“From where you are you can hear their dreams. The dismays and despairs and flight and fall and big seas of their dreams.

Dylan Thomas


“No machine can replace the human spark: spirit, compassion, love and understanding.”

Louis V Gerstner Jr.


The most insidious aspect of “it’s just work” is that it strips away dreams. I am certainly not suggesting that every workplace aspire to fulfill everyone’s dreams. Its just that if you strip it away as an option, I can guarantee one of two things:

  • An employee will invest their ‘dream energy’ elsewhere
  • An employee will feel, to some degree, that their work doesn’t have meaning or that it matters

So, let’s start with dream energy. The business world has invested a lot of energy focused on efficiency and ‘skill development’ for quite some time. In doing so they ignored the consequences, or, the truth that in doing so it came at the expense of something else. Efficacy would leave some room for dreams and imagination and potential which, if business would get its proverbial head out of its ass, are the intangibles which offer value creation – expansive not reductive. Dream energy, in business, is, and always has been, a proportional system of pragmatism and possibilities. The trouble is that business sees it as a zero-sum game that if “I encourage you to pursue your dreams it comes at the expense of my profits/efficiency/objectives.” I imagine in an objective/milestone/KPI driven world that zero-sum game thinking may be true. Unfortunately, that zero-sum game isn’t what it is best for business and surely not the best for people. When you let people’s dream energy die in the workplace, well, energy dies. That is not good for business. Ponder.

Now its time for meaning and mattering. The business world, even in today’s world with lots of hollow words about Purpose, has invested a lot of energy suggesting how a worker define meaning/mattering is in terms of KPIs with bonuses and objectives tied to them as a tangible way of measuring meaning/mattering. As a correlation they see meaning/mattering as an intangible (unmeasurable). The challenge is that even if meaning/mattering was intangible (and its not) that intangible has immeasurable value in terms of productivity and intrinsic energy. But meaning/mattering is measurable – through contribution and benefit. I don’t care if you are a maintenance person in a plant, someone who washes cars or even works on a garbage truck, if someone points it out to you, you don’t even have to squint to see the measurable, tangible, ways that what you do contributes to another person at some point. Maybe not all the time on everything, but no one’s job does that, just at some point, with some action, you will have directly contributed to bettering someone else’s life. You have made a contribution to the business, to the job, to society and to a person. If you strip that away, or do not acknowledge it, a worker will only be encouraged to believe (a) they don’t contribute, (b) they don’t matter and (c) how they do what they do doesn’t really matter that much (unless it has some extrinsic KPI-ish reward). When you let meaning/mattering not mean anything or matter much, well, energy dies. Ponder.

All that said.

If you listen closely and you can hear people’s dreams die, you may as well accept the fact it means our business dreams have died.


Written by Bruce