Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reimagining Business

According to business professor Raj Sisodia, business is:

  • Good because it creates value.
  • Ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange.
  • Noble because it can elevate existence beyond a subsistence level to achieve full potential.
  • Heroic because it lifts people out of poverty.
But in order to remain such, business must evolve. Sisodia suggests a new model of "conscious capitalism" based on the following four tenets:[1]
  • Higher Purpose
  • Stakeholder Integration
  • Conscious Leadership
  • Conscious Culture

I plan on working some of this into my upcoming paper for the Faith & Knowledge Conference.


1. See John Mackey, Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).

2015 Faith & Knowledge Conference

My proposal for the 2015 Faith & Knowledge Conference at the University of Virginia was accepted.

Title: “Labour…Is Their Religion”: Toward a Mormon Theology of Work 

Abstract: Despite the Platonic ideal, ordinary people do not spend the majority of their time in the act of deep contemplation. Instead, they are performing the seemingly menial tasks of daily life. This largely consists of one’s form of employment. Finding meaning in the lone and dreary world of day-to-day work has been a point of increasing interest among management experts and organizational theorists. Their findings yield fruitful insights, especially given that one of Mormonism’s earliest forms of consecration was a business organization known as the United Firm. The “inspired fictionalization” of the United Firm revelations is an early example of Joseph Smith’s cosmological monism, transforming a business entity into the ancient “order of Enoch.” This sacralization of the mundane was further elaborated by Brigham Young and recognized by non-Mormons as an oddity of the Utahns. The metaphysical overlap of the temporal and spiritual realms can influence the way modern Mormons conduct their business, inspire “Zion-building” within organizations, and pave the way for a Mormon theology of work.

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 referenced 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. He's authored several Mormon-themed books, most recently 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.'[5]

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.

5. Ibid.

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. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Management Lessons from Dr. Who: Robert Sutton Edition

The Doctor: "So tell me, what do you think of the view?"

Half-Face Man: "It is beautiful."

The Doctor: "No, it isn't. It's just far away. Everything looks too small. I prefer it down there Everything is huge. Everything is so important. Every detail, every moment, every life clung to."

Did I mention the balloon is made out of human skin?
Perhaps a reflection of how "small" people were to the cyborg.
The above is one of my favorite lines from the Season 8 premiere of Doctor Who, featuring Peter Capaldi as the brand new face of the Doctor. It takes place in a hot-air balloon above the city of London as the Doctor attempts to reason with a cyborg built largely out of human parts ("Hello, hello...rubbish robots from the dawn of time..."). It isn't getting the praise that the Doctor's alley scene or the Clara/Doctor "egomania" restaurant spat are (which are both brilliant), but it was a small glimpse into how the Doctor sees the world. "Those people down there," the Doctor growls, "they're never small to me." The line about big and small resonated with me not only on both a theological and moral level, but even from a management perspective. Stanford professor Robert Sutton has addressed the management vs. leadership trend by pointing out the danger behind it:

[T]his distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve... “Big picture only” leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway...[T]he worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies. Therefore, harking back to the Bennis theorem I quoted above, let me propose a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done” (bold mine).

Sutton sees the distinction between leadership and management as 

accurate but dangerous because it distorts how too many bosses--at all levels--view and do their work. It encourages bosses to see generating big and vague ideas as the important part of their jobs--and to treat implementation, or pesky details of any kind, as mere “management work” best done by “the little people.” Even if left it unsaid, this distinction reflects how too many bosses think and act. They use it to avoid learning about people they lead, technologies their companies use, customers they serve, and numerous other crucial little things. Among the CEOs, Brad Smith of Intuit (maker of popular software such as QuickBooks and TurboTax) reacted most strongly to these arguments. He explained they struck a nerve because of his experience with developing new managers: The best are obsessed with learning details about every aspect of the business; the worst--the least promising and most arrogant--treat such nuances as being somehow beneath them (bold mine).

