Shape Serendipity, Understand Stress, Reignite Passion
We are delighted when we get approached by readers to discuss our latest book, The Power of Pull. Based on our encounters with readers, we see four themes resonating deeply.
Feeling more stress? You are not alone. We all feel increasingly stressed. This stands in stark contrast to the daily news headlines focused on the early signs of an economic recovery. Is this stress all in our minds?
The 2009 Shift Index for the U.S. Economy, which we released in June 2009, revealed a troubling long-term trend: return on assets (ROA) for U.S. public companies declined by a staggering 75% since 1965. This long-term view of company profitability calls into question the health of U.S. corporations. This is a wake-up call for executives running these companies. They have become so focused on short-term quarterly performance and economic cycles that they have completely lost sight of longer term trends that, in the end, have a far more profound impact on corporate performance.
This performance deterioration experienced by companies ripples down to all of us working within these companies. Even those of us not working for companies find that we are facing intensifying competition from talented individuals around the world. So, the stress is real. Our book validates this, but more importantly, it provides pragmatic pathways to overcome this stress, both for individuals and for companies.
Serendipity can be shaped. Being in the right place at the right time is not a new concept; the catchy little phrase has been with us since childhood. But is a fortuitous encounter that leads to a new business contract pure luck? Are some people luckier? Does luck last?
We believe you can shape serendipity. This is a very counter-intuitive notion. After all, most of us believe that serendipity is pure luck. How can you shape luck? While chance is an intrinsic element of serendipity, we believe that you can significantly alter the probability and quality of the unexpected encounters in our lives.
Three choices determine how we shape serendipity:
- Where we spend our time. People are spending more time in virtual environments, especially social network platforms, because they instinctively sense that these environments are often rich catalysts for serendipity. At the same time, people are making choices about where they spend their time in physical environments that also shape serendipity. While the world is getting flatter due to technology advances, people still move to large urban centers, frequent conferences, and participate in institutions which increase the likelihood of unexpected encounters with people relevant to their interests and needs.
- How we spend our time. These physical and virtual environments attract a large number of people. How do we stand out and get noticed so that we attract unexpected encounters?
- How we maximize the value of the unexpected encounter. If we are not prepared when the unexpected encounter finally occurs, it will not yield much value. Listening deeply, being attentive, and understanding what the other person is involved in prove invaluable in converting a chance meeting into a more valuable sustained relationship that keeps on giving.
Finding and pursuing passion in work. We all need to more effectively integrate our passions and our professions. This is a very popular topic with the readers who approach us, eager to know more. Why integrate passion and profession? Even more importantly, how?
We focus on passion in work for two reasons. First, our research suggests that passion is key to achieving sustained extreme performance improvement. This is essential to relieve the stress that we all feel in our work lives. Second, our 2009 Shift Index survey showed that passion levels in the workforce are very low (generally below 20% of workers give indications of passion for their work). The level of passion is inversely related to the size of the company — larger companies have the lowest levels of passion in the workforce. "What do I do if I don't have passion?" and "How do I sustain passion?" are two questions that often come up.
The truth is, we all have the potential for passion. Some of us are lucky enough to be already pursuing our passion as our profession. The rest of us can find or develop our passion. We can pursue the passion that has lurked inside since our childhoods, bring it to the surface, and nurture it. This might mean that we redesign our careers, change fields, pursue reduced workloads, or develop the parts of our jobs that are truly meaningful and satisfying.
Small moves smartly made. Many people tell us that the sub-title of our book really speaks to them: small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. That is ultimately the power of pull. By harnessing the techniques of pull, we find that we do not need massive resources to have big impact. Pull allows us to draw out people and resources that can significantly amplify our own efforts. Rather than financial leverage, think of it as capability leverage.
And it is a form of leverage that we can all tap into as individuals. It isn't just for companies. This is a key message. It says that the changes that need to be made in business start with each of us as individuals. If we don't begin to master the techniques of pull in our personal lives, our institutions will have little possibility of change. On the other hand, if we begin to understand the power of pull at an individual level, we will become catalysts for much broader change at the institutional level and beyond. By using the power of pull as individuals, we not only achieve our own potential more effectively, we set into motion processes that will help institutions to achieve their potential as well.
This is another key message to relieve stress. We don't have to wait helplessly for massive institutions to "get it." We have the ability to make change happen ourselves. And there is a pragmatic path that does not require us to make massive investments of time and effort and wait long periods of time to reap the rewards. We can move in incremental steps that accumulate over time into fundamental change.