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>>Teresa Amabile: Thank you so much. I'm really delighted to be here. And please don't feel
shy. Come on down in front. I'd love to have people sitting down close. I get a lot of
energy from being able to talk to you in this way. I'm really excited to be here and to
be able to share with you some, what I think, are some fairly surprising results from our
recent research.
The basic research question is a pretty simple one. What makes people happy, motivated, productive,
and creative at work? Now obviously, this is a pretty important question because presumably,
we all want to be happy and motivated at work. And our organizations want us to be creative
and productive.
But the answer to this question really isn't very simple at all. For one thing, do these
even go together? Think about the prototypical starving artist. Do happiness and creativity
work in the same direction or might they work in opposition? Another question about this.
Should managers care how happy people are at work? And also, what influences any of
these? Take creativity for example. People have been wondering about creativity at least
since the time of Plato. I, myself, have been studying creativity since I was about five
years old.
Really. True. At least, that's the first time I remember hearing the word "creativity."
I was in kindergarten and I overheard my kindergarten teacher tell my mother, "I think Teresa shows
a lot of potential for artistic creativity and I hope that's something she really develops
over the years."
I was ecstatic when I heard this. I don't think I really knew what creativity meant,
but it sounded good. I was glad I had it. And I was looking forward to a lifetime as
a creative artist. Well, unfortunately, that kindergarten year was the high point of artistic
I really have never done anything with art after that, and I've often thought about why.
What is it that happened to that promised artistic creativity? As I look back on it,
I think it might have had something to do with the kind of day by day experiences that
I had with art in those years following.
So, kindergarten was in a very progressive, open-school kind of situation where we had
a lot of free play time and a lot of access to these wonderful art materials all day.
The following year, my parents enrolled me in a very strict, traditional, parochial school.
There it is. St. Joe's Elementary in North Tonawanda, New York. Doesn't that look like
a lot of fun?
So, at St. Joe's, art, rather than being something that we did all the time every day, art became
a subject that we had once a week. And every week, we got the same, pretty bizarre activity
given to us. We were each given a small reprint of one the great masterworks in painting and
we were asked to copy it.
So, this is something that we got in Second Grade--da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi. And
we were told to copy this with absolutely no skill training and with material that looked
pretty much like this.
This was obviously an exercise in frustration. And what's more, we were really strictly graded
on these monstrosities we produced. Mine were true monstrosities. I couldn't even figure
out how to get all those horses and Saints on the page, let alone make them look like
horses and Saints.
And there was only one time in all those years in school that I heard the word "creative."
I decided to do something interpretive on this particular day. I was doing something
abstract during art. And I heard the nun walking up the aisle. And then, I noticed that she
stopped by my desk and she was looking down at me.
And then I heard her say, "I think maybe we're being a little too creative."
I was mortified when she said this. I was embarrassed. I was angry. I looked at her
as being a cruel person. I saw myself as being ridiculous. And I certainly lost all of my
motivation at that point for doing anything with art. It was like the last straw in my
drive to do anything with art as a kid.
Now, in an adult at work, I would call that kind of reaction "poor inner work life." Let
me show you what I mean by inner work life. It's the combination of perceptions, emotions,
and motivations that people experience at they're reacting to and trying to make sense
of the events going on in their work day.
So, inner work life consists of perceptions. That is, your thoughts, impressions, your
judgments about the place where you work, your co-workers, your bosses, the work that
you're doing--even yourself as an employee. So, those are your perceptions. It's also
your motivations, your emotions and your emotional reactions to what's happening with what's
going on.
And also, you're general mood on a given day. And it's your motivation for doing the work.
And we found that the most important motivation for creativity is what we call "intrinsic
motivation." And that's your passion for doing what you're doing, your drive to do it because
you find it interesting, exciting, because you're personally challenged by it.
So this complex of psychological experiences are inner work life. Inner work life is called
"inner" because it's mostly hidden. Let me give you an example of this. Have you ever
been in a business meeting with higher status people? When one of those people says something
so outrageous that you're momentarily stunned--I see some heads nodding--I think many of us
had had that experience.
So, did you say what you were thinking? If you're like me and most people, you didn't.
Do you let it show on your face? If you're like me, you did something like this.