Sutton warns of what he calls “Clusterfugs”: "a deadly blend of illusion, incompetence, and impatience [that] creates disasters." These are often "attributable to a failure to “do things right” rather than a failure to try to “do the right thing.” For a recent brilliant analysis of one such “clusterfug” see Harvard's Amy Edmondson’s piece on the botched Obamacare rollout. Such sad tales further reinforce my view that thinking about what could happen, and exhorting people to make it so, is a lot easier than actually getting it done. What's that old saying? Isn't it, "strategy is for amateurs and logistics are for professionals."

Organizations, according to Sutton, need both poets and plumbers. They need to "weave together the "birds eye view," the big picture, with "the worm's eye view," the nuances and tiny little actions required to make bold ideas come to life." As a 2,000 year old Time Lord, I think the Doctor understands this quite well. Managers should take note. 

With that, watch the Doctor regenerate into his newest incarnation (Capaldi) below. And watch Season 8. It's shaping up to be amazing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meeting Core Needs

Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath of the Energy Project have an excellent article in The New York Times titled "Why You Hate Work." The gist of the article demonstrates that organizations must be recognized as communities (my word, not theirs) made up of actual people. This requires organizations to meet what the authors call "core needs":

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

The more effectively leaders and organizations support employees in meeting these core needs, the more likely the employees are to experience engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy at work, and the lower their perceived levels of stress. When employees have one need met, compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.

The specific examples of increased "engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy" are impressive:

Renewal: Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. The more hours people work beyond 40 — and the more continuously they work — the worse they feel, and the less engaged they become. By contrast, feeling encouraged by one’s supervisor to take breaks increases by nearly 100 percent people’s likelihood to stay with any given company, and also doubles their sense of health and well-being.

Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.

Focus: Only 20 percent of respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who could were 50 percent more engaged. Similarly, only one-third of respondents said they were able to effectively prioritize their tasks, but those who did were 1.6 times better able to focus on one thing at a time.

Purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in our survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

It is exciting that the evidence points to a more human-driven business model. According to the authors, "more and more companies are taking up this challenge — most commonly addressing employees’ physical needs first, through wellness and well-being programs. Far less common is a broader shift in the corporate mind-set from trying to get more out of employees to investing more in meeting their needs, so they’re both capable of and motivated to perform better and more sustainably." 

I hope to see more organizations focusing on all core needs. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Alain de Botton on Work

I just downloaded author Alain de Botton's book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, but haven't cracked it open yet. The following inspired me to check it out.

Is the daily grind of work an escape from the big questions? Is daily work about imposing order on the seemingly meaningless chaos of human existence? Does work allow us to become something greater than we are ordinarily?

Questions to think about.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Don Bradley & the Sanctification of Progress

Below is a presentation by historian Don Bradley at the 2014 Conference for the Mormon Transhumanist Association entitled "Mormonism: The Sanctification of Human Progress." It has significant overlap with some of the themes in my own paper (co-authored with and presented by Allen Hansen) from the same conference.

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • The idea of a necessary apocalyptic bottleneck in our future progress is the only obvious barrier (that I can see) to accepting Mormon theology's implication that all human progress is progress toward the deification of human kind and the transfiguration and ultimate celestialization of the earth.
  • On this vision, the principle of stewardship extends to every human endeavor. Stewardship doesn't just apply to church callings and families, it also applies to work, personal consumption, management of resources, care of our community, and every other domain.
  • Perhaps our approaches to the spiritual and temporal should reciprocally inform each other. Maybe instead of just transferring the simplicity with which we often approach spiritual problems to deal with temporal problems, we should transfer some of the complexity and rigor we've developed in dealing with temporal problems to how we engage spiritual problems. In temporal problem-solving we take for granted that we might need to learn methods and practice, practice, practice in order to hone skills. Yet, in spiritual problem-solving we seem to expect that God will do all the work except for the nominal "studying out" the problem in our mind, after which God is obligated to give us the right answer...We expect that calculus will be hard, but that gaining revelation from God Almighty will be easy. One implication of the intimate relationship of temporal and spiritual is that lessons learned in our temporal lives may have relevance for how we pursue our spiritual lives

