mused on 06 May 2016


When we talk with people about experience we tend to talk about the frictions and dissatisfactions that can undermine our experience.  This applies whether the experience is at work, or indeed elsewhere in the world we move through.  In contrast to eliminating the detractions from experience I thought today we could talk about constructive aspects of experience.

We intuitively know that connection and community are vital to enhancing experience.  Being with people, engaging and sharing with them we think is key.  And this is true regardless of context, whether at work, or in our private lives.  Indeed the social isolation that occurs when we do not fulfil our need for community is a pressing and real societal concern, particularly among some in our society.  Everybody knows some ‘alone time’ is important, but we know that ‘being’ human is an activity best shared.

We think this ‘connection’ thing is connected to some deep drives.  Most of the major thought systems have had a focus on empathy from the deepest depths of time.  We all know the Golden Rule, and more recently scientific thinkers like Jeremy Rifkind (The Empathic Civilisation) and Richard Dawkins have discussed a scientific foundation for empathy and cooperation in evolutionary biology and social evolution as a successful competition strategy that is eventually selected for.  We can go further.  One of life’s primary drives is the ‘will to meaning’ (you owe it to yourself to read Viktor Frankl).  Particularly now, as many of our certainties are challenged, we seek meaning and often try and find meaning in our association and connection with others.

We know that some seek meaning in symbols of power and status, whether money or position.  We also know that some find it in challenging and fulfilling work with managers who help them grow and develop as people.  Some find it in a sense of service and a mission.  These fulfilments are not always available to everyone, and perhaps just as worrying, when work is finished for the day, or a career, or through some other termination, then the meaning can disappear as well, leaving the individual disoriented, confused and sometimes isolated. 

These strategies are enacted in relation to others; the meaning is find through interacting with others.  Seeking out meaning through connection directly is worthwhile since enduring connection to others transcends any particular aspect of life; it doesn’t end when work ends.  We all know don’t we, that filling a life with friends and family, is the best method of enriching meaning and belonging in life.  We all know that a workplace in which people enjoy each other’s company, and get along is often a place where we find effective team performance.  Perhaps more to the point it is a feature increasingly sought out in employment experience for the millennial and new members of the workforce who actively seek this in their work.

So if you were trying to improve your employee’s experience of work, you would surely create spaces in which they could find and be with colleagues and friends, create contexts in which they can collaborate and exchange.  You would surely support this with tools to enable them to associate more easily and collaborate more effectively.  Indeed, you might go further and try and create conditions in which new connections can be created, through innovative design, creative disruption, projects, activities and events.  You might even try and think in terms of communities, tribes, flocks  at work, allowing them to form and overlap, to disband and regroup, to allow leaders and facilitators to emerge who can help encourage their development.  You might think of what you can do to facilitate increasing this kind of interaction, with the assent of the communities involved, through gentle experimentation (e.g. what happens if we put a team space here? What happens if we seek an ad hoc team to investigate this?).  ‘Oh, but its not the company’s job to help people at work find friends and contentment.’  Maybe, but positive atmospheres nurture positive teams, positive teams nurture better business results.

Note how by definition these are local, participatory and iterative activities.  These are not big projects or transformations.  Nobody wants to be herded into new contexts, but its difficult to believe anyone would object to participating in creating some modest changes to enhance their experience of work.  The risks associated with these small steps are tiny, whereas the risks associated with the big transformation are enormous, expensive and very risky.  Think how much can be learned from your own people about effectiveness and organisation, if only we choose to empower and listen.

Iterative, employee directed, connection and community focussed, sustained by the organisations complete confidence that connection enhances meaning, meaning enhances experience and experience will drive all of the good things that we want to happen at work or indeed at play.

Well it’s a point of view  What do you think?