And What Is It To Work With Love?

“And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn

from your own heart,

even as if your beloved

were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved

were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and

reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved

were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion

with a breath of your own spirit.”

– from Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I attended my first EBBF conference this weekend, slightly daunted by its title Co-Creating The New Enterprise.  I needn’t have worried.  Re-discovering Kahlil Gibran was just one part of a rich programme of presentations and discussions that stretched from Building Altruistic Capital through Nudging Condom Adoption To Combat HIV to Building High Performing Teams Through Authentic Collaboration.

It was heartening that at least a third of the 150 attendees – from 16 countries – must have been under 30 years old. And yet quite a few of them seemed to have already founded, or been involved in creating, some form of social enterprise.

EBBF is, of course, just one small example of the extraordinary ferment of ideas around how, in the real world, we can envision enterprises and economic systems that can deliver for humankind prosperity in its fullest sense.

What distinguishes EBBF perhaps is that it is comfortable with spirituality, drawing freely upon religious insight.  It is Bahá’í inspired but also a genuinely inter-faith space, where agnostics and atheists too can feel equally at home.

It also has experimentation at its core. Its purpose is to create meaningful conversations that will stimulate a continual cycle of learning through consultation, action and reflection.

I came away with some answers and many new questions.  One is the mystery of why if, as the data suggests, many of our deepest motivations at work centre around the desire to serve others, and if, as again the data suggests, it’s when we feel we are serving others that we work at our peak performance, then why is service so rarely at the foreground of our work culture?  Why would I sound almost crazy tomorrow if I were to suggest at the water-cooler that, to quote Gibran: ‘Work is love made visible’?

Why are our deepest motivations so often hidden, and how might we surface them? These are themes to which I would like to return. Meantime, congratulations to the EBBF team of volunteers for arranging a great conference.  If you can be in Barcelona in October, you might want to consider attending the next one.

The Meaning Quotient

McKinsey Quarterly - Jan 2013There’s a report published last week by McKinsey that deserves to be widely noticed. It challenges some common preconceptions about how we see work – and highlights our deepest motivations in our work.

When the EBBF set out, years ago, to inspire a discourse on ‘Making Work Meaningful’, I thought it was being wildly optimistic. I was completely wrong, thankfully. The EBBF’s initiative went from strength to strength, bringing together people of many faiths and none in a global consultative process that continues to reverberate.

In parallel, many similar projects have been launched – including much bigger ones like the MiXFiX – in what amounts to a global collaborative search for a new work ethic, for new paradigms for management, and new forms of social enterprise to meet the needs of humanity in the 21st century.

The McKinsey findings are interesting because they confirm just how universal – and important to the bottom line – is this search for meaning at work.

Intellectual Quotient (IQ) matters, says McKinsey: everyone needs role clarity, clear objectives and access to the resources to get the job done. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is similarly vital: we need trust, respect and a sense of collegiate collaboration. But while IQ and EQ are absolutely necessary, they are far from sufficient for peak performance, says McKinsey. Being ‘in the zone’ demands that work has meaning. High performance organizations operate in a high-IQ, high-EQ, and high-MQ (Meaning Quotient) environment.

The productivity differential when working at peak performance is astounding. Yet most executives report that they and their employees are ‘in the zone’ at work less than 10 percent of the time. The McKinsey authors conclude:

“The opportunity cost of the missing meaning is enormous”.

What’s really fascinating in the McKinsey results is how much, across a wide range of cultures and income levels, meaning at work is universally linked to the idea of service to humanity: to society, to customers, to co-workers. It’s the first data I’ve ever seen that confirms that our most profound happiness, our deepest sense of wellbeing, comes from being connected to others, and being able to serve them in some way.

It has to be sincere of course. It’s difficult to reconcile ‘We want to make the world a better place’ with ‘and crush the competition’…