When, in fact, you wanted to react by saying, "What? What did you just say?" So, it's really
hidden away. Co-workers are often not aware on inner work life and bosses certainly aren't
aware of it, especially if the reaction is negative. But does it matter?
Does it really matter what people's innermost thoughts, feelings, are at work? In short,
you bet it does. It matters a lot. In fact, inner work life is a central construct in
our research. It matters a great deal for the work that people do and it matters for
the people doing that work.
I'm going to illustrate the importance of inner work life by telling you two contrasting
stories of two companies from our research. I think of these companies in Dickensonian
terms. The best of time and the worst of times.
Because the worst company, in terms of employee engagement and actual success, was like the
evil twin of the best company in our research, because these two companies were oddly similar
before we started our research. They were both very well-known companies.
I can't tell you the real names, by the way. I'm gonna use disguise names because we have
some pretty confidential information on them. Very well-known companies, very profitable
and known as the innovative leaders in their industries. I'm gonna start with the worst.
And it's a company that we call "Karpenter Corporation." It's one of the best-known consumer
products brands in the world. Imagine that you're standing with your co-workers in the
parking lot of the building where you work. And you're watching silently as the contents
of that building are being auctioned off--your computers, CADs, work stations, your desks,
your telephones.
Your chairs are being auctioned off. You used to be proud to work for this particular company
because it was known for its really cool innovative products. But the last few years, innovation
began to fizzle, profitability tanked. The company was acquired by a smaller rival and
now it's being completely closed down.
And it's breaking your heart. That's the story of Karpenter Corporation. And it's the story
of the demise of one of the great consumer products companies of the 20th Century. Now,
let me tell you about the best of times. A company that we call "O'Reilly Coated Materials."
This company makes coated fabrics for weather-proof clothing and a wide variety of other products
that are known around the world. We studied Karpenter and O'Reilly at roughly the same
time period. And they actually use a lot of the same raw materials, so the economic conditions
for these two companies were pretty similar.
And yet, Karpenter lies dead and O'Reilly is still at the top of its industry and is
still known as the innovative leader. So, what made the difference between these two
companies that looked so similar at one point? My research team and I studied these companies
in real time in great detail and I can tell you what it's not.
It's not any of these things because the two companies were the same, essentially, on all
of these aspects. Both public companies. Both had similar incentive systems. Because they
were so well-known, they were able to hire the cream of the crop in their disciplines,
highly-skilled employees, and we had personality profiles on people in these companies.
And there were no differences. The personality profiles were in the normal range. So, my
co-author, Steve Kramer, and I are both psychologists. We're not the kind of psychologists who can
cure your neurosis for you, but we are able to give you a view of what really happens
inside organizations.
And when we took this deep look into these companies, we realized that what really differentiated
them was inner work life--the inner work life experiences that their employees were having
day by day. So it turns out that shortly before we started our study, a new management team
had come in at Karpenter.
And by what they said and did every day, they slowly changed the climate at Karpenter. And
they essentially poisoned inner work life. And this is something that we saw happening
day by day. So, let me tell you a little something about how we got our look at inner work life.
It is hidden most of the time. We decided that the best way to get a window into what
was really going on was to ask people working on creative projects to send us daily confidential
electronic diaries describing what had gone on for them in their own work experience that
day and what their inner work life was like for that day.
So that's what we did--daily, confidential, electronic diaries. We studied three industries
in this entire project, a total of seven companies in these industries, 26 creative project teams.
These are projects that required creativity. They required innovative solutions in order
to be done successfully.
In these 26 creative project teams, we had a total of 238 professionals participating
in the research. Because they participated every day during the entire course of the
project they were working on, we amassed a total of nearly 12 thousand daily diary reports,
which we were able to analyze.
This was a real treasure trove of data for us. We had numerical data. We actually had
day by day scale ratings from these people of what their inner work life was like--their
perceptions, their emotions, and their motivation. We also had numerical data on their performance.
Quite apart from their diaries, we had performance ratings by co-workers and supervisors throughout
the entire course of the time that we were studying these people. And we actually had
behavioral measures, too. I'll tell you a little bit more about that in just a minute.
