe that people who want to remain on the cutting edge of their field must maintain an awareness of both worlds. Although many have imposed immoveable boundaries between the two, much insight and appreciation arises when we can erase that boundary.

Very much related to the above, Pink discusses classical left-brain thinking versus right-brain thinking. Some people are very gifted with their left-brain talents and thereby remain extremely proficient in technical fields. Other people are very gifted with their right-brain talents and thereby remain extremely proficient in the arts and related fields. No harm exists here because people are excelling in their areas of interest and capability.

What I love about Pink’s thesis is the challenge that we recognize the seismic shift under our feet today. I see it as a professional and societal redemption. I have seen too many folks in the left-brained arena alienate the right-brained arena, and vice versa. My position has always been that both sides are needed and both sides bring much value to the table. The tragedy happens when one side continually excludes the other.

Science and technology alone, as massively important as they are, will never serve humanity optimally in isolation. The arts and softer sciences alone, as massively important as they are, will never serve humanity optimally in isolation. In fact, some of the most exciting projects I have ever seen are those in which we experience a marvelous melding of the two worlds. That seems to be happening with increasing frequency, and it confirms the seismic shift about which Pink talks. I say, let us keep it going!

Time To Change Drivers

In discussing left-brain thinking versus right-brain thinking, Pink explains the legitimacy of both. He further clarifies that our society has elevated left-brain thinking at the expense of right-brain thinking, but the pendulum is about to swing in the opposite direction:

“Of course, we need both approaches in order to craft fulfilling lives and build productive, just societies. But the mere fact that I feel obliged to underscore that obvious point is perhaps further indication of how much we’ve been in the thrall of reductionist, binary thinking. Despite those who have deified the right brain beyond all scientific evidence, there remains a strong tilt toward the left. Our broader culture tends to prize L-Directed Thinking [left-brain thinking] more highly than its counterpart, taking this approach more seriously and viewing the alternative as useful but secondary. But this is changing—and it will dramatically reshape our lives. Left-brain-style thinking used to be the driver and right-brain-style thinking the passenger. Now, R-Directed Thinking is suddenly grabbing the wheel, stepping on the gas, and determining where we’re going and how we’ll get there.” (p. 27)

Pink is right. We do need both types of thinking to achieve balance in our world. Nevertheless, for too long we have sanctified the empirical at the expense of the sensing and the feeling. While not in any way degrading or minimizing the empirical, we absolutely must restore the sensing and the feeling to its rightful place. This means in our personal lives, our professional lives, our business lives, and our institutional lives.

As I reflect upon my life, which originally began very heavily immersed in the scientific community, I recall that I absolutely loved being around likeminded people. Unfortunately for me, this congregating sometimes occurred at the expense of broadening and deepening my knowledge from some other right-brained perspectives. Slowly, I began to realize that some of my greatest intellectual insights and personal and professional growth moments happened when engaged with a right-brained thinker.

In a similar manner, Pink is urging us to embrace equally both sides of the human brain. We need to embrace fully the left-brain approach to knowledge and we need to embrace fully the right-brain approach to knowledge. Only in so doing will we maximize our communal knowledge.

Pink takes this a step further by correctly affirming the right-brain thinking has some overdue exposure coming. If we miss that opportunity, then we will all suffer. Moreover, not only is all that true, claims Pink, but he further asserts given our current position in knowledge evolution, we absolutely must embrace this future.

I buy into Pink’s argument. Not only do I buy into it, I find it assures me of a marvelously exciting future because I am one who is willing to make the needed transitions. How about you?

Our Search For Meaning Continues

In developing his thesis, Pink shares some extremely relevant ideas about the age in which we live. We are, in fact, living in an age of abundance. Automation, technology, and prosperity have taken us to the place where it is never a matter of finding an electric toothbrush. It is instead a matter of deciding which one to choose.

As wonderful as the creature comforts are, the age of abundance reveals a hidden stress. Physical or financial abundance do not translate to personal fulfillment or a sense of life purpose as Pink elaborates:

“The paradox of prosperity is that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, personal, family, and life satisfaction haven’t budged. That’s why more people—liberated by prosperity but not fulfilled by it—are resolving the paradox by searching for meaning.” (p. 35)

On the most fundamental, philosophical level, your spiritual or religious convictions and beliefs should sustain you in this search for meaning. These things drive us and support us at the core of our being. I know that mine certainly work for me. If yours are not working for you, then a reexamination of them is dearly needed.

Beyond that, on a human business level, these search-for-meaning dynamics powerfully come into play. That is exactly what Pink is saying to support his larger argument. Everything about how we do business, run our companies, and design our products and services must reach out to this core human need for meaning:

“In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical, and functional needs is woefully insufficient. Engineers must figure out how to get things to work. But if those things are not also pleasing to the eye or compelling to the soul, few will buy them. There are too many other options. Mastery of design, empathy, play, and other seemingly ‘soft’ aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.” (p. 34)

I predict that some companies are going to capture Pink’s message and fundamentally change the way they do business. Some companies already have made the shift. I also predict that some companies will reject Pink’s message. In so doing, they will encounter their undoing.

Just as every “buy” decision is emotionally based, so too, every company that builds that quality into its products and services will find more buyers. For those parties, the age of abundance will continue and so too, will a sense of meaning.

