Drive Cutting-Edge Progress by Improving Inner Engagement
This book addresses a number of troubling issues that are prevalent in modern work environments: First, individual employees feel unfulfilled, and they have trouble relating their personal goals to organizational goals. Second, they’re not highly motivated, and they tend to distrust management, which seems primarily interested in profit, sometimes even at the expense of ethical decision making. This lack of a ‘moral compass’ has been in the spotlight for years now in both corporate and governmental environments. Third, management has trouble sustaining, much less optimizing, employee motivation, especially in the current economic downturn.
Individuals striving to accomplish personal projects outside organizational boundaries have similar issues: What are my goals and priorities? Am I too materialistic, driven by profit, or even too goal-oriented? Is there an optimal way to go about accomplishing my goals, a way that would at least foster productivity, learning, and health and well-being at the same time? What is the somewhat mystical 'zone' of peak performance that athletes talk about, and how might it be related to getting things done? Is there a way to characterize the zone that might make it more accessible? Is there a reliable way to elicit more experiences of "playing in the zone?" Can I somehow bring the challenges and enjoyment of sports into my everyday game of life? If so, what might be the playing field, and how would I keep score?
In general, what is cutting edge performance, and how does one 'get there'? Individual contributors and management alike suffer from the lack of a vision and operational method of optimal work, or more generally, peak performance, which provide and actively foster a natural meeting ground for both personal fulfillment and corporate results, and which inspire people toward peak performance, self-actualization, and optimal well-being.
Summary of the book
We optimize work progress not by focusing on 'externals' nor by focusing our attention on results, which don’t guarantee improvement of well-being and quality. The driver and key to sustainable business success is continuously improving employees’ 'internals', perspectives and qualities of experience, gradually optimizing one's moment-by-moment, inner involvement or engagement. Since inner, experiential engagement in the current scenario is directly proportional to employee well-being, productivity, and quality of product and service, tracking and improving experiential engagement is both an indicator and a driver of all aspects of progress. By focusing on improving inner engagement in our work, we can increase productivity, well-being, and quality—all at once.
Introductory definitions and principles
One could say that our understanding of the word progress determines our priorities in life. Thus the Introduction defines two broad types of progress--outer, conventional progress, and inner, experiential progress. Conventional progress is what people are normally preoccupied with, whether in personal life or in organizational projects. However, unlike the simple accomplishment of conventional tasks, experiential or learning progress represents a lasting improvement in our resources, faculties, or capabilities, in effect raising the ceiling on our productivity and well-being. This unusual distinction between simple task accomplishment and experiential progress allows us to see the leverage gained by the development of our capabilities, and even more importantly also allows the possibility of readily improving our health and well-being while getting things done, instead of wearing ourselves out pushing to accomplish conventional things. We'll discuss how to enable this in Chapter Two.
Engagement is now a popular topic in the business world. However, engagement has been defined in many different ways, leading to a lot of confusion. So the Introduction distinguishes two main types of engagement, behavioral or outer engagement, and inner engagement. Most of the current literature on involvement or engagement focuses implicitly on outer engagement, often not even defining the term. However, in this book engagement usually refers to inner, or experiential involvement, sometimes defined simply as the degree to which one is preoccupied or experientially absorbed in whatever is at hand.
Since our state of mind creates our state of results, it’s clear that our inner engagement is much more important than behavioral engagement. However, even among those advocating for improving engagement in organizations, there seems to be little appreciation for the value, methodology, and measurement of inner engagement. So Chapter Two includes an extended phenomenological example showing the vast potential for improving inner engagement.
Employing the power of self-actualizing motivation
The concept of self-actualization was brought most fully to prominence by Abraham Maslow: “Self-actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption.” (Maslow, 1971, pp. 43-44)
Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel, wrote, "Once someone's source of motivation is self-actualization, his drive to perform has no limit. . . . unlike other sources of motivation, which extinguish themselves after the needs are fulfilled, self-actualization continues to motivate people to ever higher levels of performance. . . . The most important type of measure is feedback on his performance." (pp. 163-8) An example of how to set up a truly internal self-actualizing feedback system is provided in the extended work example in Chapter Two.
Since self-actualization is our most powerful and lasting motivator, why do we wait to employ it until our other needs have been fulfilled? We may never ‘get around to’ our personal transformation, even though it may be the most important 'project' that we have. What if we put energy into this personal growth, self-actualization, or self-realization project now, first thing? We take this approach, as shown in Chapter Two.
