Is an idea suddenly less valid if it can’t make money immediately?

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Let’s use two images here to start. The first one I saw on Saturday morning on the LinkedIn news feed deal. I have no idea why I look at LinkedIn on Saturday mornings. It probably signals something very troubling about my mid-30s:

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OK. Hold onto that. Now, from this article, we’re going to provide a second visual pull quote:

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These may seem very different. One is talking about goals, and one is talking about innovation and empathy. Those are semi-related, sure, but where’s the broader connection?

What actually matters at work?

Some people at work are drones, sure, and just want to hit their targets and go get their paycheck. I’ve been like that in a lot of jobs, without question. It gets tedious to always be ignored and/or ignored until the point someone needs a warm body for a meaningless (“urgent”) project, at which point you’re working 16-hour days. We’ve all lived it or seen it.

But a lot of people do want to move up, get more scratch, have a family, have a nice house, whatever. To move up, you have two options. One is you keep job-hopping. Two is you kiss the right ass where you’re at and you execute well. In order to “kiss the right ass” and “execute well,” you need to understand what matters and speak that language.

In reality, control is what matters. That’s all work is about. But we often ignore that. So let’s ignore it here.

Most companies have 7–10 people who make all the important decisions. They care about money, financial metrics, control, process, products, product road maps, customer support, oh and money, generally in roughly that order.

Concepts you don’t hear at that level: people, employees, empathy, learning, listening, “soft skills,” etc.

And it’s totally logical: these guys (still predominantly men) are not bonus’ed on stuff like “creating lifelong learners.” They are bonus’ed on “get this product to market, keep costs down, keep risks down, get profits and margins up.” That’s the game in white-collar.

Eventually, whatever form of “hierarchy of needs” you buy into, these are the things you come to care about.

Now go back to the visual pull quotes.

“Creating learners” or “empathy”

It should be what matters, because long-term it would make your business more functional, and that’s been proven by some research.

But it doesn’t matter — because look at the second visual. “We need to keep writing checks for this?” That’s where it dies in the flood. Lots of businesses are still done via cost-cutting as a primary strategy. You’re going to pay for things where you see an immediate return. “Empathy coaching” has no immediate return to a hard-charging executive. Neither does “investment in lifelong learning.”

To most guys, those are fluffy HR things. Show them the numbers. That’s what they want.

Until we understand this mentality, most things we say about work are a lie. We don’t live in a “Knowledge Economy” aside from the fact that most work is subjective and requires research to an extent. We don’t train people, care about people, etc. writ large. Hence, it’s not a “Knowledge Economy.” Same with any executive speech about “mission” and “people-first.” Those things matter — to some — but only when the company is making money. Once the money drops even a little bit, those things do not matter anymore.

This is the disconnect of work. We need to embrace elements that are a long-term, non-balance-sheet value play, but the only things we can seem to embrace are short-term, make-up-a-number-and-call-that-ROI metrics. The gap between (a) and (b) is where a lot of us are struggling with caring about our jobs.

Anything you’d add?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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