Category Archives: Metrics of organizational learning

The Happy Bottom Line

CLO, October 2012

“When I was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”  John Lennon

Humans are driven by their emotions. We make most decisions subconsciously, in the emotional brain. That’s the massive parallel processor that has evolved over millions of years and fills most of our skulls. The prefrontal cortex, the more recently developed logic processor, puts things into words and puts a positive spin on our gut feelings.

“If you threw a rock skyward,” says neuropsychologist Michael Gazzaniga, “and embrued it with consciousness at the top of its flight, its prefrontal cortex would have an explanation for why it fell back to earth before it hit the ground.” We deceive ourselves into thinking we’re rational.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for inventing Behavioral Economics. Kahneman pointed out that the so-called rational economic man had no clothes. Classical economics was based on a mythical creature who was all logic and no feelings. Such people do not exist.

Business tradition asks workers to leave their emotions at home. “This is business,” said the Godfather, meaning that feelings have nothing to do with it. This is absurd, a denial of our humanity. Managers wring their hands that half of the American workforce is not engaged. Is this not an emotional issue? Why should workers leave their feelings behind when they arrive at the office? Don’t we want them to be passionate about their work?

Sigmund Freud started a tradition that haunts the field of psychology to this day. He focused on making deranged people well. The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the shrinks’ basic text, has thousands of lines on anxiety depression and not a single line about compassion, forgiveness, or love.

Immanent psychiatrist George Vailliant says, “As a psychoanalyst, I’m paid to help you focus on your resentments and help you to find fault with your parents. And secondly, to get you to focus on your ‘poor-me’s’ and to use up Kleenex as fast as possible.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s Marty Seligman started turning the situation around in 1998. As president of the American Psychological Association, he urged psychologists to “turn toward understanding and building the human strengths to complement our emphasis on healing damage.” In other words, instead of making sick people okay, let’s help okay people feel great.

Money can’t buy happiness. Happiness results from how you feel about things, not how things really are. Harvard’s Daniel Gilbert asks you imagine two people. One wins $58 million in the lottery; the other loses the loss of his legs in a car accident. A year later, they’re just as happy or sad as before their big events.

A meta-study of 225 studies on the effect of happiness in the workplace found that happy employees are 31% more productive, sell 37% more, and are three times as creative as their run-of-the-mill peers. Happiness is a bottom line issue. Don’t believe it? Look at the January issue of Harvard Business Review. Aside from hiring happy people, what can you do to take advantage of this?

Our brains are plastic. No, not polystyrene. You can rewire your brain.

A researcher asked harried office workers to do at least one of five brief exercises over the course of three weeks. Four months later, these workers remained more happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Happiness had become a habit.

I have been following all five of the routines for the past month. My outlook’s more positive. I am certainly happier. I smile more.

A sample of one doesn’t prove anything, but you may want to give this a shot. Here is my daily routine:

  • Jot down 3 things I am grateful for.
  • Email a positive message to someone.
  • Meditate for 2 minutes.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take 2 minutes to describe my most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

If it works for you, spread the gospel. Happiness is contagious. What’s more, you’ll never find an easier way to boost productivity by 31%.

Want to know more? Google your way over to Authentic Happiness. That’s Marty Seligman’s site. It’s a great place to begin your journey to happiness.

My curated feed of articles on happiness and well-being
Well-being in Business


How to Replace Top-Down Training with Collaborative Learning (4)

Fourth post in a series. In case you missed them, here are the firstsecond, and third posts.

Is your organization ready?

How ready are you to tackle Big L Learning? Where does your organization fit on the progression from Hierarchical Organization to Collaborative Organization?

You can take this survey online. We’ll report the aggregate results in a couple of weeks.

Our employees can access the entire Internet from their desktops.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

Our people are learning and growing fast enough to keep up with the future.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

Anyone can set up an online meeting at our company.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

We take time to reflect on our experience.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

We distribute information through podcasts, blogs, or videos.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

It’s easy to contribute to a blog or wiki.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

My team talks about the trends that drive our business.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

Relationships between departments are collaborative and effective.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

We learn something from every interaction with a customer.  ☐ yes  ☐ no

If you checked fewer than five ”yes” boxes, your organization is trailing the mainstream.



Assessing the cost/benefit of experiential learning is like asking for a cost/benefit of your telephone connections. You can’t live without it. As one pundit put it, “The ROI of social networking is being in business a few years from now.”

Among the potential benefits of providing a world-class learning function to workers and throughout the extended enterprise are:

  • Better, more knowledgable customer service
  • Faster response time
  • Higher morale
  • Reduced turnover
  • More flexibility
  • More effective supply chain
  • Bottom-up innovation
  • Collective intelligence
  • Build upon one another’s expertise
  • Recruit superior candidates

Your CFO will point out that these are intangibles. She’s right. But most of the value of companies is intangible. In the two decades of the 20th century, the value of the S&P 500 companies flipped from 80% tangibles to 80% intangibles.

Stock price reflects the value investors put on know-how, brand, track record, and the likelihood that the company will continue to create value in the future. All of these depend on the quality of the workforce and its relationships, and those in turn depend on people’s ability to learn and grow.


To keep things simple, we began by dividing the world into two types of businesses. We call industrial-age (old school) companies
Hierarchical and network-era (2012) companies Collaborative.

1. Control in Hierarchical companies resides at the top. Orders and instructions are pushed down through the organization.
Hierarchical organizations train employees. Hierarchical organizations micromanage: they tell people what to learn.
2. Control in Collaborative companies is distributed throughout the organization. Workers and supervisors have a large say
in what they do. Collaborative organizations help everyone in the extended enterprise learn: contractors, temps, partners, consultants — and customers.

Collaborative organizations give managers and workers the freedom to choose how they learn to do the work. This experiential learning is deeper and more long-lasting than classes.

What if our company has shifted from Hierarchical to Collaborative? Learning would become everyone’s business. We looked at likely changes. We asked what would give us the biggest bang in a Collaborative Organization if we didn’t even have a training department.

A good way to assess the adequacy of the technology you’re going to rely on is to look at capabilities on the consumer web. Facebook
has taught hundreds of millions of people about social networking. Ask net-savvy younger workers how they would like to learn new
skills, and they bring will up the features they enjoy outside of work.

It’s not just about the technology, so we examined also some of the human aspects of implementation, including the rationale for different sorts of social networks.


That concludes this series of posts. Here are the four posts:

White paper      |      Slideshare

Hats off to Citrix for sponsoring this research.