Noli timere <don’t fear>.
It seems to me that businesses, and we in everyday Life, have become so fearful of doing the wrong thing that we have become slaves to “what is stated <by some expert> to be the right thing to do.”
And ‘stated’ doesn’t have to be real nor truthful nor even common sense … but rather what is trendy or being touted as ‘new learning.’
We fear what common sense tells us and often blindly follow the trend or the ‘thought of the day’.
Business in particular is guilty of this.
I was reminded of this once again by a recent article in The Economist suggesting that people <experts, researchers, academics, blowhards, etc.> are coming out of the wood work suggesting that open floor office space business models just may not be the fashizzle <oops … as effective> as business gurus had originally suggested they would be.
All I was waiting for in the article was what the newest ‘management belief’ or theory was so that everyone could begin herding in that direction.
I didn’t mind open office businesses.
I didn’t mind closed door office businesses.
I would probably suggest that both <and anything in between > can be effective. It depends on the individual business or organizational culture.
I fully understand we are all looking for an edge in business … and in life.
And if we can steal an idea from someone else to make us better or more effective or more efficient … we will gladly do so.
My issue is that we often BLINDLY do so.
We seek some magic formula to either justify an action or even worse … to dictate our action .. rather than decide what is best on our own.
The whole open-office space business model for example.
In the distant past many businesses modeled themselves on a hierarchical armed forces organizational structure … officers <who thought about strategy> and soldiers <who implemented the strategy> and clearly outlined chains of command.
Now many businesses model themselves on collaboration driven models where open office spaces supposedly encourage a sharing of ideas and a cumulative collaborative effort toward an objective <some people call this a Montessori management ideology>.
Why did this happen?
It became the organizational ‘trend’ du jour’ <with gobs of hypothetical research to support it>.
This trend has become so inculcated into businesses that according to some research around 70% of all offices in America have gone to an open-plan format.
Yet evidence is mounting that this is a bad idea <albeit some of us … employees in fact … have always known this>.
Over the past five years Gensler, some design firm, conducted research asking more than 90,000 people in 155 companies in ten industries over 5 years what they think of working in open office space environments.
Most employees don’t think so well of the ideology <note … I said ‘employees’ … the people who actually get the shit done … and not ‘leaders’>.
Workers say that open-plan offices make it more difficult to concentrate as well as it prevents them from collaborating <because they cannot talk without disturbing others or inviting an audience> and it can also increase high blood pressure & stress <I included the last because I think that is kind of ludicrous to attach to open office space … but also shows the absurd lengths ‘experts’ & researchers go to make their points>.
You would think business managers/leaders would use some common sense every once in a while instead of chasing the new ‘bullshit thing.’
Common sense? Inevitably success isn’t just one thing.
You look at what is right for you and your organization.
You look at what is right for your Life.
Successful people and companies have a tendency to pragmatically mix new trendy progressive ideas with more traditional ones. Ah. Some old and some new. Go figure. Silly silly people.
The best of the best pick & choose amongst the options available.
Rarely do they randomly select some ‘formula’ in which success is baked in.
Because that isn’t the way the world works.
That isn’t the way Life works.
A success formula?
One would think <if they were any type of thinker at all> … that if there was ONE formula everyone would do it.
<I know … I know … silly notion>
The Economist expounded on the new challenges open office space faces:
… some academics are now questioning Montessori management’s basic assumptions—particularly its faith in free-flowing creativity, endless collaboration and all things open-plan.
For example, Morten Hansen of the University of California, Berkeley studied 182 teams who were trying to win a contract on behalf of a professional-services firm. He found that the more time they spent consulting others, the less likely they were to win a deal. This shows, he says, that collaboration has costs as well as benefits. These need to be weighed against each other, instead of simply assuming that the more teamwork the better.
For some reason a quote from Parks & Recreation popped into my head:
“I am 100% certain that I am 0% sure of what I’m going to do.” – Parks & Recreation
I am not a management expert nor am I some brilliant organizational structure analyst … but here is what I do know … if you get these two following things right for your employees <and I imagine in Life> and you will most likely do pretty well:
Let’s begin pragmatically.
People need to get shit done <in business and in Life>.
And people get compensated by what shit they get done … and get promoted by how well they do their own shit.
Until that changes … getting shit done <not collaborating> is the key. And the key to getting shit done? Focus.
The most pervasive problem in an open floor model is that constantly being around people is physically and mentally draining <even if you have an extroverted personality>.
It drains energy … and more importantly it drains focus.
This focus thing.