To me, the most interesting part of the daily diaries were the stories that we got about
people's days. So, at the end of the diary form, we asked a question: "Briefly describe
one event from today that stands out in your mind from the work day. It can be anything
at all."
These stories were incredibly rich, often very detailed accounts of something that had
actually happened that day in these people's work lives. Let me give you an example of
some of these diaries that we got. This first one is from a product manager at Karpenter
Corporation named Sophie.
That's what we call her anyway. This was one of Sophie's worst days during the time that
we were studying Karpenter Corporation.
She said, "I don't understand why R&D kills so many of my projects, yet I'm supposedly
measured on new product development. The VP of R&D killed my new hand-held mixer three
times before it was approved a couple weeks ago. Very conflicting goals causing us to
start, stop, restart, etc."
This really was a worst day for Sophie. Her intrinsic motivation on this day was over
two and a half standard deviations below her own baseline. And her affect, her mood for
the day, was one and a half standard deviations below her own baseline.
Now for contrast, this is a diary from someone in O'Reilly Corporation, two thousand miles
away, almost at exactly the same point in time.
This is a team leader named Dave. "Presented 1.5 hours’ worth of technical data, market
information, process capability and cost information in the project review. The review was very
well-received. Much assistance was given and we passed. We were allowed to go on to the
next stage."
Dave's intrinsic motivation on this day was almost one standard deviation above his average.
And his mood for the day was one and a half standard deviations above his average. So,
this was a best day for Dave. And I could give you lots of examples just like this from
O'Reilly Corporation.
I could also give you many examples like Sophie's from Karpenter Corporation--many days where
that kind of thing happened to a variety of people. Now let me tell you something about
how we measured creativity. We got a quasi-behavioral measure by looking at what people reported
doing that day in their diary.
Now, we didn't tell them that we were looking for creativity, that we wanted them to tell
us about their new ideas. In fact, we didn't even say that we were focusing on creativity
in this study. But if they happened to report that they came up with a new idea on a given
day, or that they solved a complex problem, we counted that as an example of creativity.
So here's an example from a different company. This is a high-tech firm. This is from an
engineer's diary. He said, "Working on the details of how the image will be produced,
I really got into the problem and came up with an elegant method for dealing with overloaded
So when we put these creativity data and our other performance data together with inner
work life data, we made our first discovery. We call it the "inner work life effect." And
that is that inner work life drives performance. We found that all three aspects of inner work
life--perceptions, emotions, and motivation--predict four dimensions of performance.
When people have more positive perceptions of their organization, their co-workers, their
bosses, the work that they're doing, when they have more pleasant emotions like feeling
happy, feeling proud, and when they feel stronger intrinsic motivation, on those days they're
more likely to be creative, productive, committed to the work, and they're likely to be better
colleagues to the people around them.
So for instance, one study that we did, we found that when people had more positive emotions
on one day, they were more likely to have creative ideas that day. And not only that,
they were more likely to have creative ideas the following day. Even controlling for that
next day's mood.
So we found a carryover effect of positive emotion on creative thinking. You could call
this inner work life effect, the Zappos effect. You're probably familiar with the fact that
Zappos has built this online commerce powerhouse in part, based on the happiness philosophy
of CEO, Tony Hsieh.
He says, "We believe you can't have happy customers unless you have happy employees."
And there are a number of people who really believe that the happiness philosophy is at
least in part responsible for the very high-quality work you see at Zappos from people, whether
they're working in those call centers, taking customer orders and dealing with customer
issues, or whether they're working in the bustling warehouses.
So, this is an anecdote that supports the inner work life effect we found. But there
was another study that came out just a few months ago that gives further support to the
inner work life effect. These researchers used a very different methodology. They have
survey data from over 140 thousand employees in a variety of companies, business units,
a variety of industries around the world.
They wanted to see what effect job satisfaction and people's perceptions of their work environment,
basically, what effect inner work life would have on bottom line performance of the company.
They found that when a business unit's employees had higher levels of job satisfaction and
more positive perceptions of their managers, their co-workers, and their jobs, at one point
in time, that business unit at a later point in time was more likely to have higher sales
growth, greater profitability, higher levels of customer loyalty, and greater employee
So think about it. Inner work life leads to better bottom line performance for companies.
