Get Back in the Box: Final Thought Virus: It’s Supposed to be Fun

My new book should be on the shelves of your favorite bookstore by Tuesday so, in celebration, here’s a final “Thought Virus” from Get Back in the Box. It’s from early on in the Preface, when I’m trying to get the reader to open up to some new possibilities. You might recognize a bit of Maslow in here, but with a twist.

After this, it’s back to more normal blogging. I’ve found the excerpt is a great way to give away some book – but that text doesnt’ really translate properly from one medium to another. Writing for a blog is really different than writing in a book. The arguments I make in the book are written in a form that generally demands the reader approach reading with greater precision, and with the benefit of a greater context. Here, I’m finding that people tend to read the proper nouns, and then project what they already think are the most probable arguments or polarities onto them. I mean, in the Ben & Jerry’s Syndrome post, many blog readers thought I was arguing that the public doesn’t have the wisdom to make its own dietary decisions – and even the NYTimes critic thought I was referring to a corporate branding strategy! (Ben & Jerry’s wasn’t meant as just a brand identity, but as a socially responsible company; I was asking whether the core enterprise of a socially responsible company could be its expression of social responsiblity.)

So it’s been a great experiment. More ideas from the book, written especially for this medium, this week. Again, if you can’t afford the book – and if you can’t get to a library in order to order and read it (even library sales certainly help me feed the baby), let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get the book or a file to you.

I’m hoping you’ll suspend—at least for the plane ride it takes to read this book—the conviction that competition is the primary driver of innovation. It may have once been able to serve this purpose, but it is also a necessarily divisive force—turning potential collaborations into adversaries, and what could be meaningful play into grueling work. We find ourselves comparing and contrasting our progress with others, focusing on what we lack rather than what we have, and alienating ourselves from our potential allies in the process.

Indeed, as my lectures bring me from industry to industry, I find myself amazed by just how little fun most people are having. Whether separated from one another by policy, competition, or cubicle, the last thing that seems to occur to people is to have fun together—when it should be the first priority. Instead, managers feel obligated to reign over employees; executives think they must hoodwink their shareholders; sales believe they must strong-arm their clients; and marketers assume they must manipulate the consumer. All for the life-or-death stakes of the next quarterly report.

Why do we motivate ourselves and everyone else in our lives by acting as if our very survival were in question? The language and logic of business are organized around the survival instinct, even when survival is not in question. This is inefficient, unprofitable, and, perhaps worst of all, depressing.

Instead of relentlessly pursuing survival even after our survival needs are met, we must learn how to do things because they fulfill us— because they are, in a word, fun. Fun is not a distraction from work or a drain on our revenue; it is the very source of both our inspiration and our value. A genuine sense of play ignites our creativity, eases communication, promotes goodwill and engenders loyalty, yet we tend to shun it as detrimental to the seriousness with which we think we need to approach our businesses and careers.

If we can switch our orientation to fun, and see it not as an anarchic threat that needs to be quelled but rather as the core motivator and source of meaning for all human thought and behavior beyond basic survival, we will enable ourselves to reach levels of success that were previously unimaginable. Our very definition of success transcends survivalist notions such as cash reserves, time remaining, or personal safety, into the realms of self-worth, meaning, connection to others, and greater purpose. Plus, it’s better business.

In order to do this, however, we must radically reorient ourselves to the current social and business landscapes. We must learn to experience what is happening to us not as the collapse of our values and competencies—or, even worse, as an excuse to abandon them—but rather as their rebirth in an entirely new context. We must come to understand our age as what it is: a renaissance. Once we do, the rest will be easy. We’ll have no choice but to discard old models, fears, and extrinsic motivators, and instead start to innovate from the inside out.

In short, what I’ll be urging you to do in the following pages is to replace segmentation, repeatability, abstractions, competition, and effort, with integration, originality, foundations, collaboration, and fun. And to do this, all you need to do is rediscover your core passion and competency, and then pursue it relentlessly. It’s that simple.