We Will Adjust

Pink references business globalization’s irreversibility as part of the larger canvas upon which he paints his picture of the future. Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age is happening partially because of business globalization’s irreversibility. Although some have denounced this development as purely an attack upon American jobs, Pink views it as a natural order of positive progression. It is not that America will just lose jobs, but more importantly that the nature of American jobs will evolve with the times and the technologies. Some jobs will disappear, but they will be replaced by other jobs more suited to newer technological opportunities:

“Much of the anxiety over this issue outstrips the reality. We are not all going to lose our jobs tomorrow. Outsourcing is overhyped in the short term. But it’s underhyped in the long term. As the cost of communicating with the other side of the globe falls essentially to zero, and as developing nations continue to mint millions of extremely capable knowledge workers, the working lives of North Americans, Europeans, and Japanese people will change dramatically. . . . Just as . . . factory workers had to master a new set of skills and learn how to bend pixels instead of steel, many of today’s knowledge workers will likewise have to command a new set of aptitudes. They’ll need to do what workers abroad cannot do equally well for much less money—using R-Directed abilities [right-brain thinking] such as forging relationships rather than executing transactions, tackling novel challenges instead of solving routine problems, and synthesizing the big picture rather than analyzing a single component.” (pp. 39–40)

Just as moving from the agricultural age to the industrial age meant that the nature of work changed for most people, so too, as we move from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, the nature of work must change. Moreover, it is the nature of this upcoming change that makes the future so exciting. That is one of Pink’s main points. The nature of work will demand more right-brain thinking. It will reward those who are able to manage the big picture to see business goals achieved.

Think about it this way: With few exceptions, if you could magically transport yourself into a workplace 500 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 30 years ago, or three years ago, would you not have a strong preference for the most modern timeframes? The reason is generally speaking, technology and communal knowledge all produce a more comfortable, enjoyable, and fulfilling workplace with greater opportunities for growth and development. (Again, I am taking the global view here. We can always find specific examples of horrific working conditions or situations in 2018.)

Ultimately, the key is for every professional to seize personal responsibility for his or her own skill acquisition. Other than me, I cannot force anyone to acquire new skills. That is a direction we each must engage. Some of us do better than others and some of us do worse, but that does not deny the point that it remains our own individual responsibility.

Changes in technology and the labor market are not always easy to navigate. Nevertheless, it can be done and thereby create a better future. We will adjust.

Program Your Future Or Be Programmed Out

Because we are indeed moving from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age, Pink contends we must assess our employment opportunities accordingly. The very nature of technology is rendering certain human skills obsolete while creating demand for different skills. I love the example Pink offers from computer programming:

“Last century, machines proved they could replace human backs. This century, new technologies are proving they can replace human left brains. . . . A small British company called Appligenics has created software that can write software. Where a typical human being . . . can write about four hundred lines of computer code per day, Appligenics applications can do the same work in less than a second. The result: as the scut work gets off-loaded, engineers and programmers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence, more on tacit knowledge than technical manuals, and more on fashioning the big picture than sweating the details.” (pp. 44–45)

This example powerfully illustrates the ongoing need we have to reinvent ourselves at strategic moments in our careers. Just because I have certain skillsets with which I started my working life does not guarantee that those skillsets will sustain me productively for my entire working life. With all the technological quantum leaps and the corresponding sweeping changes in industry, no one can ever afford to grow complacent.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what has made the last couple decades of economic and employment change so difficult for so many. The baby boomers along with some additional demographic segments have been so accustomed to an older economic and employment model, that complacency was almost the norm. These sweeping changes caught many by surprise, resulting in tremendous personal and professional devastation. The good news is we do not have to stay there. We must commit to moving forward productively and ethically. Thomas Friedman, in his seminal work, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), affirms it this way:

“The great challenge for our time will be to absorb these changes in ways that do not overwhelm people but also do not leave them behind. None of this will be easy. But this is our task. It is inevitable and unavoidable.” (pp. 46-47).

By becoming more proactive about how we approach our careers—and help others to approach their careers—we can see the labor force make great strides forward. Will it be easy? No. Will it do the best service to the labor force for the long run? Absolutely. And that is what we must do.

Living In A New Age

Central to the book’s premise is the progression of the last few centuries of human working history. Pink describes a movement from the Agricultural Age (1700s) in which we needed farmers, to the Industrial Age (1800s) in which we needed factory workers, to the Information Age (1900s) in which we needed knowledge workers (the left-brainers), and finally to the Conceptual Age (2000s) in which we need creators and empathizers (the right-brainers). Pink observes that as we have progressed through each of these ages, we have enjoyed a commensurate rise in affluence, technology, and globalization.

Like it or not, we are living in a new age. The affluence, the technology, and the globalization are synergistically creating a new age that places entirely new demands upon us. To look at it any other way is to be the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. According to Pink, the bottom line is that as professionals or as business owners, we must ask three key questions about our livelihoods:

“1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper? 2. Can a computer do it faster? 3. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?” (p. 51)

As we consider those questions, we come to realize Pink is right. Because he is right, we are moving:

“to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers.” (p. 50)

I completely agree. We absolutely must embrace the new age of work and all its ramifications. If you do not want to be involved, then no need exists for you to embrace it. However, I think most serious professionals and business owners want to remain involved. The future is simply too exciting to ignore.

A Degree Of Design

As we move from the Information Age (and the corresponding need for left-brain thinking) into the Conceptual Age (and the corresponding need for right-brain thinking), Pink points out how higher education and corporate recruiting are changing:

“A master of fine arts, an MFA, is now one of the hottest credentials in a world where even General Motors is in the art business. Corporate recruiters have begun visiting the top arts grad schools—places such as the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art—in search of talent. . . . With applications climbing and ever more arts grads occupying key corporate positions, the rules have changed: the MFA is the new MBA.” (p. 54)

I love what Pink is asserting. Business skills are always important, but they will do more harm than good if misapplied. On the other hand, when someone can channel the business skills through the grid of the arts, design, and perceptions, then we have the opportunity to maximize our products and services. We will not just be producing products and services that speak to the bottom line. Instead, we will be holistically creating products and services that so effectively speak to the human bottom line that the corporate bottom line benefits too. Talk about a win-win solution—this is it!

