This wouldn’t have happened if you had just followed the directions

Some people can’t follow directions, and some people can’t function without them.

The first camp describes me perfectly.

It’s not a learning disability or a cognitive impairment, it’s just the way my brain works. Linear thinking simply isn’t my thing.

What’s more, my rebellious and independent nature doesn’t want or need to be told what to do, and so, traveling without a map is most likely my default mode.

One specific area where this tendency plays out is during game night.

Our friends gather for dinner, drinks and some good old fashion board and card games. It’s a roaring good time and brings me feelings of deep joy and connection.

With the exception of that excruciating ten minute block of time right before starting a new game, where somebody reads the directions.

Please kick me in the groin. Nothing makes my circuits shut down quicker than having to listen to all the rules we’re supposed to abide by in order to have fun.

It always assaults my sense of competence and makes me feel like an idiot who can’t understand or follow basic directions.

The worst part is when the game starts, and thirty minutes later, I make some move that’s in clear violation of the rules. And one of those librarians who can’t do anything without defined rules shames me in front of the group.

Scott, this wouldn’t have happened if you had just followed the directions.

Trigger warning. Sounds like every elementary school teacher I ever had.

Anyway, this is why the home edition card deck of my productive development and innovation gameshow has no rules.

Now, my friends and colleagues said this approach would never work. They warned me that all card games have directions, and if you don’t instruct people how to play, then they’ll be turned off.

Which actually scared me. For a few months, I considered fleshing out the rules in specific detail.

But it wasn’t me. In the end, my own rebellious personality prevailed. And so, on the side of the box, it says the following:

Creativity is all about breaking the rules. That’s why this game doesn’t have any. There is no right or wrong way to play. These three decks of cards represent a prolific portfolio of product, service and software innovations. All of which focus on increasing joy, reducing friction and healing loneliness. Use these cards to stimulate conversations, run team building exercises, spark brainstorming sessions, challenge each other’s creativity, or kill time while you’re taking a dump. The choice is yours. And if you’re the kind of person who loves to win, too bad. Because with this game, we’re all losers. Enjoy!

To my delight, people loved the fact that there are no directions. They said it was soothing and liberating.

That’s where innovation comes from. When things don’t go according to plan. When you linger and backtrack and jump ahead, making things up along the way.

Following directions is for factory workers. Creative work is different.

Because if the result is stellar and compelling, then the people around you will overlook the fact that the you didn’t do it the right way. 

How many rules did you break yesterday?

Firmly in the driver’s seat with a functioning process

Gallup has been the doomsday sayer of employee disengagement for the past two decades.

Every year, there’s some new study about how seventy percent of employees nationwide are actively disengaged at work. And how leaders and managers should make caring for their best assets a higher priority, transforming for their workplace into a fulfilling and motivating experience.

But what about the employees? Is it not their responsibility to meet the company halfway?

Because like all relationships, engagement is a two way street. It’s cocreated. The organization isn’t the only one who owns the engagement equation.

Someone who is engaged, regardless of who pays their salary, actively seeks opportunities to learn and develop on their own. They don’t over depend on their employers to provide for them. And they’re not expecting and demanding to receive engagement as some sort of corporate entitlement program.

Frankl comes to mind, whose book on man’s search for meaning is unquestionably one of the most influential books of all time. And nothing against the good doctor, but the entire premise of his book is misguided.

Because meaning is made and not found. If man tries to search for it, he is less likely to find it. But if he actively creates meaning, then he sits firmly in the driver’s seat with a functioning process, rather than slouching in the back with a hope and a prayer.

Look, not every job is perfect. In fact, not any job is perfect. It’s called work for a reason. And there will be many tasks and projects that are not fundamentally engaging.

But that’s where the real work comes in. You can still find a way to make the work engaging to you. It depends how creative and flexible you are at framing and channeling your passions, values and talents.

Working at an advertising agency that produced public service announcements for communicable diseases wasn’t exactly the sexiest or most exciting copywriting gig in the world. But the very human experience of learning about personal wellness and public health made me feel like a healthier, savvier and more empathetic citizen of the world.

And that engaged me on my own terms, regardless of whether or not our agency founder built a culture where employees were engaged.

Meaning is made, not found, remember. It’s a choice.

Another example was my job on the marketing team at a legal tech company. Do you think working at a startup that advocated for air passenger rights in co foreign countries was my lifelong dream?

Hell no. Couldn’t have cared less about that. But the opportunity to proactively use all of my talents to build a consumer brand from the ground up was fabulously fulfilling experience. One that could have easily been downplayed had my attitude been one of entitlement and deservedness. Waiting around for the company to engage me.

But because meaning is made, not found, my employee engagement wasn’t an issue.

How much responsibility are you taking for your own level of engagement?

If you don’t think your employer is doing enough to make you want to stay, perhaps you’re not meeting them halfway.

It takes two to tango baby, even on the job.

Will you chase meaning and come up empty handed, or will you create meaning and wrap your arms around gold?

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