So, if inner work life drives performance--and it does--what drives inner work life? We decided
to take a look at this by isolating the very best inner work life days from those 12 thousand
days of data that we had and understanding what events actually happened on those days--categorizing
the events, coding them.
And contrasting the events on the best inner work life days with those on the very worst
inner work life days. And when we did this, we found that one kind of event stood out
on those best days. Simply, making progress in meaningful work. We call this the "progress
The number one driver of inner work life is progress in meaningful work. And let me just
say something about meaningful work. To take a random example, people might find it motivating
to work for a company where the mission is to organize all of the world's information
and make it universally accessible and useful.
And even if a company doesn't have such a lofty goal, as long as people, as individuals,
can see a connection between what they're doing every day and something that they value,
something that has a sense of purpose for them, as long as that's true, then making
progress can ignite their inner work lives.
Interestingly, this can happen in a variety of ways. Let me show you how prominent progress
is on the very best days at work. When people are feeling happiest, most intrinsically motivated,
and having the most positive perceptions about their work environment, progress dominates
all other events.
It's by far the most common event on those best days at work. Setbacks are the opposite
of progress. And that means being blocked in the work in some way, having obstacles,
feeling that you're stalled or that you're actually moving backward. And setbacks were
quite minimal on the best days at work.
The worst days at work are almost exactly the opposite. Setbacks dominate on those days.
They dwarf all other events. And progress is much less common. So, the progress principle
isn't just about progress. It's also about setbacks. As a pair of contrasting events,
these two are the number one differentiators between best and worst inner work life days.
But the progress principle isn't only about huge breakthroughs and devastating failures.
One of our most surprising findings is that even small events can have a huge impact on
inner work life. Even making small, incremental steps forward in the work can lead people
to feel great.
And we call this "the power of small wins." I'm gonna give you an example of this from
a diary of an engineer named Tom. This happened after he had finally defeated a bug in some
software that he was trying to create.
He said, "I smashed that software bug that's been frustrating me for almost a calendar
week. That may not be an event to you, but I live a very drab life. So, I'm all hyped.
No one really knows about it. Three of the team members who had been involved are out
today. So, I have to sit here rejoicing in my solitary smugness."
Doesn't Tom sound happy there? We found that 28 percent of small events can have a major
impact on inner work life. Twenty-eight percent. There are a number of interesting things in
this diary of Tom's that I just read. First of all, Tom tells us about the causal link.
He doesn't just say that he made progress, he defeated this bug and he felt good. He
tells us that he felt good because he made progress. And we saw this over and over again
when people reported making progress in their work. They said that they reacted very positively
to it.
The other thing to notice is that this was just a bug. In the grand scheme of Tom's work
on this project and the grand scheme of his professional life, it was no big deal. But
it was. It was a big deal to him on the day that it happened. Unfortunately, it operates
in the negative direction, too.
So, small losses can have a pretty significant negative impact on inner work life. And unfortunately,
setbacks in the work have a negative effect that's two to three times more powerful in
the negative direction than the positive effect of progress on inner work life.
So there are a couple of implications here. One is, it's really important to try to minimize
inhibitors to progress, minimize things that can lead to setbacks in the work. Even, and
maybe especially, minor daily hassles in getting good work done.
Another implication is that if you have big, audacious goals for a project, which is great--it's
wonderful to have goals like that--it's really helpful to chunk those goals down into more
meaningful pieces where people can get a more frequent sense of achieving small wins.
So, the progress principle is about small events. It's about big events. It's about
best days at work, worst days, and all kinds of days in-between. In fact, we analyzed all
12 thousand days that we had data on. We found significant differences in inner work life
as a function of whether the day had a progress event, a setback event, or neither.
And progress is much more likely in some teams and companies than in others. I'm going to
show you a couple of ratios of progress to setback events in a couple of the 26 teams
that we studied. These are really the extremes. One of these teams was from Karpenter Corporation.
The other one from O'Reilly Coated Materials. This is the ratio of progress to setbacks
in the diaries from these teams. Let's see if you can just guess which is Karpenter team,
which is the O'Reilly team. Yeah, it's not too hard, is it? [chuckles] The vision team
is from O'Reilly Corporation.
