They say job satisfaction is important for productivity and quality. The thinking goes something like this: A happy worker is a productive one, and a satisfied worker does good work. This may be true, but it’s not always the best way.
I think we may be better served by a therapeutic dose of job dissatisfaction. Though there are many strains of job satisfaction, the most beneficial one spawns from a healthy dissatisfaction with our success. The tell-tale symptom of dissatisfaction is loneliness, and the invasive bacterium is misunderstanding. When the disease is progressing well, people feel lonely because they’re misunderstood.
Recycled ideas are well understood; company dogma is well understood; ideas that have created success are well understood. In order to be misunderstood, there must be new ideas, ideas that are different. Different ideas don’t fit existing diagnoses and create misunderstanding which festers into loneliness. In contrast, when groupthink is the disease there is no loneliness because there are no new ideas.
For those that believe last year’s ideas are good enough, different ideas are not to be celebrated. But for those that believe otherwise, new ideas are vital, different is to be celebrated, and loneliness is an important precursor to innovation.
Yes, new ideas can grow misunderstanding, but misunderstanding on its own cannot grow loneliness. Loneliness is fueled by caring, and without it the helpful strain of loneliness cannot grow. Caring for a better future, caring for company longevity, caring for a better way – each can create the conditions for loneliness to grow.
When loneliness is the symptom, the prognosis is good. The loneliness means the organization has new ideas; it means the ideas are so good people are willing to endure personal suffering to make them a reality; and, most importantly, it means people care deeply about the company and its long term success.
I urge you to keep your eye out for the markers that define the helpful strain of loneliness. And when you spot it, I hope you will care enough to dig in a little. I urge you think of this loneliness as the genes of a potentially game-changing idea. When ideas are powerful enough to grow loneliness, they’re powerful enough to move from evolutionary into revolutionary.
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Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.