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Do What You Love

There is much in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech that I applaud. For example, the importance of interdisciplinary study and collaboration was made apparent in his story about the influence of a calligraphy course on the Macintosh design. Implicit in this approach (whether Jobs demonstrated this in practice or not)[1] is a sense of intellectual humility. "None of us is an expert at everything," writes author and historian John Dickson. "...Despite the collective brilliance represented by my readers, what we don't know and can't do far exceeds what we do know and can do. A little humility, then, is hardly rocket science. It is common sense."[2] And while this advocates for lifelong, multifaceted learning, it also demonstrates the need for others with various backgrounds, skills, and experiences. It hits on some of the best aspects of both personal development and group collaboration. However, the advice in the video above to “do what you love,” though appealing, negates an important and inescapable feature of life: mundaneness. Writing in the leftist magazine Jacobin, Miya Tokumitsu explains, "There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers." In essence, there is a contradiction between the humble, inclusive nature of Jobs’ interdisciplinary approach and the rather self-absorbed DWYL mantra. "By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness," continues Tokumitsu, "DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment…Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased." The DWYL mantra “is ultimately self-focused to the point of narcissism." The ability to “choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class."[3] 

A blog post at Harvard Business Review a couple years back actually argued against "doing what you love" for four other reasons:

  1. You love it--but you're not great at itIt’s hard to judge yourself accurately, so ask your friends and employer what your talents and weaknesses are, and then play to your strengths, even if they don’t lead you to what you would currently describe as your “perfect” job."
  2. You're skilled at your passion--but hate the work that surrounds it: "Many businesspeople are masters at their craft but drop the ball when it comes to everything else...It’s possible to learn these skills, but, for many, the process sucks the joy out of their chosen field."
  3. You're too emotionally attached: "Writers who get too close to their work and take criticism too personally never improve. Similarly, businesspeople need to look carefully at whether passion for their work is clouding their judgment. When you care deeply about a pet project, for example, it’s hard to make a rational decision about whether it should live or die."
  4. No one will pay for it: "You can turn a hobby into a job — but only if someone’s willing to pony up. Sometimes the market’s just too small...Sometimes the margins are too thin...And sometimes your company simply has other priorities."

"Doing what you love can inspire great dedication and a sense of meaning," the post concludes. "[B]ut sometimes, that passion can blind you to feedback (are you the only one who thinks it’s a good idea?), make you miserable (who knew launching the initiative would mean managing a dozen new staffers?), or harm your financial prospects." 

From my perspective, DWYL robs people of the chance to experience the Hasidic concept of avodah be-gashmiyut ("worship through corporeality"). Compare Jobs' 2005 commencement speech to that of the late David Foster Wallace. It was actually Wallace's "This Is Water" speech that first triggered my interest in finding the sacred in the mundane and it was a comment on a previous post dedicated to that speech that led to an eventual conference paper on the subject. Wallace notes that "whole, large parts of adult American life" are filled with "dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines..." Yet, "petty, frustrating crap like this" can be transformed from a "crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation" into something "not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down." This transformation comes from continual "attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day." Commenting on the Jacobin piece, philosopher Gordon Marino wrote in The New York Times,

My father didn’t do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his children to college...The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do...Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.

"When you are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17).

And now, in honor of the Jacobin article's title, some U2.


1. Jobs could be authoritarian, but had a collaborative side as well. See Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).

2. John Dickson, Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), Kindle edition. "Ch. 3: Common Sense: The Logic of Humility."

3. I agree with much of Tokumitsu's analysis, though her socialist perspective is one I don't share. For example, she claims that "DWYL is, in fact, the perfect ideological tool of capitalism" because...adjunct professors, fashion interns, and the arts don't get paid enough. Industries that are "feminized" attempt to "extract female labor for little or no compensation." It seems to me that those who pursue these industries are part of the very privileged (which I don't view as inherently bad) Tokumitsu is blasting, thus making such options viable. I've written on the gender gap both here at The Slow Hunch and at Difficult Run. For those interested in an economic analysis of wages, see the article "Classical Economics vs. the Exploitation Theory" by economist George Reisman.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

WWE - "Adam Miller and the Spirituality of Boredom"