They were doing a technically very difficult project. They had a lot of setbacks. But for
every setback they reported, they had five progress events. The domain team at Karpenter
Corporation, you've gotta pity them. For every step forward, they make two steps backward
in their work.
Imagine how different it would feel to be working in these two teams. So, let's take
a step back ourselves right now and think about the big picture. Putting together the
inner work life effect with the progress principle. If inner work life drives performance--and
it does.
That is, inner work life leads people to be more creative and productive in their work,
to make progress at these creative projects. And progress leads to better inner work life.
We have a positive feedback loop going on. And we call it the "progress loop" because
progress is really the greatest leverage point to get this positive cycle going.
When people are making progress in the work, that leads to better inner work life, which
in turn will make it more likely that they'll be creative and productive in their work,
which can keep that positive cycle going unless something intervenes, something interrupts
the progress, something happens to block the progress, or something interrupts positive
inner work life and leads it to become negative.
This spiral happens in the negative direction, too, unfortunately. So, when people have negative
inner work life, that makes it more difficult for them to make progress, be creative and
productive, which in turn will lead to deterioration further in inner work life leading to the
kind of death spiral like we saw going on in the Karpenter Corporation.
Unless something happens to intervene and to make progress more likely or to life inner
work life or both. There was one very bad day for a product designer at Karpenter Corporation
where he seemed to realize that this spiral was not gonna go away, that things were not
going to be getting better.
And he was pretty depressed on this day. And he said, "It's clear to me now that we are
no longer the leader in product innovation. We are the follower." So progress is really
important. What can people do? What can managers do? What can team leaders do?
What can co-workers do for each other to make progress more likely? We identified a couple
of different classes of actions that can keep this progress loop going. One we call "catalyst."
These are things that can catalyze progress in the work directly. The other is what we
call "nourishers."
And these are things that nourish people's human soul at work. These are things that
directly lift inner work life. I'm gonna give you examples of both of these. First of all,
we identified seven primary catalysts that can jumpstart progress in the work. The first
of these is having clear and meaningful goals in the work.
And the second is, even though you have these clear goals of what you're trying to achieve,
you have some autonomy in deciding how to achieve those goals. So, this is the mountain
we're going to climb, but you have the autonomy to use your own skills, talents, your own
expertise in deciding how to climb that mountain.
The negative of the catalysts we call "inhibitors." And you can imagine the negative form of these.
Think about Sophie's diary at Karpenter where she was talking about how conflicting and
unclear the goals were. Starting the project, now stopping it, now restarting it again.
She never really knew what she was supposed to be doing and neither did her team. At the
same time, they had very little autonomy, very little sense of control over what they
were doing or how they were doing it.
Contrast that with Dave at O'Reilly Coated Materials, who had a clear sense of where
his project was going in that project review, yet a sense of autonomy of how to do it. He
got sufficient resources from upper management to continue to the next stage of the project
and got help.
He said much assistance was given in that project review--actually got helpful feedback
for going forward in the project. Now when we say sufficient resources, we don't mean
essentially lavish resources, but just resources that are sufficient to get the work done.
Other catalysts.
Learning from problems. One of the most important ways of catalyzing progress is to have an
atmosphere of psychological safety where people feel they don't have to hide errors or mistakes
or experiments they try that don't work out.
But where they know that people are welcome hearing about these things so that they can
talk about what went wrong, what can we learn from this, and how can we go forward, rather
than having blame affixed or having people punished if things don't work out quite right.
This has a huge impact on people's ability to be creative and productive in their work.
And notice that it's important to learn from successes as well, not just celebrate it when
something goes well, which is important. You can do that. But also to say, "All right,
let's debrief. Why did this work? And what can we learn from it going forward?"
Having an open idea flow within teams, across the organization, and even with people outside
the organization. Now, this doesn't mean that every idea is going to be accepted, but every
idea will be respected and at least listened to. And finally, having sufficient time to
do the work, but not too much.
We found that the optimal level of time pressure for creativity is low to moderate time pressure.
