There was big news in Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR leadership, last summer. The CEOs of more than 180 major companies signed a document announcing that big corporations should no longer focus exclusively on maximizing shareholder profits. Jamie Dimon, Chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, presented a statement that business leaders should focus on delivering value to all their stakeholders — to customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities, as well as their shareholders.
When I wrote about it at the time, I saw it as a shocking shift in how businesses would measure their success. But I was also skeptical. One of the main drivers of change in a business is what gets measured. So I said:
“Watch what the CEOs do about measuring their companies’ success. If they focus solely on stock price, then their statement was just window-dressing. They and their companies will continue to emphasize short-term shareholder value above all else. But if their quarterly reports and analyst calls start highlighting other measures, then perhaps they really mean to change the game. It should be interesting.”
The building project was a total disaster. It had been underway for decades and was nowhere near completion. In fact, it looked more like a ruin than a building under construction. A half-dozen architects had already worked on the project, and the multiple designs were incompatible and badly conceived.
The best thing about a crisis is that it often brings out the best in people. So many individuals step up with courage, creativity, and generosity. They help each other out, they find new solutions, and they stand firm in the face of adversity. In the business world, these people are your most important assets. But at the same time, there are others who make things worse. For a variety of reasons, they engage in behavior that is undermining, distracting, or disruptive.
My book, Curating Your Life, was published on April 8. News flash – the middle of a pandemic is not the best time to launch a book! But there’s also some good news. Although I wrote the book long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, it turns out that learning how to manage your energy for peak productivity is a highly relevant topic in this challenging time. As a result, I’m getting plenty of opportunities to write and speak about the book, including a recent “Coffee and Connect” session for the Executives’ Club of Chicago.
We talked about how the demands on our energy have changed. Some of the tasks that used to exhaust us – commuting, hosting big meetings, going to networking events – are no longer such a big part of our lives. At the same time, other demands have ramped up – learning new technologies, connecting through Zoom and other media, doing our own housework, cooking all the meals and spending much more time with family members. The specifics vary from person to person, but the challenge is the same – how do we manage our energy for peak productivity and joy during this strange time?
I started writing my newsletter, The Cautious Optimist, in the spring of 2009. Like today, that was a dark and scary time. The financial world was collapsing around us, unemployment was skyrocketing, and everything was very uncertain. I chose the title deliberately because it captured the attitude I was trying to cultivate – not a rose-colored “Little Mary Sunshine” perspective, but a realistic confidence that things would get better.
And here we are again. It’s a very different crisis from the 08-09 financial meltdown, but once again we are surrounded by collapse and uncertainty. It’s been 11 years, and I’m still writing The Cautious Optimist, and people are still reading and responding to it. No one knows what the future holds, but I’m confident that cautious optimism is still the best game in town.
As I write this on March 10, I’m feeling helpless. I hate
that! So far, my daily life is pretty normal. I’m in my downtown Chicago
office, and I just got back from a large lunch meeting listening to some very
interesting panelists. My day, and the rest of my week, is heavily scheduled
with both in-person and phone meetings.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the tidal wave to hit: the day
when everything gets cancelled, when my clients suffer severe financial losses,
when my travel is curtailed, when people I care about start getting sick, when
I get sick. It’s really scary, and it feels as if there’s nothing I can do. As
I said, I hate that!
How is work going to change in the new decade? As new
technologies keep flooding into our work environment, how must leaders and the
people they lead modify they way we work? Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what
the work world of 2030 will look like.
If you want a sense of how fraught leaving the family
business can be, look no further than Harry and Meghan. In consulting with family
businesses, I can tell you that when a member decides to step out, it’s often a
challenge far beyond losing an employee.
I worked hard over the holidays and was pleased with what I
accomplished. What was the key to my productivity? Almost no meetings.
Now it’s January, and my schedule is full of meetings once
again. Don’t get me wrong – many of the meetings I attend are very valuable. But
like everyone else, all too often I find myself trapped in a meeting that’s a
waste of my time.
It’s true – great minds think alike! As many of you know, I’ve been working on the concept of “curating your life,” the idea that instead of thinking about balance as if we’re circus acrobats, we need to think about our lives as if we’re museum curators. What’s my exhibit about? What goes in and what gets excluded? Is it time to update my exhibit? My book on this topic, cleverly titled Curating Your Life, will be coming out in April 2020.
So I was fascinated to read a recent post by James Clear, “The Four Burners Theory: The Downside of Work-Life Balance.” His theory proposes that your life is a stove with four burners: family, friends, health, and work. So far so good – most of us would agree with that. But here’s the kicker – the theory also says that to be outstanding you have to turn off one burner, and to become really great you have to turn off two.
Nobody likes to believe they are prejudiced, even if a bias test tells them they are. Many people deny that they hold racist or sexist attitudes, or that they discriminate against certain groups of people. But both anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that a great many of us do, in fact, hold negative stereotypes of groups who are different from us.
So how can we find out how prejudiced people are, if we often aren’t aware of our own biases?
When I was in business school in the early 2000s, there was no question of how to measure business success — and little if any talk of social impact. The most powerful idea I learned in my first year was that the sole purpose of a corporation is to make money for the shareholders.
You have to understand that for me, with my background as a left-leaning clinical psychologist, this proposition was shocking. But I recognized that it was fundamental to how most businesses and business leaders operated.
So today, I’m flabbergasted. On August 19, the elite group of U.S. CEOs that form the Business Roundtable announced that big corporations should no longer focus exclusively on maximizing profits for their shareholders. Jamie Dimon, the chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, presented a statement that business leaders should focus on delivering value to all their stakeholders — to customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities, as well as shareholders.
When you lock into a state of Flow and happiness, you probably don’t know it. Usually, it happens when you’re so totally absorbed in a task that you lose track of time. Your attention is so focused that you don’t notice you’re hungry or your neck is crinked or someone is trying to talk to you. And when you finally come up for air you may feel a little disoriented, as if you’ve been somewhere far away.
I’ve been experiencing this a lot lately as I work on my first book, but the sensation was first described and labeled as “Flow” by prominent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. It has become an influential concept in psychology, business, sports, and the arts, sometimes labeled as being “in the zone” or “in the groove.” Flow is an intensely pleasurable state, characterized by clear goals, powerful concentration, immediate and accurate feedback, and an ideal balance between your level of skill and the demands of the task.
The Flow state is a compelling concept because so many of us have experienced it. But as a psychological construct it has two problems. First, how can you measure it? And second, is it actually connected to creativity and productivity?