Designing Human Nature

We design human nature

“Stress is passed from organisation to employee, from employee to employee, and then from employee to customer. Stress never stops at the border of work, either. It bleeds into life. It infects your relationships with your friends, your family, your kids. If it is constantly crazy at work, we have two words for you: F#%k that. And two more: Enough already”

This quote comes from the great book “It Does Not Have To Be Crazy At Work – How To Run A Calm Company” by Jason Fried & David Heinemeir Hansson (Basecamp)

We design human nature by designing the organisations in which humans work.

Sometimes we become so “conditioned” by the status-quo that we forget to be curious.

We forget that the legacy design intent behind many of the design features in organisations today really needs to be interrogated.

There is a enormous amount of redundancy in some of the underlying assumptions we have made about work and about human nature.

The sad reality is that many workplaces have not been designed with the intent to unlock human potential.

Quite the opposite.

Many workplaces today are still heavily burdened with antiquated systems, processes, policies and mindsets. The central intent that lingers on in many legacy workplace design elements is not to empower and enable, but rather to control, to mitigate risk and to ‘incentivise’ desired behaviours through elaborate (usually ineffective) systems of sticks and carrots. There is a wide-spread (often unconscious) belief held by senior leaders along the lines of “I had to suffer, sacrifice and struggle to earn my success …and so you need to do the same”.

Over the course of our lifetime, many of us we will spend at least 90,000 hours at various workplaces. The experiences we have in these workplaces, and the extent to which we feel valued and valuable has a profound impact on us.

According to OfficeVibe only 13% of the global workforce engaged today and 42% of employees believe that their leadership does not contribute to a positive company culture. Recent research by Beyond Blue revealed that whilst 91% of employees believe that it is important to work in a mentally healthy workplace, only 52% agree that their workplace fits this description. The AIA Healthy Workplace survey found that 50% of Australians were suffering from at least one dimension of work-related stress.

There is a huge amount of work to do, and to un-do.

In the wise words of Barry Schwartz (“Why We Work”):

“What people come to seek in work largely depends on what their work makes available. The conditions of human labour created by the industrial revolution have systematically deprived people of fulfillment from their work. (…) we have to start building our way out of the deep hole that almost three centuries of misconception about human motivation and human nature have put us in, and help foster workplaces in which challenge, engagement, meaning and satisfaction are possible.”

But where can you start?

You can start by simply becoming more curious.

Have you ever stopped to consider the central design intent of your organisational systems?

Is it to compartmentalise work …or is it to activate human potential?

Is it to force compliance …or is it to support shared values?

It is to stop people from “taking advantage” …or it is to nurture trust

Is it to control …or is it to empower?

Is it to hit financial objectives …or is it to grow sustainable prosperity?

Is it to optimise productivity ...or is it to take care of employees so they can take care of customers?

These are really important questions to consider, because there is always a design intent in a system. It may be visible or it may be invisible.

Sometimes an invisible legacy design intent can undermine human flourishing, creating suffering & stress.

The book “It Does Not Have To Be Crazy At Work” describes some of the design features of a calm company as:

  • 8 hour days
  • 40 hour weeks
  • Comfortably paced days
  • No weekend work
  • Meetings being the exception
  • Realistic deadlines
  • Ample autonomy
  • Work from anywhere

Need Some Inspiration?

If you are looking for some inspiration, watch this great TED talk by Ricardo Semler. Ricardo shares the incredible outcomes that become possible when you design for radical wisdom.

Or, check out what the B-Corp’s are up to. These pioneering organisations are rewriting the rules of business and building businesses that are a force for good.

When we start to be more curious about our current workplace design, and the original thinking behind it, we move one step away from crazy-busy and one step closer to calm!

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