I will make this even simpler.
Simpler in that we know what makes people happy.
In 1961 psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote: “while happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal – health beauty money power – is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy.”
He called the state of being happy “flow” and identified when it happens.
After interviewing over a thousand people about what makes them happy he found that all responses had the following 5 things in common:
- Intensely focused on an activity
- An activity of our choosing <a self selected focus>
- Neither under challenging nor over challenging
- Has a clear objective
- Immediate feedback
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi discovered that people who are in the flow not only feel a profound sense of satisfaction they also lose track of time and forget themselves <ego> because they are so immersed <i.e., focused> in what they are doing.
This was found time and time again in everyday life as well as business life.
A Life truth?
We are happiest when we are focused and absorbed in an exhausting activity … totally contradicting the common belief that happiness is most often found in relaxation.
Knowing that … organizations owe their employees an environment in which each employee can focus on the job at hand.
They owe it to them not just for the organizational benefit but for the betterment and happiness of the individual employee.
It seems to me <and my pea like brain> that if companies were truly interested in optimizing employee productivity they would understand that employees are not interchangeable parts and collaboration often infringes upon individual performance <individuals lose focus and therefore do not attain the best of their best>.
There is not one ideal way to optimize performance.
Solutions have to be tailored to individual situations … strengths & differences & cultures.
But whatever solution you choose … focus is the key. Give people time and space to focus on the challenge at hand and they will in all probability be successful.
- Sense of team <not teamwork necessarily … just team>.
This is fairly basic.
In life it is family or friends.
In athletics it is the team.
In business it’s the organization.
We like to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It creates a sense of ‘bigness’ in that even though I may be doing a small thing it is bigger because it is contributing to something big.
A sense of team makes nothing small and meaningless … in fact it does the opposite … it takes the simplest most mundane task and elevates it to something someone should take pride in.
Please note … this thought is not about teamwork … because people do not have to like all team members to be able to embrace the team <it sometimes seems that we have forgotten this>.
Saying all that leads me to simply suggest that an organization owes it to its employees to create a team objective and foster a culture <which creates a team ‘feel’ which provides objectives without having to state objectives>.
Focus and team.
I fully understand that open space offices is not as an exercise collaboration chaos but rather to emphasize the idea that separate disciplines of knowledge are interrelated and can prosper when encouraged to interact … and inevitably produces a well-rounded individual <and a well rounded efficient organization>.
But in my cynical view we are using collaboration as a management veil to overcome a likeminded promoting of an aggressive, anything-goes culture of exploitative, extractive, and ultimately individualistic self-destructive capitalism.
I tend to believe the real issues facing business today have less to do with noise and distractions in open office space but rather the fact that we have lost sight of some bigger picture aspects <in business and Life> and focus on checking the boxes … box 1: is it completed – box 2: what did I get out of the deal.
There are some painful truths about organizations.
In many of them there are some not-so-bright managers who lead employees to mediocre outcomes. They focus on the worst compromises for the sake of collaborative efforts <and managing fragile egos>.
This often means that the most capable people work out what they need to do to succeed … and the slippery slope to mediocrity has been fully engaged.
This is one of these topics that drive me nuts.
People often ask me how long it takes me to think and write the things I write about.
This topic? At most it takes me 30 minutes to write and edit.
I have worked in awesome office spaces … and crappy ones.
And I honestly can tell you there is no relationship to the success of the organizations because of the space or how people are situated or what type of ergonomic chair they sit on … or even if there are ping pong tables in the office or any crap like that.
A great business is a great business.
Culturally it gets shit done, good shit done … and the people give a shit <for the shit getting done as well as the ones getting shit done around them>.
I can say the same about life.
I have been in crappy situations and great ones.
Seen people in times of despair as well as greatness.
And there was no formula even there.
No magic elixir you can buy that makes it all work out.
Focus and team.
People focus when they need to focus and share a sense of team <societal or organizational> when it is appropriate if in an environment in which it is possible to do so.
And it may surprise all the management experts … but you can do that in an open office space, closed offices, with green eggs & ham or with any situation you may suggest.
I imagine my real point to this rant and observation goes back to the beginning … noli timere <don’t fear>.
Maybe we shouldn’t fear either not following the herd <or blindly accepting what some trend may suggest> or maybe we shouldn’t fear following our own common sense more often. Believe it or not … most of us can figure it out ourselves. Within the moment … and assessing the current situation … most of us can figure out the best thing to do not only for ourselves … but for an organization or a larger team.
You simply have to … well … noli timere.