Illustration: Alex Miles Younger

Ending "Business As Usual": 10 Insights on Rethinking Work

When is a book not a book? When it’s a mechanism for change. That’s the conceit behind Michael Bungay Stanier’s recent release, End Malaria. From Seth Godin’s publishing imprint, The Domino Project, End Malaria inverts the idea of what a book is supposed to do (passively inform and educate) and turns it into a thing of action. By donating over 80% of its profits, the book directly facilitated the purchase of 25,000 mosquito nets to help end malaria – in just its first 48 hours of sales.

It also artfully collects essays from 62 visionary leaders – ranging from WIRED‘s Kevin Kelly to Sir Ken Robinson to (full disclosure) Behance’s own Scott Belsky – on the topics of creativity, business, productivity, and leadership. The theme is “great work,” and while the essays vary in style and content, each includes a unique perspective from a notable devotee of action. Below are 10 of our favorite insights to help kickstart your own great work.

Nancy Duarte /// CEO, Duarte Design & Author, Slide:ology:

Don’t blend in; instead, clash with your environment. Stand out. Be different. That’s what will draw attention to your ideas. Nothing has intrinsic attention-grabbing power by itself. The power lies in how much something stands out from its context.

Nilofer Merchant /// Author, The Now How:

When we are silent, we are hurting the outcome… Research proves that even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve creativity in problem solving.

Premal Shah /// President, Kiva.org:

People need opportunities to be creative; it’s absolutely vital. What I’ve learned is that if people feel like they need to paint by numbers, they’ll work at one-third of their productivity level. So we’ve created a system in which once in every five iteration cycles, our engineers do an “innovation” iteration, in which they can release any kind of programming code they want. And what we’ve found is that they create three times as much code during the innovation iteration. People can experiment without asking for permission and this creates a huge boost in morale.

Barry Schwartz /// Author, The Paradox of Choice:

All human interactions demand judgment and wisdom, and the development of judgment and wisdom demands the freedom to choose, to make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes. Employees who have the discretion to make choices will be better employees. And beyond that, they will also find more meaning and satisfaction in the work they do. They will be happier, more fulfilled people.

Jonah Lehrer /// Author, How We Decide:

Sometimes, too much focus can backfire; all that caffeine gets in the way. For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity — people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “Internet leisure browsing.”

Andy Smith /// Co-author, The Dragonfly Effect:

Focus on your audience rather than making assumptions about them. What are their goals and dreams? How can you help your audience achieve these goals and dreams.

Chris Guillebeau /// Author, The Art of Non-Conformity:

Don’t make a thirty-step plan; make a two-step plan: think about it and do something about it. Ask for advice on a crazy idea. Contribute more — or less — at a meeting. Make a list of a dozen colleagues; then think of one specific thing you can do to help each of them this week… Choose ordinary courage today.

Jonathan Fields /// Author, Uncertainty:

Rather than trying to snuff out uncertainty and fear and taking down your endeavor along with them, honor their role as signposts of innovation, and find ways to be able to embrace those seeming demons. When you learn to dance with uncertainty, the doors to genius swing open.

Sir Ken Robinson /// Author, The Element:

One of the reasons that our species has come to dominate life on earth is that we have powerful imaginations and enormous capacities for creativity. As the largest generation in history so far, how well we use these capacities now will determine how many more people live on earth after us and in what circumstances. You may be one of 80 billion, but each of our lives, brief as it is, is unique and, to a large extent, of our own making.

Gina Trapani /// Project Director, ThinkUp:

Great work is doing stuff that gives back to the world, as well as serving your own purposes. It’s the difference between writing things down to remember them versus writing things down to teach others.

You can purchase End Malaria from Amazon. $20 of every sale goes directly to Malaria No More for the purchase of mosquito nets.

More insights on: Books, Leadership, Motivation

Scott McDowell

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Scott McDowell is a strategy consultant and a coach to new managers & first-time leaders. He wrote New Manager Handbook to help leaders in transition panic less. He also hosts a radio show called The Long Rally on WFMU.
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