Published on May 7th, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Want A Job You Love? Stop Looking And Job Craft It
By Jessica Amortegui—
The past 15 years, I have evaluated job opportunities with surgical precision. I believed that the right move would land the right role and everything would, in turn, feel divinely right. While I was unsure of my ETA at dreamjob.com, I was sure of this: When I crossed the finish line, I would be ablaze with passion – mentally turned on and emotionally tuned in.
To get there, I heeded the advice of worldly sages. “Follow your bliss,” said Joseph Campbell. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” famously quipped Steve Jobs. A co-worker’s email salutation quoted Confucius: “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” Every email exchange served as a reminder of how stunted I was. Would I ever transform my worker bee mindset into an evolved state of spellbinding self-actualization? As far as I could tell my work still felt like, well…work.
I know now that this well-intentioned inspiration is better suited for a magnet than a career motto. Research suggests that the very pursuit of happiness can make us less happy. The same holds true for the pursuit of passion in our jobs. The reason is simple. People who are happier typically don’t have better lives. They take their good enough life and know how to harvest extra joy. As for people who love their jobs, they take a pretty good job and create something amazing.
A recent study, led by Patricia Chen at the University of Michigan, debunked the notion that you have to find the perfect job fit to find your passion. It turns out that we can divide the working world into two camps: those with a fit mindset and those with a develop mindset. Those with a fit psyche subscribe to the Ken and Barbie syndrome—they seek perfection in a role. The other cadre of folks—the clear 20 percent minority—believes that you can cultivate passion. And when it comes to overall happiness and success, an unexpected finding unfolds.
Which mindset is more predictive of finding passion and garnering success? The study found that the two mindsets are neck-and-neck in the passion race; both groups were similarly passionate and satisfied. Moreover, both groups felt equally successful and made comparable incomes. It turns out that “settling” at your good enough gig may be the panacea to your passion woes.
So how exactly do you turn that good enough job into something amazing? You take a lesson from DYI furniture powerhouse IKEA.
The Link Between Finding Your Passion and Building IKEA Furniture
If you have purchased a piece of IKEA furniture before, you can relate to the so-called “IKEA effect”. It’s a psychological phenomenon derived from the love millions display toward their self-assembled—and often fastidiously yet badly self-assembled—furniture. For five years I have proudly displayed my office bookshelf that resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Michael Norton at the Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely at Duke University investigated this IKEA effect and found that it isn’t just love that leads to labor, but labor that leads to love. In a series of experiments, they demonstrated that people attach greater value to things they built than if someone else built the very same product. They also discovered why it happens. Building your own stuff boosts your feelings of passion, pride and competence.
When it comes to our jobs, we can take a lesson from the DYI giant. Passion-worthy jobs are built, not found. If we can engage in an exercise to actively architect our jobs rather than be passive incumbents, enslaved to our job descriptions, we can see how our labor leads to love.
If you aren’t sure exactly how, consider a pioneering technique called Job Crafting. Created by Amy Wrzesniewski from Yale, Jane Dutton from University of Michigan, and Justin Berg from Stanford, it’s a straightforward process to transform your job into a pride-inducing labor of love.
When you undertake the Job Crafting exercise, you create a passion elixir built on three potent ingredients: mastery, meaning, and membership.
1. Create Mastery through Task Crafting: What motivates and engages people at work? Progress, according to Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile. Amabile took an exhaustive and rigorous approach to uncover the drivers of engagement. She recruited nearly 250 people across seven companies and collected daily diary entries about their workday. Twelve thousand diary entries later, she reached a set of fascinating conclusions.
Chief among her findings: What motivates people the most is making progress. This motivation is deeply rooted in a fundamental psychological need we all have to feel competent. Job crafting brings intention to this core motivational need. You can look at your array of tasks, known as task crafting, and assort them to actively flex your zone of competence.
2. Find More Meaning through Relationship Crafting: When we know our work has a positive impact on others, it turns out we not only find a whole lot more meaning in what we do, but we tap into extreme motivation. In Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s seminal study with call center employees, he arranged for one group of call center workers to have a five-minute meeting with scholarship students who were the recipients of the school’s fundraising largess. The meeting was a targeted intervention for the low morale, high turnover center. The hypothesis was deceptively simple and straightforward. If employees came face-to-face with someone who was aided by the dollars they would get a motivational boost. This, in turn, would boost the call center’s revenue.
To say it worked is an understatement. The results even surprised Grant. The callers who had heard from the beneficiaries spent 142 percent more time on the phone and increased their revenue by 171 percent, even though they were using the same script. In a subsequent study, the revenues soared by more than 400 percent.
Grant’s research provides a counterintuitive finding. Most of us think that meaningful work starts with the work. It actually starts with who our work impacts. Job crafting provides the opportunity to relationship craft so that the beneficiaries of our work are evident. This not only unlocks latent sources of meaning, but also yields gains in personal productivity and impact.
3. Build Membership through Cognitive Crafting: Sadly, statistics suggest that we are increasingly working alone. Our workplace solitude has been linked to a host of undesirable outcomes, from disengagement to addiction.
Matthew Lieberman is a social neuroscientist and author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Lieberman found that social connection is not only one of our most basic survival needs, it actually upends our most primitive desires for food, safety and shelter. We continue to make sense of our world by our relationships with others. And the more social we are, the happier and more satisfied we feel. So much so, in fact, that the moment our brains go idle (known as our “default mode network”), we are wired to think about the thoughts and goals of other people.
The challenge we all face at work is to see how our laundry list of job responsibilities fits into the larger goals of those around us. The ability to map our work against the backdrop of a collective makes us acutely aware of how our work connects to others’ goals. The technical term for this is called cognitive crafting. The practical benefit is the ability to reframe our jobs so that we feel connected to something larger.
In his 1990 commencement speech, Bill Watterson, the famed cartoonist and author of Calvin and Hobbes, delivered the following warning to Kenyon graduates: “You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.” These words, typically packaged in the veneer of inspirational advice, tend to undergird our hopes and dreams. They also prevent us from feeling like we ever achieve them.
With a paltry 13 percent of the workplace engaged, the resounding majority may need to chase a little less, and create a little more. As Watterson said, what you are chasing may not be what you actually catch. But once you relinquish the hunt for your Ken or Barbie at dreamjob.com, you just may build something that feels pretty darn dreamy.
Just be prepared—there is a good chance you will love it despite its imperfections. I should know. The proof lies before me in my Leaning Tower of Pisa bookshelf.
Jessica Amortegui works at Logitech as a leadership development practitioner and committed culture shaper. You can follow her on Twitter.