A good friend of mine sent me a video clip the other day that I found to be very interesting. It was an experiment conducted at a train terminal in Stockholm and in this day and age of viral information I’m sure many of you have seen it by now.
The experiment was to determine if you could change the choices people make by adding fun to the equation. I took a look at the website mentioned in the video, thefuntheory.com, and apparently it’s an initiative sponsored by Volkswagen and there are several of these types of experiments underway. Another clever effort to capture the viral information phenomenon and capitalize on the publicity and the marketing opportunities that are sure to follow.
This particular experiment involved changing a set of stairs in the train terminal into a piano keyboard, complete with sound as people stepped on the keys. The stairs were located right beside an escalator and, as you can imagine, on a normal day most people chose the convenience over the exercise. In this case though, with the musical steps in place, 66% more people than normal chose to use the steps and forgo the escalator.
I’m certain it’s an indictment of some kind about how I think but my mind immediately went to how this simple truth is so often overlooked in organizations and businesses. People are willing to work harder, engage more, become more creative and simply give more of what they have when the work they do or the environment they are in is more enjoyable. CEO’s like Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines have known this for years and have used this knowledge to transform their company into places that turn a positive environment into a competitive advantage.
That’s not to say that we need to turn all the conference rooms into arcades or institute a flip flops and shorts dress code but it does mean that we get more from the people who work in an organization when we create the right environment and the right culture.
I’ve worked with many executives who take the stance that “we don’t need to pay attention to those kinds of things, that’s why we pay people to do their jobs.” The reality is though, that if leaders ignore the facts associated with human behavior instead of capitalizing on them, their business will simply be less successful than it could be. We can wish humans would act differently than they do, or we can spend our time working to build the kind of environment that helps them accomplish more than they normally would. As leaders, the choice is ours.
This doesn’t just apply to big companies either. It applies whether we have thousands of employees, or none. Engage in any activity that you really don’t enjoy for a while and tell me how you like that plan over time. Even if you’re running your own business as a solo entrepreneur, you must find a way to stay engaged, creative, motivated and focused. No one does that without some level of satisfaction or enjoyment except in very short-term situations and the more satisfaction we get, the longer we can sustain high levels of engagement
Our job as leaders is to help ourselves and others reach their potential. According to much of the recent research done on employee engagement, most of our businesses are filled with people who aren’t even close to getting there. It’s easy to think that we can just get new, more productive people but that is an expensive proposition and in the end, the new people behave based on the same laws of human nature that the old ones did. Pretty soon we will be looking for their replacements too if we put them in the same environment, with the same bosses and the same culture.
Real leaders spend real time thinking about what needs to happen in their business, their community, and yes, even their family so that the people there give more of what they have, and get more back in return. It’s about waking up the commitment in others so that they embark on something different, something new, and something better than they would have in another environment. Sometimes it’s also about doing that for ourselves.
The bottom line is that we, and others, will always have the choice of how much we are committed to any task, mission or cause. Leaders understand how to build a place where people make the right choice. The one that gets everyone closer to what they are capable of – even if it means having a little fun occasionally.
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