The Optimal Human Experience

I’m sorry for the gap in posting. I’m almost to the point of proving the statistics of most blogs being 6 or more months out of date…

In December 2008 I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Infosys customer forum called Confluence. I enjoyed the time interacting with others and got to meet some neat people who were facing similar challenges in outsourcing and share experiences. As much as I enjoyed it, I hadn’t given it much thought until recently. That’s because recently I started to remember what it’s like to be having a blast and to truly enjoy yourself at what you do. It’s a state many of us would like to be in all the time. However, it seems few of us actually achieve it frequently. As I start to settle into my new role at Amazon I have found that even in a short period of time I’m seeing all the right ingredients of what it is to have a great time and truly enjoy your work. This got me thinking about what makes for an optimal human experience in one’s life which brings me back to my time at the customer forum.

At Confluence, like any decent customer forum, they had speakers brought in to speak on the themes in the conference. One of those speakers was an engaging lady by the name of Jane McGonigal. Jane was there to talk about collaboration. As she reminded people, you need to collaborate or perish. While this in itself is great advice and pertinent to her area of expertise (Game Theory), it was not the gem that I took away from her talk. As she talked about collaboration she covered how gamers collaborate better in order to achieve a common goal. As part of this they frequently are having fun and that’s where she dove in to highlight why they were having a good time.

This is where it gets good. As a manager and someone who has been fortunate enough to experience this (and perhaps arrange for my teams to experience the same thing) it resonated a lot and had me jotting down the 4 key ingredients to the Optimal Human Experience . Jane was able to put into simple terms what makes us generally happy as human beings. As managers of people this is something worth remembering since if you can put these 4 ingredients into your team experience, I believe you will have a team that not only functions better, but is truly having a great time while doing so. If you can put these 4 ingredients into your career, I would probably argue that you’re not working but instead having a great time and getting paid while you are at it. I don’t know about you but these are the kinds of jobs I like (and look for).

So what makes an Optimal Human Experience?

Something to do

Or more specifically, “satisfying work”. Most people enjoy work that is satisfying and engaging. Work that allows you to engage and perhaps lose yourself in it. If the day is dragging on for you at work, I would argue it’s probably not very satisfying. If the day seems to fly by because you felt challenged and energized by the work, then you are experiencing what I would consider satisfying work.

The experience of being good at something

Most people get incredible personal satisfaction and joy at doing something they are good at. This may seem obvious, but I’m not always sure we take it into account when working with others or assigning work. When you know you’ve done well it makes you happy. If you are managing a team and can find a way to play to people’s strengths, you are providing more opportunity for them to experience being good at something. If you’ve done a job and know that you “nailed it” (and you’re not just a carpenter) then you get a great feeling from a job well done.

Time spent with people we like

If you’ve read my prior blog posts I cover a variant of this in “don’t be that guy”. It stands to reason if we don’t like being around negative people, we probably enjoy being around positive ones. We can like folks for more than just being positive, but regardless of why you like someone, if you like them, then you enjoy spending time with them. Are you surrounded by people you like? Are you building teams where people are likable? Or are you willing to put up with unpleasant people in order to get a job done? I would argue that if you want to enjoy yourself then you should be spending time with people you like. As an individual, if you feel surrounded by people you don’t like, then you should consider leaving because you will be miserable otherwise. If you are a manager and you are overlooking unlikable behavior just to get some hard to find expertise I would argue that what you are losing in team dynamics may outweigh the gain you get from keeping an arrogant expert.

The chance to be part of something bigger than yourself.

There’s an old adage of 3 masons who are working on the same site. When asked what they were doing, the first responded “I’m laying bricks”. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it? The second responded “I’m building a wall”. Perhaps it was satisfying but was it a big deal? The third responded “I’m building a Cathedral”. Now THAT is exciting and certainly bigger than he was. That’s the type of opportunity we want to be a part of and that is the kind of opportunity you want to engage your teams in. Get them to see the bigger picture. Show them the hill, then go climb it with them and put a flag on it. When they look down with you at what they accomplished they’ll get incredible satisfaction. So will you. Go build something bigger than yourself.

In my new role, I’m finding I’m not very efficient yet. So I don’t yet feel like I’m truly “good at something”. However, I expect that will change with each week as I get more familiar with my surroundings and the resources at my disposal. I can already see that I have engaging and satisfying work. I’m surrounded by a lot of people I like, and I’m definitely part of something much bigger than me. If I could tell you in concrete terms the immensity of the AWS platform and just how cool it is it would blow your mind. Hmmm….  3 of 4 ingredients that make an optimal human experience and I can fix the 4th myself. How cool is that?

So as a manager if you want to build a legendary team be sure to keep those 4 ingredients in your mix. As an individual, if you want to have an awesome time, go find those 4 things and make them part of your life/career.

What optimal human experiences have you had? Did they have the same ingredients that I’ve listed above? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

– Yeti.