There’s a line that has been marinating in my brain for close to a year now.
One of the speakers at the TED 2012 conference in Long Beach was Jim Stengel. Stengel is a legend (of sorts) in the marketing industry as the former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble. When he left the organization in 2008, Stengel went into the consulting side of the business along with becoming an adjunct professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In 2011, he published his first business book, Grow – How Ideals Power Growth And Profit At The World’s Greatest Companies. In his presentation, Stengel said, "we don’t bring our whole brain to work." It gave me pause.
Do you bring your whole brain to work?
This blog tends to focus on thinking that is outside of the box. It could be anything from a new, shiny bright object to an entirely new way to think about the work that we do, but we’re still often stuck inside the box. The majority of us work in a department with a hierarchy that dictates the rules of engagement. As a marketing agency, this is further complex due to the dynamics and politics of working side by side with clients (who have their own boxes, departments, org charts and more). While the majority of us would like to think that, "of course, I bring my whole brain to work!," it would be wise to stop and ponder if that’s really true. Are you the true self that stares into the dark in the darkest of nights before you fall asleep or are you the expectation of what your job description is in your day to day work?
I often don’t bring my whole brain to work.
While collaboration seems to be the work trend of the past decade, it seems to me that collaboration isn’t a facilitator in bringing your whole brain to work. For my dollar (and definition), collaboration is when departments and individuals of different levels within those departments work with other departments and peers to solve a problem. Does that role truly engender a place where people are able to bring their whole brain to work? Looking out on to the horizon, having an environment that embraces a state of multi-disciplinary work may bring us to the point where all of us can truly bring our whole brain to work. If your role is in the accounting department, but you have the opportunity to be a part of the strategy team (or, at least, give your input there because you have experience… or an idea), this is where the rubber will meet the road (or, where the brain gets to fully engage in the work). All too often, ideas, collaborators and co-conspirators are dismissed because they are "not from us." No, I do not want the bookkeeper performing knee surgery on me, but I would like to know if the graphic designer has a technical solution to share because after the office is closed, she’s been spending the last twelve months learning how to program over at Codeacademy.
Raise your hand.
It’s done to us, but we do it to ourselves. The action of raising our hand or asking a question should not be seen as an act of subordination, nor should it be seen as carte blanche to question everything. We live in both interesting and dynamic times. The most successful people that I know don’t have a career that matches the myriad of job descriptions that we all see online and in newspapers. The most successful people that I know add value through their multi-disciplinary skills. Stengel is right, sadly. The majority of us don’t bring our whole brains to works. For some of us, it has been beaten out of us. Other have been told it’s not welcome. Some don’t even know how to fire the other synapses that they’re not using. It’s a tragedy. It starts with you. It starts with me. We have to raise our hands. We have to add to the perspective. We have to let it be known that we are not merely a perfect match for our job descriptions, but have a much deeper care and understanding of the industry that we serve. This is what true leaders – at every level – do.
So, before you head out for the weekend, think about how much of your brain you actually do bring to work. Now, start thinking about how to bring that much more of it in on Monday.