Joy, Inc.

Summary Written by Jennifer Knighton
"A pursuit of joy within a business context is not about the pursuit of fame or profit. Humans aspire to a higher purpose… We’ve found that profit, fame, and glory often follow us in this path, too."

- Joy, Inc., page 9

The Big Idea

Tear Down the Walls

"Most workplaces zap energy because they are bland, prefabricated setups. These spaces diminish interactions with their physical barriers and closed doors."- Joy, Inc., page 36

Sheridan surmises that the “quiet and lifeless” offices in modern companies do more to stifle creativity and innovation than anything else. We are closed off from one another, and our buildings are silent.

In contrast, Menlo Innovations intentionally removed all walls, cubicles, and private offices. Replacing separate workspaces with dozens of moveable tables, Sheridan fosters conversation and interaction among his team. And going even further, Menlo eliminated private space for the CEO. Sheridan is in the middle of his joyful, creative, chaos.

While change of this scale is often beyond our individual capabilities, there are a couple of ideas to keep in mind to support personal joy in the workplace.

  • High Speed Voice Technology – Move away from your computer and actually talk to your colleagues. Look them in the eye. Have a conversation.
  • Walkies – Get away from your desk and take a walk around the building with your colleagues. It doesn’t even matter what you talk about.

Insight #1

Constant Conversation

"[Q]uiet work spaces tend to be self-reinforcing. Our manners suggest we should not bother people in a quiet environment. The typical cube farm simply magnifies the stereotypical social awkwardness of introversion, rather than capitalizing on its benefits."- Joy, Inc., page 69

At Menlo, all work is conducted by teams of two people, sharing a single computer, and working together for one week at a time. This pairing creates the necessity for ongoing, constant conversation, which actually drives their efficiency and innovation. This mandatory collaboration leverages the complex, problem-solving capabilities of Sheridan’s team.

Menlo’s reliance on collaborative teams supports what we learned in Creative Intelligence by Bruce Nussbaum – that innovation is social. This constant communication is the clear evidence of an environment conducive to innovation.

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Insight #2

High Tech Anthropology

"A company doesn’t exist to serve its own people; a company exists to serve the needs of the people who use its products or services."- Joy, Inc., page 108

Sheridan employs a group of individuals known as High Tech Anthropologists, whose primary focus is to identify the one persona who will use the software Menlo creates. All design decisions are based upon how this primary individual will use the end product.

This activity of identifying a single persona can be adapted to a wide variety of businesses to simplify our work. Knowing your audience is perhaps the single most valuable tool to product development and marketing – because you’re delivering a customized solution to meet the specific needs of a unique individual.

Joy, Inc. made me want to work for Richard Sheridan. And really, who wouldn’t want to spend their working life at an organization focused primarily on making work joyful? I, for one, want exactly that. But most companies will not be Menlo Innovations, where walls have been eliminated and babies and dogs are welcome. I’m left with the idea that I can change the way I work within my organization, starting with communication, anthropology, and experimentation.

Read the book

Get Joy, Inc. on Amazon.

Richard Sheridan

From kid programmer in 1971 to Forbes cover story in 2003, “outlier” Richard Sheridan(U-M grad BS Computer Science ’80, MS Computer Engineering ’82) has never shied from challenges, opportunities nor the limelight. While his focus has always been around technology, his passion is actually process, teamwork and organizational design, with one inordinately popular goal: the business value of joy! Sheridan is an avid reader and historian, and his software design and development team at Menlo Innovations didn’t invent a new culture, but copied an old one … Edison’s Menlo Park New Jersey lab. Henry Ford’s recreation of the Menlo Park Lab in Greenfield Village was a childhood inspiration!

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