Fun at Work

January 17th, 2013

I’ve been in the same line of work for the last 17 years, and I absolutely love my job! Why? Well I’ve tuned up a formula that’s made my job in large part very rewarding (I’m a damn engineer, of course there’s a formula!). And you can find yours too. So what’s my formula?

Here it is, put yourself in the path of something that is super fun, exciting, and extremely productive. Easy right? Here’s an example. Sometimes I’ll have a meeting with folks to solve a problem and I’ll walk away thinking, “Man, that was some pure 100% fun and totally cool shit! We discussed, debated, cage matched, resolved, designed, and now we get to build and scale something awesome!” It’s wonderful. But how do you make that whole thing happen? Well, no surprise it’s all about the people. Choose the right people to spar with, and you’ll get this result. I look for three primary qualities when choosing a sparring team:

1. Risk takers with great judgement
2. High five seekers
3. “Make it real” pushers

This is of course in addition to the more pedestrian list – get people with the right skills, experience, background for the problem, blah blah blah. And the pedestrian list is certainly important, but if you want to yield something that’s more than vanilla, it pales in comparison to the importance of the former list. First, let’s talk about the first item – “Risk takers with great judgement”.

Risk takers avoid getting bogged down in the micro-details and they move fast enough to see the total landscape, identifying the huge opportunities. But you want risk takers with great judgement to do the quick common sense checks required for major course correction, quickly finding the big pitfalls and dealing with them. With a team of risk takers that have great judgement, the world starts to spin VERY fast, and all the collaborators start pushing, shaping, and correcting to ultimately find interesting spaces that are unique and different. This freedom of movement brings speed and absolute pleasure – it’s FUN!. But to truly use that freedom you need some fuel which is the second item on the list – “High five seekers”.

In a group of “High five seekers” everyone is gunning for the team to find some exciting new discovery. They are not focused on the self. Selfish focus kills freedom of movement, as folks start worrying about who thought of what first, or worse yet who might get the credit. Man, that kills the fun quick – guaranteed! I keep those fun killers the freak out. We only want the folks focused on the excitement – having a sweet time to get to the high fives! This unbridled excitement brings the freedom of movement of a well oiled machine that generates tons of fresh possibilities. With the right people, you get keep rolling the dice at the craps table at lightning speed, and celebrate together on the wins. Now that’s exciting!!!!

But hold on a sec! Those “wins” are super fun but they can be elusive, empty achievements. Give it a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days, and a whole bunch of risky sores start to pop up on these “wins.” You realize that what you thought of as the “great ideas” have tons of little flaws that you can’t ignore – nothing comes easy. Here is where you badly need the third team attribute in team members – “Make it real pushers.” These are the people that burn to make an idea real – to have it impact the world in some meaningful way, big or small. They see the end game, but are laser focused on nailing the next notch. After whiteboard collaboration, they run back to their desk with excitement to draw up scenarios, identify risks, do calculations, etc. And they are driven to see something fabricated, see a prototype – whatever it takes to get the idea closer to reality, knock out the big risks, and show the real benefits. They want to make the idea come alive, breathe and grow.

This “Make it real” step is key – it’s where the fun transforms into fulfillment. Without this step, you can have a whole bunch of fun making discoveries, but that dries up if nothing else happens. You’ve got to make it real! This process can be hard work. You need to be absolutely focused to get through the grind, tedium, disappointments, and victories. But man, it is totally worth it when you see an idea grow and scale into something that totally impacts the world. This is what keeps you coming back for more!

So that is my personal formula. Build teams that will take risk, make corrections, gun for high fives, then make it real! It’s my personal fun to fulfillment formula. Find yours and get your fill!

Good Luck!

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