As one who tends to feel slothful when bored, but anxious when overloaded, I was inspired by philosopher Adam Miller's presentation at the Miller Eccles Study Group a couple weeks ago. In a brief post at Worlds Without End, I summarize Miller's comments and connect them to a few subjects I've written on in the past regarding work and Hasidism. The history of the word "boredom" itself is interesting:

“Boredom” first became a word in 1852, with the publication of Charles Dickens’ convoluted (and sometimes boring) serial, Bleak House; as an emotional state, it obviously dates back a lot further. Roman philosopher Seneca talks about boredom as a kind of nausea, while Greek historian Plutarch notes that Pyrrhus (he of the “Pyrrhic victory”) became desperately bored in his retirement. Dr. Peter Toohey, a Classics professor at the University of Calgary, traced the path of being bored in 2011 in Boredom: A Lively History.
Among the stories he uncovered was one from the 2nd century AD in which one Roman official was memorialized with a public inscription for rescuing an entire town from boredom (the Latin taedia), though exactly how is lost to the ages. And the vast amount of ancient graffiti on Roman walls is a testament to the fact that teenagers in every era deface property when they have nothing else to do.
In Christian tradition, chronic boredom was “acedia”, a sin that’s sort of a proto-sloth. The “noonday demon”, as one of its early chroniclers called it, refers to a state of being simultaneously listless and restless and was often ascribed to monks and other people who led cloistered lives. By the Renaissance, it had morphed from a demon-induced sin into melancholia, a depression brought on by too aggressive study of maths and sciences; later, it was the French ennui.
There is a lot to digest in Adam's outlook on boredom (similar to Joseph Spencer's views on leisure)[1] and much that is valuable. I don't think I'll ever look at church (and how boring it is) the same way again.


1. Spencer's thoughts can be found in his For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Freedom to Flourish

With July 4th weekend wrapping up, I thought I'd share this video from the Institute of Faith, Work, and Economics entitled "Freedom to Flourish":

The think tank seems to pursue a research subject after my own heart, as demonstrated by the opening lines: "Our lives are not divided into two halves with one part being sacred and another part secular. Worship is not reserved only for Sunday morning, but for Monday morning as well." The institute's three core principles are:

  1. Each person is created in God’s image and, like Him, has a desire to be creative and to find fulfillment using their God-given talents through work. 
  2. All work, whether paid or volunteer, matters to God, and we as Christians are called to pursue excellence throughout the week – not just on Sundays – stewarding all that we’ve been given for God’s glory and for the flourishing of society. 
  3. Therefore, we as citizens must promote an economic environment that not only provides us the freedom to pursue our callings and flourish in our work but also reflects the inherent dignity of every human being.
I recognize a lot of what Mormons would call "consecration" in these principles.

Every moment is a gift. Every moment belongs to the One who gave us that moment.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Church of Starbucks

In the aftermath of Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly's excommunication from the LDS Church, several friends of mine lamented over their own exclusion from the Church (culturally, not literally). Another friend (the friendly neighborhood atheist) made the comment, "You can always come hang out with me at the Church of Starbucks." While I'm positive he meant joining him as a customer, I think he unintentionally touched on the similarity between a church and Starbucks' business model. A couple major aspects of religion are ethics and character development. Conforming to a certain brand of ethics and developing one's character takes willpower. As Charles Duhigg explains below, it is this notion of teaching willpower that Starbucks has embraced.

In his book The Power of Habit, Duhigg tells the story of Travis Leach, a high school dropout raised by drug addicts. He witnessed his first overdose--his father--at nine years old. This kind of upbringing left him emotionally unstable, making it difficult to hold a job due to his tendency to either scream back at upset customers or break down in tears when a shift became overwhelming. That was until he began working at Starbucks. Six years later, he was the manager of two Starbucks (40 employees), debt free, a steady salary, and a 401(k). "He's never late to work. He does not get upset on the job."[1] But what is even more surprising is Travis' view of Starbucks:

The training has, Travis says, changed his life. Starbucks has taught him how to live, how to focus, how to get to work on time, and how to master his emotions. Most crucially, it has taught him willpower. "Starbucks is the most important thing that has ever happened to me," he told me. "I owe everything to this company."[2]

