Monday, December 8, 2014

Feeling Good About Work

[W]hen we think about labor, we usually think about motivation and payment as the same thing, but the reality is that we should probably add all kinds of things to it -- meaning, creation, challenges, ownership, identity, pride, etc. And the good news is that if we added all of those components and thought about them, how do we create our own meaning, pride, motivation, and how do we do it in our workplace and for the employees, I think we could get people to both be more productive and happier.[1]

So says behavioral economist Dan Ariely in his 2012 TED talk above. The concept of creation and challenge being a part of meaning and purpose is very similar to the idea of eternal progression, especially its later incarnation found in the writings of B.H. Roberts and John Widtsoe. Part of human well-being, happiness, and flourishing comes from our ability to create value in our lives and the lives of others. And it demonstrates why work is so important.


1. The studies references by Ariely are Dan Ariely, Emir Kamenica, Drazen Prelec, "Man's Search for Meaning: The Case of Legos," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 67 (2008): 671-677; Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, Dan Ariely, "The IKEA Effect: When Labor Leads to Love," Journal of Consumer Psychology 22 (2012): 453-460.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Resolving Conflict

Best-selling author Jim Ferrell[1] has a TEDX talk on a subject he's covered several times in his work with the Arbinger Institute:[2] conflict resolution. The presentation is applicable to home life, organizations, and beyond. When we stop engaging in self-deception--when we get "out of the box"--we stop viewing others as objects and instead as people with inherent worth and dignity. This can bring us a step closer to a more human economy and business.


1. See his The Peacegiver: How Christ Offers to Heal Our Hearts and Homes (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004) and Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012).

2. See Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010) and The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2006).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Human Economy

A recent article at Harvard Business Review (part of a series prepping for the 2014 Global Drucker Forum) argues that during the 20th century, "the mature economies of the world evolved from being industrial economies to knowledge economies. Now we are at another watershed moment, transitioning to human economies—and the shift has profound implications for management. Why the change in name?

Economies get labeled according to the work people predominately do in them. The industrial economy replaced the agrarian economy when people left farms for factories; then the knowledge economy pulled them from factories to office buildings. When that happened, the way workers added value changed, too. Instead of leveraging their brawn, companies capitalized on their brains. No longer hired hands, they were hired heads.

In the human economy, the most valuable workers will be hired hearts. The know-how and analytic skills that made them indispensable in the knowledge economy no longer give them an advantage over increasingly intelligent machines. But they will still bring to their work essential traits that can’t be and won’t be programmed into software, like creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit—their humanity, in other words. The ability to leverage these strengths will be the source of one organization’s superiority over another

The author presents evidence that managers are recognizing more and more the human element of organizations:

The management community knows on some deep level that humanity is important to enterprise success. In hiring, a recent study of over 1,000 CEOs indicates that above all they seek candidates who are “collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexible.” (Contrast this with the Knowledge Economy’s premium on sheer intellect.) A recent study entitled “Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions” finds a majority of executives insisting that “human insights must precede hard analytics.” Elite business schools now offer "soft skills” courses, ranging from the art of giving feedback to the practice of meditation. Companies are trying to outcompete by branding themselves as “human” (Chevron is the “human energy” company and Cisco is the “human network”)—so much so that Ad Age has proclaimed “human” the newest marketing buzzword.

The corporate ladder
This is inspiring. Business organizations are communities fundamentally built on relationships: relationships between co-workers, managers, executives, and customers. Too often, employees can be reduced to numbers, to costs, to objects. Co-workers see each other and/or their bosses as competitors for higher positions and raises. This zero-sum outlook leaves organization members vying for promotions in a constant battle to the death on the corporate ladder. 

