22 July 2006

Meaning and money: why do we work?

What motivates us to work, or satisfies us about our job? I've just caught up with two recent posts on this from different internal communications consultants that are worth reading in tandem.

In his post, Lee Smith refers to a new survey by the UK-based Work Foundation on job satisfaction. As he says, the study gives some mixed messages: a majority of workers derive personal fulfilment from their jobs, and regard their work as stimulating and meaningful, while about half also view their work as a means to an end.

Meanwhile David Ferrabee sets off a ripple of comments with his observation: "I like to remind people of something unbelievably simple: people come into work to work." David makes his point in the context of asking whether or not organisations should reward employees for making changes the employer wants.

Motivation to work, and the satisfaction we have in our job, may be closely related but distinct issues to untangle elsewhere. Notwithstanding that, I believe we are motivated or satisfied by a mix of factors that change as we mature, or as we encounter different contexts during our lives. Maslow, of course, had one view of this, and there are many others. Over my career, I have certainly felt social status, intellectual stimulation and companionship among my own fluctuating needs. And I know that money has and will always motivate me in some of the work I do. But from experience of voluntary work, I also know that the genuine thanks of another human being for helping them meet their own needs is priceless.

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12 July 2006

Storytelling: the particular and the abstract

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of thought- and feeling-provoking hours in a workshop led by organisational consultant Geoff Mead on storytelling, for the Organisational Development Innovation Network.

After we told and re-told the variously truthful and fantastic stories of our shoes (by way of introducing ourselves) Geoff engaged us in thinking about the nature of stories and why they are so powerful as an expression and shaping of our identity and thought.

One of the things he suggested which caught my attention was the idea that we relate to the particular in a different way than we relate to the abstract. I'm curious about the origins and nature of this difference.

Enlarging on this 'different way', Geoff cited the ideas of Hugh Brody, an anthropologist, and Jerome Bruner a psychologist. The former apparently distinguishes needs for the particular and abstract between hunter-gatherer and farming communities, and the latter distinguishes two forms of thought, the narrative and the paradigmatic.

I will need to read more about their ideas. Meanwhile, I'm still left wondering about the 'different way'. The most obvious difference to me about my own relating to the particular and abstract is emotional. Stories evoke emotion in me more often or more strongly than abstract discourse does, not least when they are 'untrue' in the form of fiction, fable, myth and so on. They also have a greater tendency to evoke my own fantasy in response - I imagine more than I hear, as I am listening to a story, and my own fantasy extends, embellishes and leads elsewhere.

The insight for organising seems to me to be to notice our various preferences for particular and abstract forms of communication, to ask how we are relating to others as we express those preferences, and to notice what the consequences are. I don't believe that storytelling is inherently superior to more abstract conversation - they each have their time and place. And I'm not keen on storytelling being used as a means of convincing people of the greatness of leaders, or the rightness of plans, or the wonderfulness of organisations - that kind of organisational storytelling practice seems to be another kind of sales method.

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