Industry trends further mirror these realities, as Pink cites:

“Since 1970, the United States has 30 percent more people earning a living as writers and 50 percent more earning a living by composing or performing music. Some 240 U.S. universities have established creative writing MFA programs, up from fewer than twenty two decades ago. More Americans today work in arts, entertainment, and design than work as lawyers, accountants, and auditors.” (p. 55)

Our world will always need left-brain thinking. The important matter to remember though is that increasingly, left-brain work is being done cheaper and faster by overseas labor or stateside computers. Add to that the universal need for all people to maintain a sense of meaning, and the need for right-brain thinking is crystal clear.

Pink is correct. We increasingly need the pattern recognizers, the creators, the synthesizers, the storytellers, the empathizers, and the meaning makers. These skillsets help everyone to tie it all together. These skillsets keep us from being deluged in information yet starved for knowledge.

Let’s face it. Everyone loves a good story, and we have a marvelous one to tell.

The New Money

Pink emphasizes that a new currency has debuted:

“Baby boomers are entering the Conceptual Age with an eye on their own chronological age. They recognize that they now have more of their lives behind them than ahead of them. And such indisputable arithmetic can concentrate the mind. After decades of pursuing riches, wealth seems less alluring. For them, and for many others in this new era, meaning is the new money.” (p. 61)

I believe meaning should always be more important than money. It is especially true as we enter the Conceptual Age. Intrinsically, people do not just want to work for a wage. They want to perform work that has meaning that also happens to pay a wage. This is the ideal. It happens when your skills, interests, and passions collide with opportunity. Moreover, it has never been more important than it is today.

Indeed, meaning is the new money. I genuinely hope you are extremely rich.

The D Word

Not everyone will be successful in the Conceptual Age. It all depends on the aptitudes you bring into it. Pink identifies and defends six aptitudes that we must master to be successful in the Conceptual Age. They are:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Pink explains the importance of the first one, design:

“Design is a high-concept aptitude that is difficult to outsource or automate—and that increasingly confers a competitive advantage in business. Good design, now more accessible and affordable than ever, also offers us a chance to bring pleasure, meaning, and beauty to our lives.” (p. 86)

I agree with Pink’s assertion and I understand how design fits into his overall argument that we are moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. We are more than just the data we accumulate. We need to make sense of the data and decide how it best fits into our world and how it makes our world a better place. That is where design becomes indispensable. It seems to me that moving into this new Conceptual Age, it will be those persons with design skills who will add the most value.

The good news is you do not have to be a designer to think like a designer. You can look for design opportunities in every aspect of your current role and in strategizing your future roles. Organizations can renew their emphasis on design above data. After all, it will only be those persons and those organizations who adopt design’s power who will then persist and prosper in the Conceptual Age.

Do you want to live long and prosper? Then think like a designer.

Everyone Has A Story

The second aptitude Pink says we must master to be successful in the Conceptual Age is story. Considering story, here is what I would offer.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a story because everyone has a past. When I say everyone has a story, my implication is we have an obligation to hear that story. Failing to do so brings no good to anyone.

The greatest gift you can give to any person is to listen to his or her story. By listening to a person’s story, you are demonstrating respect, interest, concern, and affirmation. It builds relationship and connection, which are desperately needed today.

More than just listening to a person’s story—as important as that is—responding to that story is even more important. Sometimes it can be too easy just to listen without responding. That can send the wrong message. To that point, I deeply appreciate Pink’s observations involving research studies about how doctors interact with their patients:

“[About 40 years ago], when researchers videotaped doctor-patient encounters in an exam room, they found that doctors interrupted their patients after an average of twenty-one seconds. When another set of researchers repeated the study [a little over 15 years ago], doctors had improved. They now waited an average of twenty-three seconds before butting in.” (p. 110)

These are sad statistics. The good news is the latest trends are now moving in a more positive direction. This is especially important for success in the Conceptual Age:

“At Columbia, all second-year medical students take a semester in narrative medicine . . . [where] they learn to listen more empathically to the stories their patients tell. . . . The goal is empathy, which studies have shown declines in students with every year they spend in medical school. And the result is both high touch and high concept. Studying narrative helps a young doctor relate better to patients and to assess a patient’s current condition in the context of that person’s full life story.” (p. 111)

Every person has a story. Every person loves to share it. In the Conceptual Age, all of us will love to listen too.

Let’s Do Symphony

Considering symphony, another Conceptual Age proposed aptitude, here is what I would offer. A musical symphony involves many musical instruments synergistically playing to create a result that is bigger than what any individual instrument could create alone.

Symphony means while we constantly give full attention to all the minutia of the individual pieces, we do so with an overriding passion and focus toward the big picture and the composite result. Pink describes the concept of symphony this way:

“What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis—seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.” (p. 66)

Pink further explains this aptitude against the backdrop of right-brain thinking as opposed to left-brain thinking:

“Symphony . . . is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.” (p. 126)

I believe that from the perspective of leadership opportunity, symphony’s validity is opening up remarkable new doors. Fundamentally, a large portion of leadership responsibility has always been helping your team to navigate the diverse pieces of the puzzle to achieve organizational success. With the ongoing, exponentially increasing change we face, symphony has never been more important. In fact, its importance will only increase, and that means leadership opportunities will only increase. Andy Serwer, when he was the managing editor of Fortune, expressed serious concerns about our increasing difficulties with just keeping up with technology’s growth and in particular just keeping up with the unanticipated consequences of technology’s growth (“Waiting for Datapocalypse” February 24, 2014, p. 8):

“First, the rate of change here—and by ‘here’ I mean the amount of our data and the number of our transactions occurring online—is increasing lickety-split. And second, our ability to understand and control the consequences of this increasing change is not keeping up. The consequence gap is proving highly problematic.”

