Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Motivation to start something new

Starting a new business is exciting, but overwhelming just the same. There’s a lot to manage and learn, and many expectations to fulfill. Feelings of excitement in a new endeavor are often shared with anxiety – and sometimes that can really slow you down. So how does one motivate to move forward and embrace something new?

There’s a ton of resources in the motivational, “self-help” category these days. Some of it is downright hokey and a lot of it is just a rehash of age old wisdom. There is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes 1:9-14. But I think the value in all this is in the reminding. And in many cases you can find very practical suggestions to action. The trick, I think, is in finding the words that move you.

My latest find in the motivational category is "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. I haven’t finished yet, but in general, I can say that Ms. Rubin’s book suits my style. Rubin, a writer, wife and mom in NYC, albeit with a pretty sweet life, was going about her daily routine when she was struck by the question - Am I Happy? So began a year long effort to apply various happiness strategies to her life systematically on a monthly basis.

So, why does this book speak to me?
• First off, I agree that those with a positive outlook are not easily thwarted by obstacles. Though it may sound trite, working on happiness sounds right. It may help the rest of life flow a little easier.
• Secondly, Rubin did a lot of homework here, from Plato to Thoreau, to the great religions, as well as scientific research and current trends in positive psychology. For me, if you’re going to argue something, please back it up.
• Finally, "The Happiness Project" is a readable memoir peppered with relevant quotes (and I like quotes!) that remind one how to turn a situation. One example relates to Rubin’s frustration when her husband doesn’t pitch in with the housework (well, at least not up to her standards). Sounds silly, right? But these are the things that actually lead to arguments! Here Rubin quotes the twentieth century English writer G.K. Chesterton, “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” Yes, thank you. I am reminded. Try to keep your focus on the great things about this special person in your life. And the not so great… well, nobody’s perfect. Great words to remember if you're fussing about your own shortcomings, too!

What’s really working for me right now is a phrase from Rubin’s chapter on parenthood - “The days are long, but the years are short.” I mentioned this one in my book club the other day and there was a collective “Ahhh”. From the viewpoint of a parent, of course, it really rings true. Remember to be patient; those kids will be off before we know it. I also hear in those words a gentle reminder to move forward. Don’t dwell on the “what ifs” – time is passing. And yes, some days are really overwhelming with a lot of loose ends flying around. But that’s just life and we need to get it going while we can.

So even though it is the middle of January and not an otherwise auspicious day, today I'm posting this blog, moving forward, crossing one thing off my list... How about you? Where do you find motivation to start something new?

Victoria @ Quote Palettes ™

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Using the Science of Happiness to Build a Great Company Culture

This week you will probably say "Happy New Year" to a hundred people or more. Wishing people happiness is something we do a lot, without thinking much about it. We write "Happy Holidays" and sing "Happy Birthday." "Happy New Year" implies a grander vision - a whole year of happiness. Wow, that would be something. But perhaps it's not very realistic. Maybe we really mean, "have a happy year, more or less."

Much has been written about happiness lately, partly because the "science of happiness" has gotten more legitimate traction.

One of the people talking a lot about that science is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. Hsieh grew Zappos from nothing to a billion dollar company in 10 years by making company culture his number one priority (making culture #1 led naturally to better customer service, which led to off-the-charts customer loyalty, which led to a billion dollar buy-out by Amazon). Hsieh has developed a framework for long term happiness he is promoting as a model for growing a winning company. Hsieh's framework will no doubt be the focus of his book called "Delivering Happiness" to be published in March. His ideas are exciting and I hope they influence a lot of business leaders.

But Hsieh didn't start out trying to make his company a "happy" one, at least not in the scientific sense. He just felt strongly that culture matters, and the business formula applied by Jack Welch and others (set company values to achieve market dominance, recruit talent to execute, motivate employees with money, recognition and fear of termination) often leaves company culture to rot. So he put culture ahead of market dominance. He and his team developed a list of specific values for the company and agreed to live by them. They set hiring and promotion policies to ensure that every Zappos employee would be inspired to his or her core to achieve the mission and reinforce the values of the company. This sounds hokey, but it worked.

Then one day Hsieh picked up a book called "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt and things really started to click.

Hsieh realized that hiring only people whose personal values were directly aligned with the company's values (and reinforcing those values all the time) created an environment at Zappos in which people felt they could (a) grow, (b) control their destiny, (c) share their values and personality, and (d) achieve a higher purpose than making money. These turn out to be four key ingredients we need in our lives to experience long-term happiness.

This is a model on which we aspire to build our business someday. Making our company a place where organizational values align with personal values.

Tony Hsieh will give a lot of credit to Haidt, saying "The Happiness Hypothesis" was the most influential book Hsieh has read in the past 5 years. But Hsieh hasn't talked a lot about what prevents us from achieving - or, more importantly, from even seeking - the kind of long-term happiness the Zappos culture fosters. To learn more about that, read "The Happiness Hypothesis".

As for Professor Haidt, the author, I will say he has great taste in quotes. Below are two of the classics about happiness you'll find in "The Happiness Hypothesis", and at QuotePalettes.com. Haidt also offers this good advice to all of us who read and enjoy great quotes:

"Words of wisdom, the meaning of life ... all of these may wash over us every day, but they can do little for us unless we savor them, engage with them, question them, improve them, and connect them to our lives."

Have a Happy New Year.

Victoria @ Quote Palettes™

"The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it." - Marcus Aurelius

"Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy." - Buddha