Duhigg describes Starbucks as "one of the nation's largest educators," providing "the kind of life skills that schools, families, and communities have failed to provide."[3] First-year employees spend over 50 hours in Starbucks classrooms. These classrooms make willpower the core element of their education. Willpower is made into an organizational habit. Starbucks realized that most employees did their jobs well most of the time. It was only during "inflection points"--moments of great stress or uncertainty--that some faltered. Routines for difficult situations were provided. Responses to triggers were taught via role play. Rewards for jobs well done were identified. "Starbucks taught their employees how to handle moments of adversity by giving them willpower habit loops."[4] This involved the LATTE method: Listen to the customer, Acknowledge the complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and Explain why the problem occurred. By deciding one's reaction to a particular cue before hand, routine would set in when triggered. Not only is Starbucks teaching self-control, they are actually providing space for it. Research demonstrates that an increased feeling of autonomy combats the depletion of willpower. "For companies and organizations," writes Duhigg,

this insight has enormous implications. Simply giving employees a sense of agency--a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority--can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs...The same lessons hold true at Starbucks. Today, the company is focused on giving employees a greater sense of authority. They have asked workers to redesign how espresso machines and cash registers are laid out, to decide for themselves how customers should be greeted and where merchandise should be displayed..."We've started asking partners to use their intellect and creativity, rather than telling them 'take the coffee out of the box, put the cup here, follow this rule,'" said Kris Engskov, a vice president at Starbucks. "People want to be in control of their lives."[5]

My friend may be on to something. If we want to learn how to treat others, manage our emotions properly, and develop a stronger will and increased autonomy, Starbucks may be the church to attend.


1. Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do in Life and Business (New York: Random House, 2012), 130.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., 145.

5. Ibid., 151.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Drucker Insight: The Purpose of Zion?

I was recently thinking about the following quote from psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (which I was made aware of by Nathaniel Givens):

The correlate to the singularity of human existence is the uniqueness of every human being...If all men were perfect, then every individual would be replaceable by anyone else. From the very imperfection of men follows the indispensability and inexchangeability of each individual; for each is imperfect in his own fashion. No man is universally gifted; but the bias of the individual makes for his uniqueness.[1]

And yet, moral perfection seems to be a goal in many religions, including Mormonism. Perhaps this is why Zion--a collective salvation--is so central to Mormon thought. An insight as to why this is can be gleaned from Peter Drucker, the Father of Management. He explained the purpose behind management and organization:

To be sure, the fundamental task of management remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change.[2]

Elsewhere, he said, "Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is about..."

Organizations are meant to make the weaknesses of individuals irrelevant. I might have to revisit this Drucker insight and its relation to Zion in the near future. Until then, enjoy the following video about Peter Drucker. 


1. From Frankl's The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (New York: Bantam Books, 1967), 56. 

2. Peter Drucker, The Essential Drucker (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 4.

3. Ibid., 10 (italics mine). 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Business Ethics and the Spiritual Life

You gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need.
You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you're on the street,
You gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed.
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.
And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You'll get the chance to put the knife in

- Pink Floyd, "Dogs," Animals (Harvest/EMI, 1977)

A couple years ago, an article in Bloomberg Businessweek titled "How the Mormons Make Money" quoted from historian D. Michael Quinn on the way Mormonism approaches finances and business: 

The Mormon Church is very different than any other church. … Traditional Christianity and Judaism make a clear distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, while Mormon theology specifically denies that there is such a distinction...In the Mormon [leadership’s] worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor, as the old phrase goes in the Biblical sense, as it is to make a million dollars. 

Quinn is working on a history of the LDS Church's business and financial activities (supposedly the third in his Mormon Hierarchy trilogy) and already has published some impressive work on the subject. Nonetheless, this overlap of the spiritual and temporal is found both in Judaism and medieval Christianity. But this lack of a "clear distinction" between the spiritual and temporal in Mormonism was also recognized (in a rather critical way) by author and historian Bernard DeVoto in a 1925 article:

Following the principles laid down in God's book they have developed prosperity from a poverty as great as their intellectual squalor, and this in face of persecution, exile, and even confiscation. God, in effect, has made good. There is wealth in plenty in Utah, and a material culture as modern as any in the nation. All this they have achieved by reading God's book and acting on it, by following God as few other artists have ever been followed. The Doctrine and Covenants has interpenetrated every part of their lives, business methods with their worship and metaphysics with their trade.

