I’ve had the honour of working with some truly talented and creative people in my career. That honour has allowed me to observe that extreme talent often comes with extreme passion. Where there is passion, there is very often conflict, drama and frustration. Despite my ‘no drama’ policy, I seem to be endlessly drawn into situations where passions have boiled over and I’ve had to intervene. Historically, my goal has been to find a common ground, where all parties are satisfied with the result. I’ve put tremendous energy into getting everybody to a ‘happy place’, but alas I’ve rarely succeeded. And even when I have, dissatisfaction seems to rear its ugly head again in no time at all. For the longest time, I considered my inability to develop a harmonious work environment to be one of my great failures.
Like most people I drank the Kool-Aid espoused by management gurus who talk eloquently about great work environments where collaboration, teamwork and consensus reign supreme. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice? It all sounds so wonderful. I can close my eyes and almost feel what it would be like. But when I open my eyes, the tranquility disappears and tension, debate and endless dissatisfaction flood my reality. I wonder if those gurus ever sat in meeting where real designers – real engineers – real leaders debated and discussed new products, new processes or new business concepts. If they had, I suspect the experience would have crushed their ‘happy place’ dreams too.
I have shared in past blog postings that I believe that passion is the secret ingredient of success. I stand by that position, however I have learned that passion has a price. Passion results from having a strong sense that things could and should be “better” in some way, whether on a technical, business or social front. In other words, passion is a byproduct of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Take away the dissatisfaction, and there is nothing feeding the passion for a better tomorrow.
Obviously not all debate is positive, but ‘healthy’ dissatisfaction is a necessary condition for creativity and innovation. A harmonious and stress-free work environment may sound nice but it is really code for complacency. I see now that my effort to make a ‘happy place’ for everyone was a fool’s folly. The tortured artist that produces great wonders can never really be satisfied, and neither can a truly innovative organization.
Ty J. Shattuck,
Follow on Twitter: @tyshattuck