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The Love of Learning, Joy and Meaningful Work

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Joy – to “fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.” freedictionary.com

Gladwell photoIs this a word you associate your work? How many students do you think characterize their experiences in the classroom as joyful? Yesterday, I had the great fortune of hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak at Apple’s Education Leadership Summit. He spoke about the necessity of creating the conditions under which students and workers can produce meaningful work. What constitutes meaningful work and why is it important?

Gladwell argues meaningful work is“one of the most important things we can impart to children.” Meaningful work requires curiosity and a love of learning. It requires driven passion that is derived from the sheer enjoyment of doing work you love, work you believe has meaning and work you believe has impact. Gladwell shared three necessary conditions for meaningful work to exist:

1. Autonomy –Meaningful work is work that is autonomous. Autonomy, while often characterized as independence, is really about empowerment. Empowerment to be in charge of your own destiny and to make decisions.

2. Complexity – Meaningful work is complex. People are motivated by work that is challenging, brain-stretching and hard-to-solve. The process of finding a solution to a complex challenge involves accessing information and partnering with others; it means trying and failing and having the persistence and passion to push forward and try again. Gladwell framed it as work that is “beautifully difficult.” What a powerful description!

3. Connectedness between effort and reward – Meaningful work requires there to be a relationship between effort and reward. People are motivated by daily progress and movement toward a goal. Getting up each morning and knowing you have another shot at the challenges that face you is exhilarating to those who have meaningful work. The connectedness between effort and reward encourages curiosity and experimentation. One who has meaningful work chases ideas with enthusiasm and seeks out new challenges.

In summary, meaningful work = motivated, dedicated, happy (joyful) employees who are reliable, innovative and successful.

I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do meaningful work each and every day. Do you? As leaders, what can you do to create an environment that promotes meaningful work?

By Kimberly in Research
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