A few blocks from the White House, Chris Bailey and I sat at a Caribou Coffee for three hours this past Monday afternoon talking about soulful, joyful work.
At one point, Chris whips a book out of his backpack to show me, called Joy at Work, A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job by Dennis W. Bakke, formerly the CEO of The AES Corporation (Applied Energy Services). Chris was sure I’d love reading it, saying that Bakke and I seemed to be very much in sync in the way we looked at how work, and our workplaces, can be reinvented into much more joyful and purposeful places.
Much later that evening, finding I had some extra time on my hands, I took a walk to a Borders bookstore we’d walked by earlier, and bought a copy of the book for myself, figuring it was a good way to commemorate my time in Washington DC with Chris. In the morning I had a 12-hour travel schedule looming large, and I also knew the book would help the long plane ride pass more quickly.
Well, it was a terrific recommendation Chris, for I absolutely devoured the book, finishing its final pages mere minutes before landing. The woman sitting next to me turned out to be a retired grade school teacher, and she kept watching me, smiling, as I flagged and annotated the book the way I normally do when I have something I am not just reading, but studying intently.
She said, “You really should scan that book and send a few shots to the author, for what you’ve just done amazes me. I bet he’d think it a terrific compliment. I wish my students had loved reading their books that much.”
A book review will follow in greater detail, and Chris has one posted on his Bailey WorkPlay already if you’re anxious. For now, with possible job reinventions so much on the brain, I have to share one passage in particular with you. I could barely sit still in my seat when I first read it.
It came to mind for me again today as I sent a reminder email to the bloggers of our Ho‘ohana Community on the 2nd Forum we have coming up this Friday on Reinventions at Work and in Business. I fully realize that this is a much harder forum for the community to participate in, for they know that I don’t shy from what some may feel are pretty radical ideas.
5.26.06 Update: the Reinvention Forum has been posted!
However the Reinvention Forum is not one I’m willing to give up on. My belief that more inspiring ideas are needed is just too strong. People CAN fall in love with working again and find fulfillment in it; I just know it. And there are so many possibilities; they really need not be that far-fetched, controversial or radical.
Chapter 4 of Joy At Work describes the dynamics of a joyous workplace called “Honeycomb” at AES. In it, Bakke tells a story of how Honeycomb came to be, starting in 1986 when “representatives from each department at AES’s power plant in Houston were meeting to discuss elements of the plant’s new employee handbook.” Bakke was asked to observe the discussion, and in his mind there were far too many rules being drawn up. Here’s the passage:
While the idea of discussing the common needs of people working at the company seemed worthwhile, detailed rules like the ones being developed that afternoon increasingly seemed out of place in a fun workplace. Where was the trust? Why couldn’t reasonable people deal with each situation as it arose? What were our assumptions about people behind all the rules that we developed?
”That evening, after all the managers had left the plant, I wandered about the facility and visited with the night crew. The meeting that afternoon was still on my mind, and I began asking questions about the handbook. What if we eliminated it altogether? What if we did away with the procedure manuals? They are always out of date, and no one follows them anyway. What if we did away with detailed job descriptions? What if we didn’t have an organization chart with boxes representing people and their jobs? What if we didn’t have any shift supervisors? What if there were no written limits on what individuals could authorize the company to spend? What if all the specialist titles given to employees were eliminated? What if we created teams of people around areas of the plant to operate and maintain the facility, instead of letting bosses assign tasks and run the plant? What if each group could set its own hours of work? What if team members hired and fired their own colleagues? What if you could make important decisions rather than leave them to your supervisor or the plant manager? I gave no answers, just asked questions.
To find out what happened next, I highly recommend you get the book, for you need to read it —all of it.
The point is, to reinvent, you just need to ask “What if”?” I’ve bet you have a lot of What if? questions too. I know I do.