The premise of the book is that the old industrial model of working and living (you go to school, get qualifications, then do a job like millions of others) is over. In its place is the ‘connection economy’ where, thanks to advances in technology, individuals now have an unrivalled opportunity to connect with each other across the globe. The shorthand he uses for this is ‘being an artist’ and ‘making art’.
The book is called The Icarus Deception because the part of the Icarus myth we forget is that he was also warned by his father not to fly too low.
I have just got to the bit where he talks about the mindset necessary to make art that connects with people: resilience, detachment, passion, commitment and vulnerability. And somehow this got me thinking about one of my first poetic heroes, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I studied Hopkins at A level and then at university, in a kind of rapt but puzzled delight.
We learned on day one that his poems were radically different from what others were publishing at the time; most were not accepted for publication during his lifetime. We learned that he was a Jesuit priest and loved to find God in nature. We also learned that he had one friend, Robert Bridges, famous in his lifetime but whose chief claim to fame now rests on his promotion of Hopkins’s poetry after his death.
His religious faith seemed to cause him anxiety as much as it did delight. Were he alive now we would probably say he was bipolar.
It seems inconceivable to me that any poet starting out now in contemporary Britain would opt for the conditions Hopkins lived under, namely: solitude verging on loneliness; periods of intense depression; and, worst of all, complete lack of recognition for his art.
Think of all the things we take for granted in the connection economy, the prizes, the mentoring schemes, the festivals, the networking on Facebook and Twitter, the blogs (!), and now think of a life without any of that save one man you occasionally dare to send your poems to, your champion and curator of your reputation, which in any case you will not live to see. It is insane, isn’t it?
If anyone obeyed the instructions spoken at the end of Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, it was Hopkins:
Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light. (North, 1975)
I am a great believer in the ‘power of the group’ theory of creativity, which says that creative artefacts, including those in the fields of science, politics and sport, are usually made by individuals who are connected to others with similar passions and concerns. Yes, I know in order to get my work done as a poet I need to sit alone and walk and mutter and face down that proverbial empty notebook, but I also know that to get it out there and start connecting and evaluating what I have made, what Godin calls shipping, I need to have a group of like-minded people around me, even if they are far away.
The evidence seems to show that Hopkins lived most of his artistic life without that kind of connection. The amateur psychologist in me (you know you do this too) wants to say that ‘No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief’ is the inevitable product of living in deep isolation. The realist in me wants to say Hopkins would have written it anyway, whatever anyone thought.
You can read ‘No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief’ at the Poetry Foundation website
You can find links to other poems in the Lifesaving Poems series here.
I arrived in Davos several hours ago, amid daunting traffic, driving snow, and intense security, to participate in my first World Economic Forum.
Honestly, I’m kind of amazed to be here.
Nine years ago, when I launched The Energy Project during an economic boom, it was nearly impossible to find senior leaders open to the idea that demand was exceeding people’s capacity, and that it was critical to the bottom line to teach employees new ways to manage their energy more skillfully.
Today, there is a dawning recognition among leaders I meet across the corporate world — as well as in schools and hospitals and government — that we’re in an accelerating energy crisis, both personal and organizational.
The way we’re working isn’t working.
Employees around the world are working longer hours, hunkering down at their desks answering emails, or attending back to back meetings, and spending less time thinking deeply, taking care of themselves and living the rest of their lives.
Across organizations, nearly every survey suggests that the vast majority of employees don’t feel fully engaged at work, valued for their contributions, or freed and trusted to do what they do best. Instead, they feel weighed down by multiple demands and distractions and they often don’t derive much meaning or satisfaction from their work.
That’s a tragedy for millions of people and a huge lost opportunity for organizations.
What excites me is that we may have reached a turning point. It’s not so surprising when the most progressive and forward-thinking companies lead the way. Our pioneering clients include Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Apple, Intel, and Ebay. But more recently, we’ve also begun to work with more traditional companies such as Coke and Bristol Meyers Squibb.
The fact that I got invited to Davos is perhaps the most important indicator that the mainstream is ready to address these issues.
Tomorrow, for example, I’ll be facilitating a workshop that asks the question “How can organizations build more creative, engaging and energizing workplaces?” I’ll be joined by five CEOs, among them George Halvorson, who heads the health care provider Kaiser Permanente, Vincent Forlenza who runs Becton Dickinson, the pharmaceutical company, and Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, the design and innovation firm.
Over the course of the rest of this week, there are a dozen other panels on similar topics. Dan Goleman, for example, is leading a panel on emotional intelligence, and Mehmet Oz is running one called “Preventing Burnout,” which includes two leading experts on meditation.
In a wonderful piece of perversity, the burnout session is being held from 8 to 10 p.m. on Friday night. Davos is notorious for days that begin early, end late, and don’t include much sleep.
I don’t kid myself that the super-charged CEOs and world leaders who attend this event are going to wake up overnight to the recognition that rest and renewal and doing one thing at a time are not only healthy practices, but also fuel more sustainable performance.
I’m convinced there is a potential win-win in all this for organizations and for the people they employ. It’s built around creating a new kind of value exchange.
Rather than trying to forever get more out of their employees, organizations are better served by investing in better meeting their people’s core needs — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual — so they’re freed, fueled, and inspired to bring more of themselves to work every day.
Put simply, more satisfied and engaged employees perform better. In a Towers Watson study of some 90,000 employees across eighteen countries, companies with the most engaged employees reported a 19 percent increase in operating income, and a 28 percent growth in earnings per share. Companies whose employees had the lowest level of engagement had a 32 percent decline in operating income, and an 11 percent drop in earnings.
My goal this week is to begin to collaborate with some of the world’s top influencers to launch a real conversation about transforming the workplace — and to win some converts.
I’ll be sharing my experience at Davos on our website , and I’ll report back here on what I’ve learned next week. In the meantime, please share your thoughts and insights. Together, let’s change the way the world works.