Precisely because the big picture is getting bigger, we need more big-picture thinkers. Precisely because diverse disciplines and subdisciplines are arising, we need more connection makers. Precisely because technologies, demographics, cultures, and societies are creating new entities, we need more boundary crossers.

We will always need the violinist. We will always need the pianist. We will always need the drummer. That is because we will always need the experts. The experts have always remained and will remain important. Nevertheless, more than ever in the past, today we especially need the conductors—the people who truly can do “symphony.”

Let’s look for opportunities each day to do symphony. Our future success depends on it.

Seeking An Enduring Empathy

Another essential aptitude to success in the Conceptual Age is empathy. Considering just empathy, here is what I would offer. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Although knowledge is power, that knowledge can never be unleashed to its full power if the receiver is not open to it. A lack of empathy will block knowledge reception.

In today’s society, as cliché as it might sound, people want to know that other people care. People need people. The best personal and professional relationships always have a strong element of empathy to them.

Pink points out that certain healthcare components can be outsourced or computerized. That is not necessarily a bad thing either. For example, medical doctors following a system of diagnostic rules help ensure treatment consistency, speed, and effectiveness, as Pink explains:

“Rules-based medicine builds on the accumulated evidence of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of cases. It helps ensure that medical professionals don’t reinvent the therapeutic wheel with each patient. But the truth is, computers could do some of this work. What they can’t do . . . is to be empathic.” (pp. 162–163)

Empathy cannot be outsourced or computerized. Therefore, healthcare providers have a vital need to develop and generously offer their skill of empathy. This is not just a “feel good” strategy; something to say because it sounds nice. Rather, it derives from the intangible patient-doctor bond and it translates to a powerful force within the human soul:

“All other things being equal, [in clinical studies] a patient was more likely to get better with an empathic doctor than with a detached one.” (p. 164)

Granted, some people are more skilled or gifted at empathy than others. Nevertheless, that does not excuse any one of us from recognizing its value as we continue to shift from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age.

Playtime

When I was a kid, I believed that play, fun, and humor were things that kids should enjoy, but it was somehow wrong for adults to enjoy them. While adults might find some occasional joy in play, fun, and humor, the unspoken understanding was that doing so somehow took away from an adult’s standing. You might have your “adult card” revoked if you became involved in play, fun, and humor. Therefore, as a kid growing into adulthood, I carried this distorted awareness that I should squelch my play, fun, and humor. After all, I was destined to become a bona fide adult.

Fortunately, that spell did not last very long.

The reality of play, fun, and humor is undeniable. Play, fun, and humor bring intangible benefits to everyone involved. This is true informally among our friends and associates, but it is equally true in formal contexts. Think about how much more meaningful a business meeting was that included something fun. Some psychotherapists are now specializing in “laughter therapy” because they recognize the power of laughter to invoke healing of the mind and body.

As our rapidly changing, increasingly technological world continues to evolve, taking us relentlessly into the Conceptual Age, play will be an aptitude we absolutely cannot afford to lose. It will be what keeps us human. It will challenge our intelligence in a playful way while refreshing our soul in the process. It will bond our teams in deeper ways than any organizational chart can. Pink affirms the terrific power of play:

“Humor can be a cohesive force in organizations—as anyone who’s ever traded jokes at the water cooler or laughed over lunch with colleagues understands. Instead of disciplining the joke-cracker, as [Henry] Ford did in the last century, organizations should be seeking them out and treating a sense of humor as an asset. It’s time to rescue humor from its status as mere entertainment and recognize it for what it is—a sophisticated and peculiarly human form of intelligence that can’t be replicated by computers and that is becoming increasingly valuable in a high-concept, high-touch world.” (p. 191)

Keep playing, I say. Keep playing!

When Meaning Goes To Work

People want to go to jobs in which their full personhood is recognized. Meaning, purpose, and spirituality are affirmed when this happens. Just doing a job—any job—without a passionate sense of purpose, becomes very mundane and stressful very fast.

Pink cites a report published in 2000 by Ian Mitroff (professor at University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business) and Elizabeth Denton (independent consultant) entitled, A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America. The report chronicles insights about spirituality and meaning in the workplace based on interviewing almost 100 corporate executives. On one hand, executives did not want to offend employees and customers by not maintaining a tight leash on how people experience and express meaning in their work. On the other hand, the more employees are affirmed as holistic individuals, the more effective organizations operate:

“Executives were so understandably concerned that the language of spirit in the workplace would offend their religiously diverse employees that they scrubbed their vocabulary of all such talk. Meanwhile, Mitroff and Denton discovered, the employees were hungering to bring their spiritual values (and thus their whole person rather than one compartment of themselves) to work, but didn’t feel comfortable doing so. . . . You can almost picture a river of meaning and purpose being dammed outside of corporate headquarters. But here’s the kicker: if that spiritual tide had been released, the companies might have been better off. Mitroff and Denton also found that companies that acknowledged spiritual values and aligned them with company goals outperformed those that did not. In other words, letting spirituality into the workplace didn’t distract organizations from their goals. It often helped them reach those goals.” (pp. 214–215)

This is one of my convictions. When you allow people to bring the very best of themselves, in all its diversity, into the workplace, then the organization will become its very best. Yes, I recognize we must still operate the workplace in such a manner that diversity principles and best practices are fully supported. Simultaneously, within whatever wiggle room an organization might have, encouraging those expressions of personal meaning and purpose by every employee will add to the individual’s sense of fulfillment. When that occurs, then the organization and its customers will benefit.