We also found some other, more complicated effects of time pressure on creativity and
productivity, but we'll save that for the Q&A. If you're interested, please ask me about
And now onto the nourishers. These are things that directly support inner work life, directly
support the people trying to do the work. First of all, basic respect and recognition.
A sense that people know you exist and that your efforts are valued inside the organization.
Encouragement when the work is difficult. A sense of confidence. "We know you can do
it." You can imagine the opposite of each of these, which by the way, we call the opposite
of nourishers, the "toxins" that can poison a work environment. Emotional support.
If someone's having difficulty in their professional life or their personal life, simply having
that acknowledged, having it validated at work, can make a huge difference in the quality
of their inner work life. And affiliation and camaraderies. A sense of bonding with
the people you work with.
A sense of being able to trust each other and count on each other. Sometimes it's a
matter of having fun with each other. And that's opposed to the opposite--the toxins--which
are really negative interpersonal conflict that can flare up. And if it goes unchecked,
that can poison inner work life.
So, given these catalysts and these nourishers, we now have some sense of how to answer that
opening question. Remember, the question was what makes people happy, motivated, productive,
and creative at work? So, what makes people happy and motivated?
What gives them positive inner work life? Making progress on meaningful work. And getting
nourishers that we just talked about to sustain their inner work life. And interestingly,
catalysts can also directly lift inner work life. You notice that curved arrow at the
bottom of the figure?
When people find out, for example, that they're getting a new resource, which is one of the
catalysts. Well, if they find out they're getting a resource that they really need to
make progress in their work, they feel great. You feel great, don't you, when you find out
you're getting a resource you really need?
Even before you get it. Even before it can possibly add to your progress, you know that
you'll be able to make that progress in the work. And also, it shows that you are valued
by your organization. You and your work matter enough to get this resource. So, it can have
an interesting direct effect on inner work life to get a catalyst.
And what makes people productive and creative at work? What helps them make progress in
their work? First of all, having positive inner work life. And also, getting a regular
supply of the catalysts day by day. So progress is key, but is it obvious?
It does seem a little bit obvious sometimes that well, of course people feel great when
they make progress in their work. So we wondered, is this really top of mind for managers? Do
managers know what an incredible motivational force it is to just get support for making
progress in your work?
So, we recently surveyed nearly 700 managers from a variety of companies at a variety of
levels around the world. And we gave them a very simple question. We said, "Here are
five employee motivators. Rank them in terms of how important you think they are."
And these are the motivators. Recognition, incentives, clear goals, progress in the work,
and interpersonal support. Now, all these are motivators, right? But we know from our
research that making progress in the work is number one. So, did these managers rank
progress as number one?
Yeah, not so much. Number one, recognition, in the view of these 700 managers that we
surveyed. Number two, clear goals. Number three, incentives. Number four, interpersonal
support. Yes. Progress in the work, which we know is number one as a motivator, came
in dead last.
In fact, only five percent of the managers taking the survey ranked progress number one.
If they were making their choices randomly, 20 percent of them would've chosen progress,
right? [audience chuckles] So they were actively saying they didn't think progress was that
important for motivation.
They didn't think it was that important for them to support progress in the work. And
that's what the question said, actually--supporting progress in the work. They didn't think it
was that important. And certainly, in the companies that we studied, we didn't see a
lot of evidence that managers acted like they thought it was really important to support
daily progress in the work.
In fact, of all seven companies, only one had managers at all levels and co-workers
across the organization who consistently supported the progress of the people working in the
creative trenches. It was O'Reilly Coated Materials, of course.
And by the way, O'Reilly was the only company to have a true technological breakthrough
in all the months that we were studying them. And I don't think that's a coincidence. So
what is the implication here? If you're a team leader, if you're a manager, what's the
The implication is not that you have to somehow try to psychologize the people who work with
you and the people who work for you. You don't have to become an emotional intelligence genius.
You don't have to pry into people's inner work lives. In fact, that would really be
a bad idea.
And it doesn't mean that you have to bring in comedians at lunchtime to cheer people
up. What it does mean is that you have to support progress every day. And the first
step is to simply keep yourself aware of it. Put in on your mental agenda. Pay attention
to it.