Andrew Grove had some suggestions about how the competitive spirit of self-actualization can be brought into the workplace ‘playing field’: “Imagine how productive our country would become if managers could endow all work with the characteristics of competitive sports. . . . Turning the workplace into a playing field can turn our subordinates into "athletes" dedicated to performing at the limit of their capabilities." (Grove, pp. 168-171) For examples of how to set up self-challenging ‘playing fields’ at work, see Chapters Two and Four. For the general four-step approach, see Chapter Five. Additional perspective on "Building an engagement playing field" at work is in Chapter Eight.
Improving engagement drives inner and outer progress
Research now shows that inner engagement in whatever is at hand is proportional to the worker's well-being, productivity, and the quality of the products and services delivered. Thus you can drive balanced, overall personal and organizational progress and well-being by focusing on increasing personal inner engagement/involvement. This seems to be what we all naturally do when performing at our best. (See the phenomenological example in Chapter One.)
Tracking involvement or engagement in the current scenario is a "peak performance principle" that can be used while doing any task, as you switch between tasks, or even when there is no apparent task at hand. By consistently improving performance variables measuring our engagement--such as 'flow', 'glow', and 'zero'; or energy, concentration, and awareness, as explained in Chapter Five--we can clear away obstructions and realize our goals. See Chapters Two and Four for examples of how it is used moment by moment at work.
A four-step approach for driving and measuring progress
With our projects, is there a general approach that can we use to accomplish our conventional goals at the same time we accomplish our experiential goals and improve our health and well-being? If a company supported its employees focusing on increasing their experiential involvement in their current work scenario instead of being preoccupied with the bottom line, the likely outcome is that productivity, well-being, and quality in all parts and processes of the company would gradually and simultaneously increase. To implement this approach, and to resolve many of the issues raised in the beginning of this Preface, we suggest a four-part approach detailed in Chapter Five.
What’s the zone of peak performance?
What is the character of peak experience, or the zone of peak performance? Are there unconditioned, irreducible, core aspects of experience? How are these aspects related to our 'normal' conditioned experience, and to our ordinary activities in the world? Is the zone a state that both carries inherent fulfillment and facilitates optimal productivity?
Research on the zone of peak performance shows that we function optimally in the 'zone' without the influence of 'normal', complex layers of conditioning. Highlights and main points of this chapter appear under the Chapter Six title. The complete text for the chapter is available in the Members area of the Time-Chi website at www.time-chi.com.
Building an engagement playing field
Chapter Seven discusses how inner engagement is a leading indicator of all sorts of progress, while the bottom line is a lagging indicator of productivity. Once we know that the 'goal' of increasing engagement is complete participation and absorption in whatever's at hand, we can take two approaches: (1) dissolve obstacles and limitations, and/or (2) add to the valued features of experience. You can drive balanced, overall personal and organizational progress--including improving quality, and employee well-being--if everyone focuses on increasing their own engagement rather than focusing on the scoreboard, productivity, or the bottom line, all of which are partial, superficial, and lagging indicators. We thus have an approach to optimal work and peak performance which fosters a natural, unimposed meeting ground for both personal fulfillment and organizational results.
The Full Range of Our Participation, or "Who are we anyway?"
Personal and cultural conditioning enable us to function normally and pragmatically within a culture, but they also limit what we perceive and do in rigid, habitual ways. Are we simply the product of our conditioning, including our psychological ‘resistance’ to getting things done? Or are we something bigger, more expansive, as suggested by research on peak experiences? Other than our ordinary conditioned state and the 'zone' of peak performance, are there other states it can be helpful to familiarize ourselves with in order to get an overview of what's possible for us as humans?
Chapter Eight describes three main levels or states, including our normal condition and the zone of peak performance, that characterize the range of engagement or participation possible for us as humans, and provide an indication of the changes necessary as we make the transition from 'normal' to optimal.
Table of Contents
Click on a heading to go to that part of the book.
Introduction: Definitions and Principles
Chapter 1: The Peak Performance Principle
Chapter 2: Case History--Monitoring a Transformational Variable
Chapter 3: A lab exercise--Sorting Cards into Books for Time
Chapter 4: Case History--Monitoring an Emotional Intelligence Variable
Chapter 5: General Four-step Approach to Accomplishment, Creativity, and Change
Chapter 6: What’s the Zone of Peak Experience and Performance?
Chapter 7: Building An Engagement Playing Field
Chapter 8: The Full Range of Our Engagement, or, "Who Are We, Anyway?"
Bibliography and References