A WHOLE NEW MIND—FINAL THOUGHTS

Early in his tome, Pink challenges us with three incredibly important questions concerning livelihood:

“1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper? 2. Can a computer do it faster? 3. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?” (p. 51)

The implications of these questions were played out in numerous scenarios throughout Pink’s analysis. As I see it, the demographics and trends, the increasingly changing technological world, business globalization’s irreversibility, and the fundamental needs, wants, and desires of people and companies require that we address these questions with our eyes wide open.

Some people will like the answers and others will not. Whether you like the answers or not, that will not change the realities of the world we live in today. The Conceptual Age is upon us. It is not going away. Its strength and significance will only grow with each passing day. Pink summarizes it this way:

“These three questions will mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who gets left behind. Individuals and organizations that focus their efforts on doing what foreign knowledge workers can’t do cheaper and computers can’t do faster, as well as on meeting the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time, will thrive. Those who ignore these three questions will struggle.” (p. 233)

You and I need a whole new mind if we are serious about maximizing our success and our organizations’ success in this new Conceptual Age. I meet people every day who do not want that new mind because for whatever dysfunctional worldview or ill-conceived business plan they embrace, their world does not include this kind of change. I, with Pink, predict those are the people who surely will struggle the most.

On the other hand, I meet people every day who are just as thrilled, excited, and energized as I am and as Pink is and as millions of others are. That is because we understand the truth of the Conceptual Age. I encourage you to be one of them.

Many things exist we cannot control. Nevertheless, we can control how we respond to those things. I believe the Conceptual Age will play well for those who know how to respond to it.

One way or another, the future is going to be extremely exciting. You can decide on which side of that excitement you want to be. Let’s embrace a whole new mind to choose the right side!


ENTRY LEVEL’S BENEFITS

When Bill Simon was Walmart’s CEO, he defended low-paying jobs in the retail sector by emphasizing that these jobs are the initial step in many people’s careers (“Quoted” Bloomberg Businessweek 1/21/13–1/27/13, p. 21):

“Just about everyone started out in an entry-level job. I did, and I bet you did. My first job was as a dishwasher in a restaurant for $2.10 an hour. It wasn’t a great job, but it was a great first job.”

My first job was as a hospital janitor for $2.14 per hour. That was a pretty good wage for a high school kid back in the day, especially considering minimum wage at the time was around $1.65 per hour. So, although Simon’s statement makes me chuckle, more importantly I love Simon’s statement for four reasons:

1—No Free Lunch. Especially for teenagers and others new to the workforce, Simon’s statement reminds us that the proverbial free lunch is a mirage. Anything of value in this world will be things for which you work. (Granted, occasional providential gifts arise, but that is not the norm.)

2—Start Means Start. An entry-level job is exactly that—entry level. It is where you start. Whether you remain there is largely up to you. Nevertheless, we all have to start somewhere, and for most of us that means entry level.

3—Opportunity Abounds. By virtue of working an entry-level job, you quickly realize many additional opportunities exist for those with special skills, training, experience, ambition, and education. This results in a mindset transformation from “I’m stuck in this entry-level job” to “Wow! Look at all the cool things I can do with my future!”

4—Incentives Are Good. While I do believe the love of money is the root of all evil, I also believe money must be acquired and managed well so we may accomplish those things we are called to accomplish. Therefore, money itself to a certain extent is a direct incentive because it enlarges our ability to accomplish, which is the ultimate incentive.

I understand many people like to bemoan and mock entry-level jobs. It’s about time we recognize their value and benefits. And since it doesn’t appear we have yet arrived at Edward Bellamy’s socialist utopia (Looking Backward: 2000–1887) where everyone makes the same wage regardless of occupation, entry-level jobs are here to stay. I appreciate them for what they built into my life, and for what they built into the lives of millions of workers.


FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT CORPORATE CULTURE CHANGE

Corporate culture is one of the most important elements to any organization’s success and prosperity. Inc. has an excellent definition of corporate culture:

“the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community. As such, it is an essential component in any business’s ultimate success or failure.”

A valuable exercise is to stop and think about what behaviors you experience in your organization. In so doing, you must face the fact that the behaviors—good or bad—exist because the corporate culture permits them to exist. That is a wonderful situation if the behaviors are good. It is a nightmare if the behaviors are bad.

We are each going to embrace and affirm a good corporate culture or we are each going to embrace and affirm a bad corporate culture. That is a pretty clear choice in my mind. Let’s embrace and affirm good corporate cultures wherever they may be found. When we come upon bad corporate cultures, let’s challenge them and aim to change them. Ultimately, this is a professional, ethical imperative.

Now, the question arises, how do we change the corporate culture? And before you even try to answer that question, first you must ask the question, can the corporate culture be changed? Because the “how” makes no sense without the “can.” Finally, you must assess your role in changing the corporate culture. This leads us to five fundamental questions to ask about corporate culture change:

  • How big is the organization?
  • How large is the inertia?
  • Who are the influencers?
  • What can you do?
  • Should you stay or leave?

Let’s consider these questions one by one.

How Big Is The Organization?

Although not formulaic, you absolutely must understand the size of an organization when you are attempting to change its corporate culture. Your knowledge of the organization’s size will drive all aspects of your strategy and process for corporate culture change.

The kinds of challenges a multibillion-dollar corporation presents will not be identical to the kinds of challenges a 20-employee small business presents. The larger the organization, the higher the tendency for the current corporate culture to be solidified, regardless of how good or bad it is. The larger the organization, the more important it becomes for the changes to spring from the top down. Without an executive-level commitment and execution, the changes simply will not catch fire at the middle-management level and down to the bench level.