And we think it can help to have a daily progress checklist. I don't know if any of you are
familiar with this wonderful book from 2009 called "The Checklist Manifesto." Yeah, a
few people have read that. It's by Atul Gawande, who's a Harvard Medical School surgeon and
author on a number of health topics.
Gawande decided with his research team a few years ago to see if they could do something
to reduce the incredibly high incidence of unnecessary complications, and even deaths,
because of surgical accidents.
So they created what they call the "safe surgery checklist" as a discipline for surgical teams
to follow--something that they actually have to physically check off the items to make
sure that they've taken care of these things before and during surgery. This checklist
consists of things that are blazingly obvious to any surgeon.
Anyone should know to do this, right? This is good surgical practice. Things like, everybody
on the surgical team should introduce themselves by name before they get started, so that if
anything bad starts to happen during the operation, they can call each other by name.
Something else on the surgery checklist. Before the surgery starts, we should all say out
loud what side of the body we're going to be operating on. Make sure we all agree. And
before we close the incision at the end, we should make sure that any instruments and
sponges that went into the body have now come out of the body.
Very basic things. And yet, following the safe surgery checklist had an unbelievable
impact--a 36 percent reduction in serious complications and an incredible 47 percent
reduction in deaths. Now management isn't brain surgery, but it is pretty complicated
and there are a lot of things you have to keep in mind.
That's why we recommend using a daily progress checklist. Just spend five minutes at the
end of the day to write down, "OK, what progress did my team make today? What might have been
holding them back? What inhibitors might they have been encountering? Were there any toxins?"
And then, this is the most important piece, think of one thing that you can do--just one
thing--the following day, even if it's something small that can enable your people to make
more progress in their work. And you can do this as a co-worker as well. In fact, those
nourishers and those catalysts come just as well from co-workers as they do from team
leaders or from higher-level managers.
In fact, sometimes more effectively. And keeping a daily checklist or some kind of a work diary
can actually have positive benefits for your own inner work life and your own sense of
progress. There's some great psychological research lately showing that simply writing
about something difficult you're dealing with can help you feel better about it and can
help you plan to deal with it more effectively.
And noting your progress every day, even if it's been a frustrating day, noting whatever
progress you did make can rescue your inner work life at the end of the day and can help
you plan to make better progress the following day. So, your big takeaway here is to support
progress every day and support the people trying to make that progress.
If you can do that inside your organization, inside your group, inside your own little
team, you will support the inner work lives of the people around you. They will feel happier
and more motivated in their work. They will make more progress in their work.
And that will lead to long-term benefits. So not only will their personal well-being
be enhanced, but these people will be more committed and more collegial--
[digital voice]
OK. I'm not sure what number I'm supposed to press, but I will finish up. Let me end
with a quote from a programmer named Tom on an information management team. This comes
from a project that his team was doing where they were working nearly around the clock
for eight days to solve a very complicated problem where 145 million dollars were at
stake for the company.
We saw more examples of the progress principle, more catalysts and nourishers, during those
eight days than we saw in some other teams during the entire months that we studied them.
The top management in that company cleared the decks for the team, taking away all other
They even stopped by to encourage them late in the evening as they were working by bringing
food and treats. Other groups inside the company really helped out doing whatever they could.
The team members rallied around. One person even postponed her vacation so she could come
in and work with her team.
And of all the catalysts and nourishers, I think the best came from the team leader herself,
who got in there, rolled up her sleeves, worked alongside the team every day, helping them
to solve multiple technical problems that came up and she provided nourishers.
The seventh night, when people were starting to get really discouraged because they had
one more hurdle to get over, she lifted their spirits by singing a silly song as midnight
approached. The result was a superb solution. Really creative, productive work--
[digital voice]
OK. I'm assuming that somebody's been dialing in here and they're trying to get through,
but maybe they can hit their mute button or something. So, this is what Tom had to say
in his diary during that golden week.
He said, "The truth is everyone is working crazy hours, doing impossible tasks, and still
keeping on the cheery side of the street. God help me. I do love them so." So, I've
seen it happen. If you can apply the progress principle every day, you can make a real difference
in your organization and in the lives of the people working in it and in your own life.
Thank you very much.
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Teresa Amabile: "The Progress Principle" | Talks at Google

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shiaitelu13 published on April 22, 2016
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