“There is an increasing yearning for deeper experiences, alongside the awareness that continually numbing ourselves with superficial achievements and acquiring more and more possessions does not actually fulfill us. In the frenzy to achieve success on this materialistic and achievement driven road, we have lost vital pieces of ourselves.”
Our Journey To Corporate Sanity by Ayelet Baron isn’t your standard business book. Baron pairs stories from her own life with the stories of successful entrepreneurs and business people, in order to argue that traditional definitions of success no longer carry the same relevance as they once did. Striving for constant growth may look great on a balance sheet, but it doesn’t do much to serve the people who pour their heart and souls into their work. Furthermore, the relentless pursuit of growth and profits over people has resulted in some pretty frightening damage to our environment. Baron argues for a more sane definition of success: one that prioritizes personal happiness, environmental responsibility, and letting go of the cut-throat competition that characterizes so many corporate goals.
The Big Idea
Purpose is Foundational
"We have an incredible opportunity to see business from a more holistic perspective. Imagine what would happen if we each had clarity on how we could help our organization succeed and, as a result, stop grappling with our own career path and need for a personal brand. It is an opportunity to integrate your life and no longer view your career as outside of yourself."
At Actionable, we talk a lot about employee engagement. The statistics around engagement are dismal—at least two out of every three people are disengaged from their work. Part of the problem is foundational: not knowing how your work fits into the larger goals of an organization is a recipe for discontent.
We are taught from an early age to tie our identities to our work. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question we often pose to children, and hope for a career oriented answer. Firefighter, doctor, teacher—are all acceptable answers. If a child answered “I want to be happy and fulfilled when I grow up,” many of us would be taken aback.
The result of this tendency is compartmentalization. “Work/Life balance” is the elusive goal for so many, and yet, even striving for this balance implies a non-existent duality—as though work and life are indeed separate entities. Baron dares to envision a world in which we recognize that work is part of our lives. Where we can view our careers as an essential part of ourselves, take pride in what we do, and contribute to our organizations with enthusiasm and pride.
Work Out Loud
"Working out loud means that we openly share what we are working on in a way that brings other people to understand how they can also contribute. When you work out loud, you build and strengthen relationships."
As a virtual workforce, the Actionable team uses Slack to stay in regular contact (I’m sure that Slack is fantastic when you share an office space as well). Each week, we see a report that shows how many of our messages take place privately, and how many occur in public channels. As a team, we are trying to get better at migrating our conversations to the public channels—there is no real reason our day to day activities need to take place in private, though that seems to be the default stance (we are a team of introverts).
After reading Our Journey to Corporate Sanity, I will be redoubling my efforts to make my day to day discussions more public. Not because every member of the team needs to be up to date on the details of the work that I do, but because opening the conversation to other perspectives can only strengthen the work that we do together.
Working out loud will look different for each organization, and of course, there are environments where privacy and discretion are an important part of the job. But so often, conversations happen in private for no other reason than a feeling of protectiveness or precedent. I am the first to admit that I often feel like I am the “owner” of the work I do, and communicate about my work in private as a default stance. Going forward, I will be making additional efforts to work out loud, to solicit and encourage input, and to view my work as a small part of a larger (and fantastic) team.
Put the Map Down
"Sometimes you need to put the map down. No one has the course charted for you, no matter how much they may try to convince you that they know what you need in your life right now… Whatever your path, it is vividly and painfully clear that we have to stop the insanity of putting profits ahead of people, and evolve the world of work as a more purpose-driven experience."
Many people, myself included, have learned the hard way that traditional “path” to success doesn’t lead where we thought it would. We were encouraged to attend University, often taking on high levels of debt to do so, because we were told it would lead directly to a great job. We could pay off the debt in no time, save a down-payment, own homes, and achieve a middle-class existence quickly. For so many, that turned out to be a false assumption.
There is no one-size fits all definition of success—and trying to fit into a mould that doesn’t suit us is a recipe for unhappiness. Baron argues for a more individual approach. One that questions the pre-conceived notions and structures in place, and allows for personal growth.
For most of my twenties, I worked in the service industry. While this aggravated my parents to no end (but I had a Master’s degree! Wasn’t I wasting my potential? I could never buy a house and “settle down” on minimum wage plus tips!), I was happy. I was good at my job, I had time to pursue projects that were important to me, and could get a few of my wilder impulses out of my system without negative consequences. I eventually came around to truly wanting a more conventional job, but that was a conclusion I reached in my own time.
Put down the roadmap that you’ve inherited, and think about pursuing what makes you happy. Of course, basic needs must be met, but if you find yourself coming home from work every day drained and unhappy, I encourage you to seek out work that energizes you. Maybe that means changing the structure of the organization or team that you run, making changes to your individual position within the organization, or polishing up your resume and seeking work elsewhere. You don’t need to spend 40+ hours a week doing something that makes you unhappy just because society tells you that you should.
Our Journey to Corporate Sanity takes the reader on a series of “expeditions,” which feature compelling stories from successful entrepreneurs. Baron frames each expedition as a journey toward a mindset shift—the cumulative effect of each shift is a more sane, more human approach to business. While not all of us are CEOs or entrepreneurs, we can all aspire to meaningful work that values people over profits.
How are you striving for a more sane approach to work?