This article is by Christopher Byrne, a consultant and author of the new book Funny Business: Harnessing the Power of Play to Give Your Company a Competitive Advantage.
Amazon is getting a lot of attention right now. Apparently, according to an article in The New York Times, the company is a horrible place to work. Its detractors and defenders, however, are all missing the point, at least when it comes to the employee experience. People choose to work at Amazon. Not only do they choose to do so, they compete to have the choice.
You’re not going to change the Amazon culture, or the culture of any organization, because (a) you’re not that important, and (b) the culture must work for a lot of people and the company. What’s being lost in all of this lifestyle argument about Amazon is that the company recently posted a surprise quarterly profit when Wall Street had expected another loss.
So stop with the tooth gnashing and garment rending and take a look at what you can control—in your own life, career, and ultimate happiness—and what you can learn from all this.
- The game is the game. Every corporation has a culture, and cultures vary widely. Not everyone fits into every culture, and there’s no harm or foul in that. If you don’t want people emailing you after work hours, you’ll want to work for a company where they don’t do that. Some people thrive on that level of connectedness. You don’t have much use for a tennis racket on the gridiron, to be overly simplistic, so when you are interviewing or considering a specific company, find out as much about how they play their game as you can. There will be trade-offs. High compensation may come at the expense of intrusion into what you think of as personal time. One thing is certain, however: You’re not going to change the game, and if you can’t play by its rules, that’s probably not a good fit for you.
- Competition is a given. As mammals, humans are competitive. Competition can be highly instructive, too. It lets us know who we are, how far we’ll go to achieve an objective, and so forth. Failure can be instructive and character building, and, most important, it lets us know about our individual strengths and weaknesses. You’re going to find competition everywhere you go. In fact, in more than two decades of consulting with companies, I’ve found it clear that competition is far more the norm than cooperation, but they’re two sides of the same coin. People only cooperate when they perceive it will give them a competitive advantage. To pretend otherwise is an attempt to go against human nature, and it never really works. Kids on a playground know that self-interest determines whether they’ll engage in a game; it has to work for them. That said, there may be some forms of competition we perceive as unfair, but as my eighth grade English teacher liked to say, “Who ever told you life was fair?”
- Find out what drives you. You will never, ever, see a child play with something that doesn’t interest him or her. If something isn’t working, he or she will drop it and move on to something that engages the imagination. That said, a child engaged in play will spend hours solving a problem when he or she is invested in the outcome. For an adult, finding something you’re passionate about and having clear goals gives you something to strive for and allows you to overcome the inevitable bumps and roadblocks along the way. For children, play is an important part of self-expression. Every successful businessperson I’ve worked with sees their career that way, too. Drive and passion are what get you out of bed in the morning. Why would you rob yourself of that? And, by the way, I’ve rarely seen anyone who couldn’t find something in a job to spark that passion, whether it’s a paycheck, providing service, or beating a competitor.
- Examine your motivation. What are you in it for? Being clear about your motivation is a powerful tool for helping you make choices and stay in the game. Watch an infant or preschooler play, and you’ll see a level of intention you don’t often see in adults. When you have a clear goal and are determined to reach it, you’ll be surprised how resourceful, resilient, and creative you can be.
- Have fun. No, it’s not going to be “all beer and skittles,” as my mother liked to say. Fun is not the same as diversion, either. Fun, at work, is engagement, investment, and action toward a goal. Watch a kid trying to nail a skateboard trick, and you’ll see constant learning, tiny adjustments, and ongoing effort towards that goal. That’s engaged living, and that’s how to define fun. If you’re not having fun, you want to fix that. Or else become resigned to your self-imposed limitations.
Just like a child on the playground, you make up your own life. Find the right playground, and you’ve got a better chance of making it happy and successful.