Author Archive: December 11th, 2013

11 Dec

Tis the Season to Be Jolly…But How?

Blog No Comments by Travis Jones

Tis the Season to Be Jolly…But How?Whether you are celebrating Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas or another cultural tradition, the holiday season is now fully upon us. At work it’s no exception. Holiday parties, secret Santa gift giving and office potlucks are probably in fully swing at your office. And deep beneath all of the decorations, parties, advertisements, and shopping are cultural traditions reminding us to also celebrate common human virtues.

The tradition of gift giving was originally meant to inspire and illustrate the human virtues of generosity and charity (ignore Black Friday pepper sprayings for the sake of this post). Despite all of the anxiety, financial stress, jealousy, and guilt that holiday gift giving can sometimes bring, there is still a remnant in the tradition that is a healthy reminder for us all; it is still better to give than receive.

Some of us are better gift givers than others. I’ll be the first to admit this is not my strong suit. If I pull your name at a secret Santa party, there’s no secret; you’re getting a gift card. But even a self-acclaimed Grinch like myself knows that the feeling of giving someone a gift that they’ll enjoy is valuable beyond money. But this sense of fulfillment that comes with being generous is not always natural. If it were, we wouldn’t need constant reminders, in the form of traditions or parental prompts to children to “share.” This is why holidays can be powerful signposts to the values that we all agree are worthy of moments of collective celebration.

There is research that proves empirically the benefits of giving. People around the world, with both modest and comfortable incomes, reported being happier when they spent money on others than on themselves. Most of the research can be summed up as a rebuttal to the cultural saying, “money can’t buy happiness.” According to many researchers, yes it can. If you haven’t already listened to the Ted talk, “Money Can Buy Happiness”, I encourage you to take ten minutes and fifty-eight seconds sometime and do so. In it, business psychologist Michael Norton gives a great summary of the research that illustrates through various experiments that people who give to others are happier. There are also several other surprising findings in the experiments like, it didn’t matter how much money participants spent, but that they spent is what caused their happiness.

The research is also compelling because of how wide and diverse their participant sample was, spanning countries as diverse as Canada, India, and South Africa. Given the uniformity of their findings across diverse cultural contexts, the researchers believe they have evidence of a deeply human trait of reciprocity.

In addition to measuring individual happiness, the researchers also ran several experiments on teams in organizational settings. In one experiment, two teams of pharmaceutical sales reps were given money to spend on themselves, or money to spend on their other team members respectively. The results showed that the giving team not only reported higher rates of happiness, but also out sold their non-giving colleagues by very large margins. So, as Norton argues, the amount of money the giving team made in extra sales was greater than the amount of money the researchers gave them initially, thus providing the business case for why giving is profitable.

Below are five core principles on spending money proposed by psychologists Michael Norton (mentioned above) and Elizabeth Dunn:

  • Buy experiences – like trips, concerts and special meals that inoculate against buyer’s remorse.
  • Make it a treat – making daily habits into special indulgences increases satisfaction.
  • Buy time – before making a purchase, ask yourself, “How will this change how I use my time?”
  • Pay now, consume later – paying up-front and delaying consumption maximizes the pleasure of anticipation and reduces debt.
  • Invest in others – spending money on others provides a bigger happiness boost than spending on oneself.

So if you are like me and enjoy reminders, especially evidence based ones, remember this holiday season that money actually can buy happiness; it all depends on how you spend it.

23 Sep

My Favorite Teacher’s Name is Travel

Blog No Comments by Travis Jones

My Favorite Teacher’s Name is TravelWork is not the same as it was 50 years ago, or even 15 years ago! Flexible work arrangements have thrown the traditional 9 to 5 out the window.  In an effort to boost employee morale, productivity and engagement organizations are offering perks from bringing your dog to work to providing places to “play” during the workday.  This month at LTAW we are talking about the unconventional in the workplace…which we are sure will someday become the new normal.

Philosopher and theologian St. Augustine once wrote, “The world is like a book, those who do not travel read only one page.” I love this quote. And it fully captures my experience of traveling. Every new place I’ve been and every new person I’ve met, like a great book, has left me a better person than I was before. I’ve left places with new perspectives and left old perspectives in new places. I would not trade my education or any of my mentors for anything in the world, but travel has always been my greatest teacher.