If the organization is small- to medium-sized, that does not mean that these dynamics are absent, but simply that their speed and style may vary. Your approach will still need to be tailored to connect more effectively with people at various levels. The task is not necessarily any easier. In fact, it could be harder because the smaller the organization is, the higher the possibility for one stubborn individual to create roadblocks to the entire process.

Size never tells the whole story. However, it does remain a significant factor in your strategy and process. Everything about your strategy and process will need to be adjusted to the size-specific assets, limitations, and unique opportunities of that organization.

How Large Is The Inertia?

Inertia is a physics concept that refers to the tendency of an object that is in motion to remain in motion and the tendency of an object that is not in motion to remain at rest. Although it is a physics concept, it has many human illustrations. We all experience those inertia moments at various times and we see them in other people.

What is true for the individual is true for the corporate culture because the corporate culture by definition is the composite of all the individuals. When you want to change the corporate culture, knowing the magnitude of the inertia is crucial. You might find many dynamics in motion that need to be stopped. You might find certain aspects of the corporate culture that are at rest that need to begin moving. Your prospects for success and how you design your strategy and process are all dependent on the size of that inertia.

I remember once moving a very large piece of medical equipment on wheels. It took much more of my strength than I first realized to get it rolling. Once I got it rolling, I nearly took out a wall. It had much more inertia than I initially realized. The good news about inertia is that once you understand it, you will know where to put your resources. You will be putting your resources where they will be most effective and where genuine needs exist. Without this inertial knowledge, you would be nothing more than a feather in a tornado. With this inertial knowledge, you will be a funneling force capable of redirecting energy, objects, and people.

Of course, the inertia of physics is rooted in unbending formulas and equations of the universe. Corporate culture inertia is rooted in people’s minds and hearts where formulas and equations do not always work. However, it is the minds and hearts of people that will move a mountain or create a new one.

Inertia never tells the whole story. Nevertheless, once you understand its size and configuration, then you can apply your energies where they will be most effective. Only then will you have an opportunity to change the corporate culture.

Who Are The Influencers?

Let’s consider the influencers. Do you know who they are? And lest you answer too quickly, remember that a job title does not automatically equal influence.

In any organization, it is those who have influence that are the genuine leaders. At its core, leadership is influence. Sometimes that comes with an impressive job title and sometimes it does not. Once you have identified the authentic leadership, then you will know who the influencers are.

Identifying the influencers is key to executing corporate culture change. When you know who the influencers are and you understand how they think, what their goals are, their integrity, and their character, then you can deduce the options for corporate culture change. The influencers will drive that change. Knowing who they are tells you much about what that change might look like.

As with all these variables, knowing who the influencers are never tells the whole story. Nevertheless, once you understand the influencers, you at least have a much better idea of what the future may hold. In knowing that, you can commit to the future with an informed confidence and excitement about that corporate culture change.

What Can You Do?

Let’s consider what might be the most important question, what can you do? You have a voice. You are empowered. You bring a perspective. Never underestimate where your volition might take you and the organization.

Understanding what you can do frees and empowers you to do it. The specifics of exactly what you can do will vary with the situation. You can offer input. You can affirm the positive. You can share your opinions. You can set the example. You can meet with a key influencer. You can challenge the status quo. What you cannot do is dodge the professional, ethical imperative to embrace a positive corporate culture and to change a negative one. You do not have that selfish luxury. The professional, ethical imperative does not permit such inaction.

Although it is easy to focus on what other people could do or should do, the professional, ethical imperative demands that you take other people out of the spotlight and place the spotlight on you. You cannot control what someone else will do. You can only control what you will do. Understanding what you can do is perhaps the most important step in corporate culture change.

Should You Stay Or Leave?

Let’s consider that last question, should you stay or leave? The question is intensely personal and corporate culture change is never easy. You will have a lot to analyze. Nevertheless, your answers to all the prior questions will provide the resources you need to make a good—albeit not easy—decision. By understanding the size and inertia of the organization, by identifying the influencers, and by discerning your ability to contribute, you will have a rich resource reservoir to create your solution.

This is all you need with just one exception. The single item that trumps everything else is your integrity. Although the previously described analyses are necessary, you must let your integrity be your final arbiter on whether you stay or leave.

In some cases, the quality of the people, the timing, the need, the opportunities, and a sense of calling will overwhelmingly affirm your decision to stay with your integrity intact. You are part of the glorious solution. In other cases, certain aspects of your findings will clearly confirm that for your integrity’s sake, you must leave. When a situation will compromise your integrity, you have two choices:

  • Leave the situation and thereby preserve your integrity.
  • Stay in the situation and thereby destroy your integrity.

Remember, leaving an organization is not the worst thing that can happen in your life. However, preserving your integrity is one of the best things that can happen in your life. The challenges of corporate culture change will always be there, and not every hill is a hill worth dying on. In some cases, your best choice is the choice to live to fight again another day.

CONCLUSION

Corporate culture change is a complex, challenging, stressful, and complicated task to say the least. It will stretch you in unimaginable ways. This multilayered process demands that you continuously bring your best self to the task. By exploring these five fundamental questions, you will have the assurance that you are engaging the corporate culture challenges in the best possible manner for the best possible outcome.


HOW TO HANDLE A LOUSY BOSS

A few years ago I did a post on how to lead a lousy team. That scenario presents some significant leadership challenges that demand examination. How the leader responds can make or break that team.

Shortly after that post, one of my readers turned the tables by proposing a follow-up question: how do you deal with a lousy boss and how does that affect the team? That’s an excellent and welcome question! Here are some ideas to get you through that difficult and complex situation.