That is why any Saint today will stop in the act of selling you a gallon of gasoline or cutting your hair to discuss the fact that God has "body, parts, and passions," and is by actual sexual conjugation the father of mankind. That is why your bell-boy is likely to stay a moment after receiving his tip to warn you of the wrath to come or to set you right about the Sermon on the Mount. Your banker will mingle the lost tribes with his caution against overdrafts.[1]

This "close involvement in economic affairs" was "one of the most negative aspects of contemporary Mormonism" according to DeVoto (and often Hugh Nibley for that matter).[2] He later admitted in a personal letter that this piece and others were "ignorant, brash, prejudiced, malicious, and...irresponsible."[3] 

While some decry the mixing of the spiritual and temporal, an article in the most recent issue of Graziadio Business Review (from Pepperdine University) argues that this is exactly what businesses and universities need and are separated only to their detriment:

This growing separation of the work world from the faith world has led to...the need for meaning. As people search for spirituality, it is in part a search to find meaning in their lives. There is an overriding need to know that their life matters now and that perhaps their contributions will have some lasting impact after death...In this search for spirituality, whatever form it might take, we very often see, even in Christians, and maybe particularly in Christians, a separation of “professional life” from “spiritual life.” A very visible and well-documented display of this happened with Ken Lay, the now infamous CEO and chairman of Enron. The son of a Baptist preacher, Lay clearly articulated his Christian faith and yet was involved in one of the most egregious corporate scandals of its time. Ultimately, Lay was convicted of six counts of conspiracy and fraud and four counts of fraud and false statements in a scandal that led to one of the biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history, cost thousands of employees their jobs and life savings, and cost investors billions of dollars.[4] 

This separation of the "professional (temporal) life" from "spiritual life" can actually plague both the way businesses operate and the way they are viewed by the public. The spiritual (along with the ethics it creates) should be a natural part of business. This includes the way we treat and view others (the Golden Rule):

A growing body of research has demonstrated that organizations which build high performance management systems are much more successful than comparable companies. The evidence from this extensive research suggests that leaders who carefully align personnel systems that select, train, empower, and reward employees with a commitment to both the employees’ welfare and the success of the organization are more profitable, more creative, and more innovative than their counterparts. At the heart of this leadership approach is the treating of employees as valued partners who can contribute to important management decisions, translate organization programs and policies into action, deliver excellent service to customers, and create added value and wealth for their companiesThis “high trust” approach to organization governance contrasts markedly with traditional top-down management thinking that typifies many modern organizations—and that often leads to underutilizing the talents of today’s employees.[5]

Furthermore, a "growing body of evidence from business research seems to clearly suggest that virtuous leadership and honoring moral duties build commitment and increase long-term wealth. As business leaders and business schools take advantage of the research knowledge available to them, they have the opportunity to raise their standard of performance and create added value for the stakeholders that they serve."[6]

For all the harsh criticisms of business and corporations receive, I'm somewhat surprised that (1) business leaders ignore the growing evidence for the profitability of good ethics and (2) critics continue to paint the professional and the spiritual as two separate worlds (and struggle to keep them there). 


1. Bernard DeVoto, "God -- Litterateur," The Guardian: A Literary Monthly Published in Philadelphia 1:5 (March 1925). Thanks to Allen for pointing this out to me. 

2. Leland A. Fetzer, "Bernard DeVoto and Mormon Tradition," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 6:3-4 (1971): 28.

3. Ibid.: 30. 

4. Linda A. Livingstone, "Integrating a Spiritual Life into the Work Life: The Significance of Faith-Based Values in Academia," Graziadio Business Review 17:1 (2014).  

5. Cam Caldwell, "Forging Ethics-Based Business Partners: The Integration of Business, Employees, and Education," Graziadio Business Review 17:1 (2014). It may be worth noting that the research cited is from David Ulrich, one of the most influential human resource experts in the world and a fellow Latter-day Saint. 

6. Ibid.