Seeking out those capable of "human insights" will allow businesses to put aside their petty conflicts, united their organizations, and get on with their true purpose: serving society. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thomas Carlyle and the "Perennial Nobleness" of Work

Thomas Carlyle
The Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle[1] was not a fan of America, seeing it as "unrefined, even raw" and lacking in anything of greatness.[2] However, one exception to his disdain was that of "Joseph Smith's [unnamed] successor" (Brigham Young), who seemed to possess the qualities of  Carlyle's "Great Man,"[3] according to his "Draft Essay on the Mormons." Carlyle saw Young among great "men who had struggled with belief and, having resolved to some degree their personal spiritual conflicts, lived lives of usefulness, activity, and leadership."[4] Carlyle was particularly impressed by how this "Great Man" governed the Saints, largely because work was at the heart of Mormonism:

Mormons thrive because they work, are led by a "great man" who values work, and therefore experience success in their efforts. Carlyle's Calvinist upbringing saw these as natural connections...Ian Campbell reminds readers that in the Seceder Church of Ecclefechan where Carlyle's father attended, "work was put before the worshippers as the ultimate end of life." Carlyle sought some form of firm ethics without dogmatism that could be applied to practical problems and above all would imbue "a religious obligation to work." John M. Ulrich writes that Carlyle sought to renew society spiritually by calling for "a religious view of work." [Carlyle's] "Draft Essay on the Mormons" is a part of his attempt to show how work can sanctify society.[5]

In chapter 11 of his Past and Present, Carlyle describes the "perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in Work." For him, "the latest Gospel in this world is, Know they work and do it." Work was the means of "knowing thyself." "A man perfects himself by working," he wrote, for work is a "purifying fire"; a "life-purpose":

Labour is Life: from the inmost heart of the Worker rises his god-given Force, the sacred celestial Life-essence breathed into him by Almighty God; from his inmost heart awakens him to all nobleness,--to all knowledge, 'self-knowledge' and much else, so soon as Work fitly begins. Knowledge? The knowledge that will hold good in working, cleave thou to that; for Nature herself accredits that, says Yea to that. Properly thou hast no other knowledge but what thou hast got by working: the rest is yet all a hypothesis of knowledge; a thing to be argued of in schools, a thing floating in the clouds, in endless logic-vortices, till we try it and fix it. 'Doubt, of whatever kind, can be ended by Action alone.' 

It is in the act of labor that "the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony." For work "is of a religious nature...a brave nature; which it is the aim of all religion to be." In an 1842 letter, Carlyle wrote,

I wish all men knew and saw in very truth, as Emerson does, the everlasting worth, dignity, and blessedness of work...For myself, I feel daily more and more what a truth there is in the old saying of the monks, Laborare est orare [to work is to pray]. I find really that a man cannot make a pair of shoes rightly unless he do it in a devout manner...all work properly so called is an appeal from the Seen to the Unseen--a devout calling upon Higher Powers...[6]

That same year, he wrote another letter declaring that

there is but one man...who is worthy of respect in this world: he that can work at something. The old Monks had a proverb, "Laborare est orare, To work is to pray"; the meaning of which goes far deeper than they perhaps were aware of. He that works well and nobly, not as a slave for mere money-hire, but as a man withal and in the spirit of a man, he, if any, is in real communication with his Unseen Author, making a perpetual pious appeal to the Invisible Powers of this Universe,--which respond to him, if he is faithful. You cannot raise wheat, if you have no virtue, no heroism at all: how much less teach men, conquer men, teach or conquer yourself!

The Mormons ability to "endur[e] the extreme conditions and coloniz[e] desolate regions of the American West"[7] obviously appealed to Carlyle's views of work. His "Draft Essay on the Mormons" is "nearly devoid of theological examinations; instead, it emphasizes the practical results of the religion and expresses approbation for the Church's leadership and the kind of action-oriented belief and obedience it inspires in its members."[8] It seems that Mormons in Carlyle's mind were properly living "the gospel of work."


1. I've written elsewhere about Carlyle's racist reasons for calling economics the "dismal science."

2. Paul E. Kerry, “Thomas Carlyle’s Draft Essay on the Mormons,” Literature & Belief 25:1-2 (2005): 268.

3. Ibid.: 274.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.: 282.

6. Carlyle was quite extreme, calling for the termination of "Fox-hunting, Almacking, Corn-lawing, and a variety of other things" that didn't qualify as work. He also thought "that no man is ever paid for his real work, or should ever expect or demand angrily to be paid..."