It’s Not You, It’s Me.

It is wise to pause first and do some careful analysis. The seriousness of the subject demands sober judgment. As a professional person, you want to refrain from immediately jumping to conclusions about your boss. Therefore, before you affirm that you genuinely have a lousy boss, consider these important questions:

  • How much time have you invested in mutual feedback with your boss to improve each other’s performance?
  • Have you tried to manage your boss better by accommodating his or her work style?
  • Do you and your boss have the same understanding of the work that needs to be done, the group’s mission, and office politics?
  • Is it possible you are misinterpreting or prejudging your boss’s behaviors?
  • Do you have a personality clash?
  • Is your preferred communication style in conflict with your boss’s default setting?
  • Have you sought the advice of a trusted confidante who might provide insights that you could be missing?

I have seen many people apply themselves to these questions only to conclude that they genuinely did not have a lousy boss. Instead, they simply had to do some work on communication style, personality awareness, interpersonal skills, or feedback loops. The result was that the worker-boss relationship was beneficially reframed. What had begun as a question on how to handle a lousy boss transformed itself into a better reality of refining the worker-boss relationship. Both the worker and the boss grew through the experience.

On the other hand, if the above approach still leaves you with the conclusion that you have a lousy boss, then you need to go to the next step.

Aligning Our Goals.

Your boss probably will not decline your help to achieve key goals. Schedule a session with your boss to learn more about his or her goals. In so doing, you will have the opportunity to affirm how your goals as a team member align with your boss’s goals. This might sound simple, but sometimes you must start simple for two reasons:

1—The nonarticulation of goals can do a great deal of harm to a team. The team does not know what the target is. That meeting will allow you to hear your boss articulate the goals. That alone allows you to confirm or correct your understanding. Based on that understanding, you have additional opportunity to share how your goals align with your boss’s goals. Some bosses have simply never fully realized this, but they need to experience that awareness. Your argument just might make a great deal of sense to your boss.

2—Sometimes a person is a lousy boss because of a deep distrust of people. Your act of sitting with your boss to ensure your understanding of his or her goals could be very powerful. Through your listening ear, your boss might come to realize that you genuinely are a valued contributor. That revelation can work toward neutralizing dysfunctional behavior patterns that your boss holds. Trust can grow. Some of these dysfunctional patterns are hard to break, but you have to start somewhere.

Some bosses are lousy bosses because they have always believed it is an us-versus-them world. By you taking the time to ensure goal alignment, your boss might grow in his or her understanding of teamwork. That understanding has the potential to improve any boss.

This is just one dynamic involved in handling a lousy boss. Many additional factors are involved such as . . .

Leading The Horse To Water.

If you genuinely have a lousy boss, then one of the ways that you may need to render service is to point gently in the right direction. Yes, there may be times when you can see the solution but your boss cannot. You must lead that horse to water.

You can do this in ways that are nonthreatening. Sometimes it will demand some creativity and conversational jujitsu. For example, you might digress into a minibrainstorming session and then leave your boss hanging with an unanswered question in which the solution becomes more obvious over time. You might be surprised how many times the next day your boss is trumpeting what you already knew was the solution to the problem.

Did you receive the credit? No. Did the boss arrive at a smart decision? Yes. Did the team win? Yes. So what if you did not receive the credit? Sometimes that is how you take a hit for the team.

Remember, the premise here is that you genuinely have a lousy boss. If that is the case, then sometimes adjustments must be made. As long as you have a lousy boss, the more adjustments you can make that ultimately advance the team further than it would have advanced otherwise, then the better off everyone is.

This strategy will not always work for the same reason the adage remains true: although you can lead a horse to water, you cannot make it drink. In some cases, that horse will go thirsty. In some cases, your lousy boss simply will not see the solution to the problem.

When you have a lousy boss, you have to make many adjustments for yourself and for the team. As I have stated before, this is a very complex situation. That is why you may need to move to another level . . .

Caring Enough To Confront.

As we have already discussed, when you genuinely have a lousy boss, you must constantly make accommodations and adjustments. That is just part of the game called “managing your boss.” However, eventually you want to be a catalyst that prompts your boss to improve. That is when caring enough to confront must occur.

Regardless of how difficult, unreasonable, incompetent, or rude your boss might be, because you are a direct report, you have an ethical and professional obligation to be a force for positive change. That is implicit in the unwritten social contract you agreed to when you said yes to the job. As a professional, you want to exercise your influence for good.

Obviously, every situation is different. Therefore, here are a few factors that you will want to consider as you prepare for a caring confrontation:

Where To Start. You don’t necessarily want to go for the biggest project on the list. It could blow up in your face and only make matters worse. Identify the low-hanging fruit first. You want to go for the relatively easy wins. An early victory will be good for you, your boss, and the team. Simultaneously, it has the potential to open up your boss’s thinking to deeper discussions about bigger situations.

Duration And Frequency. Your knowledge of your boss’s personality and psychological profile will help immensely on this one. Some people will be open to lengthy and frequent discussions aimed at self-improvement. Other folks may be more fragile. Your choices concerning duration and frequency can make or break the whole endeavor. Therefore, choose wisely. If you are unsure, then begin with something isolated and short. That will allow you to initiate action and gauge your boss’s reaction, which will inform your next step in the bigger plan.

Strategic Alliances. Although one-on-one caring confrontations are often extremely effective, some cases might be better handled with a very small group. Think carefully about whether a mutual colleague should be invited into the caring confrontation with you and your boss. Sometimes a boss who is struggling needs to hear the truth from more than just you. A wisely chosen associate can work wonders.