It is striking however that the idea of travel as a teacher has not become a formal concept of organizational leadership training and development. This is especially surprising in diversity and inclusion work where cross-cultural competency is prized as a necessary skill of the new global economy. I share Mark Twain’s sentiments who said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I’m not saying I think people who travel are not aware of and experience the value of travel, I’m saying more should be done to encourage and operationalize the benefits that come from traveling. So far, it seems that travel is largely thought of as a means to an ends (we travel to get to the business) and that the cultural benefits that come from travel are mostly personal. But if there are tangible professional benefits for traveling, then companies should invest in their traveling employees in ways that fully embrace the best that travel has to offer. Traveling for traveling’s sake.  Expanding global markets, and the ensuing boom in international travel, has made thinking about travel in new and more productive ways a new vital skill of business travelers.

There is now initial evidence and research that working and studying abroad are influential factors in producing creativity and fostering skills related to problem solving and innovation. In these studies, students and professionals who have spent considerable time overseas out perform their non-traveling counterparts across several variables. If these initial studies prove to be reliable patterns of travel as creativity building and cross cultural competency enhancing, then organizations can begin implementing programs that encourage traveling that capitalize on the aspects of travel that are most professionally edifying. The hope, at least my hope as an avid traveler, is that business travel can be redeemed from the “means-to-an-end” mentality that often leaves it as an untapped part of professional development.

Be Unconventional!


20 Sep

Start Playing Too Much

Blog No Comments by Travis Jones

Start Playing Too Much - Let's Talk About WorkWork is not the same as it was 50 years ago, or even 15 years ago! Flexible work arrangements have thrown the traditional 9 to 5 out the window.  In an effort to boost employee morale, productivity and engagement organizations are offering perks from bringing your dog to work to providing places to “play” during the workday.  This month at LTAW we are talking about the unconventional in the workplace…which we are sure will someday become the new normal.

Imagine it’s a Tuesday afternoon and you are one hour into what will be a several hour drudge through a sea of emails when a co-worker taps you on the shoulder holding a volleyball and challenges you to join the rest of your smiling colleagues in a friendly match. You agree, and everyone jumps onto their Razr scooters and whisks their way through the workplace to the on campus court. On the way you pass someone getting a full body massage, a lively Yoga class, an intense game of Ping pong and several people engaged in casual conversation on cushy leather couches spread throughout the facility. Before you reach the volleyball court you loop through the open kitchen to snag one of your favorite snacks that are laid out for anyone to enjoy.

If this sounds like a really cheesy beer commercial trying too hard to convince you of their product’s ability to spice up your life, its not (but it could be). It’s just a typical day at work… at Google. Google has now become a leader in the dot com industry for the importance of blending work and play. Their philosophy of work is even “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.” So what does Google, and now many others, know that the rest of corporate America seems so blind to? They know what many of us experienced as children but have forgotten later in life; that creativity, productivity and innovation happens most naturally when we are lost in the enjoyment of an activity. When you were a child, you learned so many things at such a rapid pace (artistic abilities, new books, new games, movies, etc) and much of it seemed effortless. Why? One reason is that children are (hopefully) given “a pass” for a period of their lives where they are allowed to experiment and fail without consequence. They are also encouraged, and given time and space, to play. Sadly, this seems to change as we progress into adulthood. One of my favorite quotes, and life long challenges, is by Pablo Picasso who said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.”

Companies that encourage play at work are beginning to offer a solution to this de-childization that seems to be inherent in so many workplaces. The other good news is that there is a growing, albeit small, body of research on the empirical benefits of play in stimulating creativity. This is especially important at a time when 80% of employees say they are unhappy at work. I am not naïve enough to think that Google alone can change the way work has been done and thought about for the last 100 years, but I am hopeful that they may get the ball rolling. Not every company can, or should, create a facility like Googles’, but I think every company should start to include the concept of “play” into their organizational vocabulary. Stuart Brown, a researcher on the benefits of play, says “I tend to think of play as a state of being…play is individual, and play patterns that work for one person may not work for another. Google has been insightful because they have a whole spectrum of play opportunities so employees can find the niche that works for them.”

The concept that work and play are polar opposites that should be separated runs deep through the American psyche. You see it when we utter, “there is a time and place for everything” or when we scold someone for “playing too much” or not “acting their age.” I hope, especially for the mental health of employees and the future of creative innovation, that playing, laughing, joking and enjoyment lose their negative cultural stigma at work and become staple concepts in organizational thought and practice.

Be Unconventional!


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