7. Kerry, 2005: 282.

8. Ibid.: 284.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Union Review, 1868: "Labour, In Fact, Is Their Religion"

I get up at seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine
I got no time for livin'
Yes, I'm workin' all the time
...I guess that's why they call me
They call me the working man

- Rush, "Working Man," Rush (Moon, 1974)

In an 1868 volume of The Union Review, there is a review of William Hepworth Dixon's New America with a rather large section devoted to the portion about Mormonism. The comments are similar to that of The Edinburgh Review I covered in my last post:

But Mormon life is not a life of ease and pleasure; on the contrary, it is essentially a life of labour and toil; nay, we may say that hand-labour is the essence of every-day religion; with them is far more realised the old saying, laborare est orare [to work is to pray], then anywhere else. The following is a part of a "sermon" preached by [Brigham] Young to a band of newly-arrived emigrants:

"Brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have been chosen from the world by God...You are faint and weary from your march. Rest, then, for a day; for a second day, should you need it; then rise up, and see how you will live. Don't bother yourselves much about your religious duties...Look about this valley into which you have been called. Your first duty is to learn how to grow a cabbage; and along with this cabbage, an onion, a tomato, and a sweet potato; then how to feed a pig, to build a house, to plant a garden, to rear cattle, and to bake bread; in a word, your first duty is to live. The next duty--for those who, being Danes, French, and Swiss, cannot speak it now--is to learn English; the language of God, the language of the Book of Mormon, the language of these Latter Days. These things you must do first; the rest will be added to your in proper seasons. God bless you; and the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."---Page 210.

Labour, in fact, is their religion; they have a creed, it is true, and they have their peculiar doctrines; but the cultivating the land, building of houses, and making the land profitable and their homes comfortable, is the real religion of the Mormons. Without such a would be impossible in the Salt Lake Valley.[1]

Building a literal Zion means literal work. Therefore, the work is elevated to the same heavenly heights as Zion itself.

1. The Union Review: A Magazine of Catholic Literature and Art, Vol. 6 (January - December 1868), 297 (bold mine).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Edinburgh Review, 1854: "All Is 'Of the Earth, Earthy'"

In the May 1854 issue of the journal The Leisure Hour, there is a scathing article on Mormonism, describing it as the  the "foremost" among the "social or religious impostors" of the day.[1] Drawing on a recent depiction of Salt Lake, the article bemoans "the grossly secular and sensuous character of Mormon worship."[2] This relied heavily on an April 1854 report in The Edinburgh Review, which noted the following:

But the most remarkable feature in the practical working of Mormonism, considered as a Religion, is the almost entire absence of the devotional element...All is 'of the earth, earthy.' One of the ablest writers against Christianity has lately stated it as his chief objection to the Christian System, that it discourages the love of earthly things, and requires its votaries to set their affections on things above. He proposes to amend the precept of Saint John, ---'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,' by simply leaving out the word not. Mormonism seems exactly to realise the ideal of this distinguished controversialist...[3]

Neither of these descriptions are exactly flattering, but both capture something significant about early Mormonism: the religious nature of work. The review continues: "The Gospel which they proclaim consists of directions for emigration, instructions for the setting up of machinery, the management of iron-works, the manufacture of nails, the spinning of cotton-yarn, and the breeding of stock. The same undevotional aspect is exhibited by their public worship, at least in Utah."[4] This "grossly secular" form of practical religion seems to have been something of a surprise to its outside observers. It's overly "earthy" nature was off-putting.

In its description of the Mormon worship service, the review mentions

a discussion, in which any one may speak. This part of the service is usually a conversation on local business, like that in an English vestry meeting. The sermon follows; but even that is not confined to religious exhortation, but embraces such questions as the discipline of the Legion, the Californian gold-digging, and the politics of the Territory. The most curious specimen of these discourses which we have discovered is the following, which we take from the official report:

"Elder George Smith was called upon to preach an iron sermon. He rose, and took into the stand [pulpit] one of the fire-irons [the first productions of the Utah founderies]. Holding the same over his head, he cried out "Stereotype edition," and descended amid the cheers of the saints. The choir then sung the doxology, and the benediction was pronounced by Lorenzo Snow." (XV. 492.)