When you carefully consider how these factors will inform your approach, a caring confrontation can be a crucial turning point.

As we have seen, handling a lousy boss is no easy task. You have many and varied factors to consider all with multiple possible strategies and tactics to employ. The specifics of your situation will drive your decisions, and those decisions have the potential to improve your boss significantly. Armed with those insights, the big question for you to answer is where do you go from here?

What About Tomorrow?

As you reflect upon your personal professional situation with a lousy boss, I offer you these very important contextual factors. Contextual factors are those specific aspects about your situation that you absolutely must evaluate. By evaluating these contextual factors today, you will attain a much better idea of what you should do tomorrow.

Identify Your Boss’s Core Difficulty. Based on your experience with your boss, you should be able to identify a root cause of his or her performance difficulties. A technical competency deficiency is often more easily solved than a deeply embedded psychological problem such as a dysfunctional personality. Interpersonal relationship skills can be taught, but on the other hand, that will be impossible if the person is simply not willing to learn them.

Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Your Feedback Process. Feedback that is never delivered has no value because it has no impact. There is a right way and a wrong way to deliver feedback and to receive feedback. The more effective your feedback process is, the more opportunities there will be for people to improve. However, without feedback, improvement chances significantly diminish.

Study Your Corporate Culture. Every organization is different. The degree to which you can successfully employ these various improvement strategies will be driven by your corporate culture. If you are blessed with a “five star” corporate culture, then your improvement strategies will have much direct and indirect support, further enhancing their success probability. However, if your corporate culture is poor, then even your best strategies may be unsuccessful because of too many negative distractions.

Make The Best Long-term Decision For You. At some point, you will have to decide what the best long-term decision for you is. Some hills—and bosses—are not worth dying for. Ultimately, as nobly intentioned as you may be to help your boss, you still have to think about the quality of your work environment today and in your future. The best outcome of course is that your boss is able to receive your input and significant improvement occurs. That situation is a win-win. The worst outcome is that your boss completely rejects all your input and you remain in a horrible work situation. That situation is a lose-lose. Please don’t accept the lose-lose. Just because your boss chooses to lose does not mean you have to embrace the same outcome. Transferring to another department or moving onto a new company may be your best solution.

Embrace Your Lessons Learned. You can learn as much from a lousy boss as you can from a magnificent boss. If anything, you at least learn what not to do. Regardless of the ultimate outcome with your lousy boss, maintain the attitude that says I am going to embrace every single lesson learned so that I can forge ahead into my future more equipped than I have ever been. By embracing your lessons learned, you will strengthen the foundation of all your future endeavors. That is a solid win for you!

Summary Of Key Points.

  • It’s Not You, It’s Me. Before you put it all on your boss, consider what might be your contribution to the supposed lousy boss problem.
  • Aligning Our Goals. As a starting point, begin searching for common ground with your boss by aligning your goals. Let your boss know that you genuinely are on the same page.
  • Leading The Horse To Water. Be willing to use some conversational Jujutsu to lead your boss gently toward better outcomes.
  • Caring Enough To Confront. Know when to do the intense work of having some clear conversations with your boss to exchange feedback.
  • What About Tomorrow? Always have your endgame in mind. Ultimately, you must think about your future too.


ALWAYS THE DEFINING INGREDIENT

Fortune released its annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, and the results are always fascinating to analyze. Editor-in-Chief Clifton Leaf kicked around several reasons why these companies made the list (“Building an Idea Factory” March 2018, p. 6). Perks such as unlimited vacation time, sabbaticals, and periodic blocks of time to work on anything without regard to the company’s normal agenda are just a few of the items that make these companies so effective at attracting and keeping talent.

The relationship however is symbiotic. All that tangible and intangible investment in its people directly drives benefits to the organization as a whole. This derives from that larger factor that causes employees to deliver their best every day—the corporate culture. Ultimately, it is the defining ingredient of any company. Leaf speaks to this concept indirectly:

“Not every company, of course, has that kind of relationship with its employees . . . But employers who can forge that trust with their workers seem to have an extra advantage on the competition: They get a potentially never-ending font of fresh ideas.”

The corporate culture drives innovation and innovation drives company success. Without that high-quality corporate culture, the opposite occurs, and that is why I say corporate culture is the defining ingredient of every organization. Here are four truths about corporate culture:

1—Corporate culture always moves from the top down. An organization’s leaders set the tone for the entire organization. Regardless of whether you have a rotten corporate culture or a golden corporate culture, look to the leadership. You can usually see the connection.

2—Corporate culture by definition is omnipresent. Whatever the company’s pervading values, ideas, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are, they tend to be everywhere. You cannot escape your corporate culture and that is why it absolutely affects everything you do.

3—Corporate culture can be changed. Notice I did not say “will be,” but “can be.” I have seen organizations willfully, strategically, and effectively change their corporate culture. It demands a great deal of group and individual soul searching, but for the organizations that are willing to do that, success will eventually arrive.

4—Corporate culture will make or break your company. This is why corporate culture is one of those nonnegotiables. When it comes to the story of a thriving, vibrant, successful company, high-quality corporate culture must be there in the beginning, the middle, and the end. Too many companies with great products and services have met their demise due to a dysfunctional corporate culture. On the other hand, when an exquisite corporate culture is in play, it is a beautiful thing to behold; as much art as it is science, as much relationships as it is tasks.

Thinking about your own organization, here are some questions worth asking:

  • How is your organization defined?
  • How do you want your organization to be defined?
  • What is your corporate culture?
  • Does your corporate culture need to change?
  • Will your corporate culture change?

How you answer those questions may very well send you on one of the most exciting and productive adventures of your career. I wish you the best!