This kind of religious service would satisfy the aspirations of [Thomas] Carlyle himself, whose rather lengthy sermons on the text laborare est orare [to work is to pray], are thus condensed into pantomime by 'Elder George Smith.'[4]

Even early outsiders noticed what Terryl Givens calls the "collapse of sacred distance" in Mormonism.


1. The Leisure Hour: A Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation, No. 126 (May 25, 1854), 334.

2. Ibid.

3. The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal, Vol. XCIX (January - April 1854), 369.

4. Ibid., 370.

Monday, September 22, 2014

"...The Sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a Four-Count Rhythm..."

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing...It is true that one day a week was given over wholly to religion...Even so, in a typical week of our childhood [we] probably received as many hours of instruction in fly fishing as we did in all other spiritual matters.

...My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things--trout as well as eternal salvation--come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy

- Norman Maclean [1]

Maclean's novella A River Runs Through It (and the Robert Redford film inspired by it) is a fine example of uncovering the sacred in the mundane. Though there is much more to the memoir than this, the idea that an activity such as fly fishing can become pregnant with such profound meaning is an important takeaway. Early on, Maclean explains the tedious labor of learning the purely functional elements of fly fishing: "So my brother and I learned to cast Presbyterian-style, on a metronome."[2] It was a craft that must be done with great care. "If our father had had his say, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him."[3] It was part of the Maclean boys' "religious training" to never be late for "church, work, and fishing."[4] These three all operated under the same metaphysical assumptions, the same religious framework. Various passages demonstrate the profundity of a craft or task, whether it be fly fishing in Montana's Blackfoot River or the TPS reports on Monday morning.

It was through fly fishing that Maclean's alcoholic and gambler brother Paul (played by Brad Pitt in the film) became his best self. While witnessing "the last fish we would ever see Paul catch," the Maclean brothers' father simply states, "He is beautiful."[5] The struggle with the enormous trout transformed Paul. He was the very messiness of humanity endowed with divinity; "a distant abstraction in artistry and as a closeup in water and laughter." He was, in the words of his father, "a fine fisherman."[6] Through his art, grace was made manifest.

The art above took time, patience, discipline, and practice. Fishing is "an art performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o'clock." While Maclean's father may not have "believed God was a mathematician...he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God's rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty."[7] As young boys, the Maclean brothers often had to cite the first question in The Westminster Shorter Catechism: "What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." This accompanied sermons and personal lessons about Christ's disciples being fisherman, leaving the young boys "to assume...that all-first class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman."[8] In the case of the apostles, discipleship, art, and vocation came into one (at least for this Presbyterian minister). On the banks of the river watching Paul's final catch, Maclean's father made an important insight: "[The New Testament] says the Word was in the beginning, and that's right. I used to think water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear that the words are underneath the water...The water runs over the words."[9] One scholar has noted,

The river is the background of the story and is associated with the flow of experience, with nature, and also with our memories of the past that continually flow into the present and sometimes threaten to drown us. Words are our attempts to understand, to deal with, and to control insofar as we are able, the flow of life. It is the words that enable us to perceive meanings and to create the forms that articulate our lives.

For this writer, "the interplay of river and words" is "the dialectic of the flow of life and of our attempts to understand and shape it..." The "words are the medium through which the river is conveyed to us and so they also return in the last paragraph of the story as the foundation of everything."

I'm sure few would consider fishing "art" in any familiar sense, just as few would describe the menial tasks of everyday work as such. However, these tasks can be infused with meaning and purpose. They can provide structure in the midst of chaos and provide tools to deal with life in general. They can, in essence, "glorify God" and become one way we "enjoy Him forever." And sometimes, they can even be the means by which we witness perfection.

Try remembering that next time you're prepping a spreadsheet for work.


1. Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, 25th Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 1-2, 4.

2. Ibid., 4.

3. Ibid., 2-3. 

4. Ibid., 34. 

5. Maclean, 2001, 100. According to Maclean, his father, "unlike many Presbyterians...often used the word "beautiful"" (Ibid., 2).

6. Ibid., 101.

7. Ibid., 2.

8. Ibid., 1.

9. Ibid., 95-96.