Make others successful
"At IDEO, employees are given something called The Little Book of IDEO, which spells out the most important values of the organization. Chief among them is "Make others successful"."
- Teresa Amabile, IDEO's Culture of Helping
When the 1981 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, Arthur Schawlow, was asked to explain why some physicists were more creative than others, his answer struck Teresa Amabile as highly unexpected: "The labor of love aspect is important. The most successful scientists often are not the most talented. But they are the ones who are impelled by curiosity. They've got to know what the answer is."
For years, Amabile has been investigating the various motives to creativity that are found in today's productive environments. A faculty at the Harvard Business School, she has been known to look beyond the usual incentives and into intangible factors such as love, passion and, in her most recent article, selflessness in the form of helpfulness. Based on her study of the famous Californian design firm IDEO, she draws conclusions that can apply to a great many of us.
Let's all be honest with one another: IDEO rocks. It is one of these companies that seem to have struck a goldmine of a business model, mixing ideas with execution, mingling with unsurpassed output. And in so doing, it relies on a combination of intrinsic motivation and open-ended social interaction that paradoxically increases its performance while generating a certain quantity of "slack".
Come to think of it, pretty much any organization these days can be deemed "full of knowledge workers tackling complex problems", writes Amabile. To succeed, no one individual is able to grasp every single aspect of the issue at hand, making it all the more likely that the solution will be drawn from a collective and collaborative setup. Though structuring the problem-solving around a group may seem time-consuming and, in the short time, less efficient, the dense knitting of individuals among them is of prime importance. Amabile notices that, "in the [IDEO] office studied, nearly every person was named as a helper by at least one other person."
"The most successful scientists often are not the most talented.
But they are the ones who are impelled by curiosity."
The inherent collaboration dynamics are supported by a deeply-held belief in the virtues of serendipity, that is that, without help, you will never know what it is you don't know. This embedded, quasi-moral self-obligation to "do better" is ingrained in IDEO's culture, so much so that formal pay is not linked to it per se. Quite the contrary, writes Amabile, "we suspect that explicit incentives in the form of, say, bigger bonuses for the most helpful people might well give rise to competitive helping".
Research like Amabile's, though it stems from one of the leading firms in the way of rethinking traditional hierarchical structures, should entice us to explore new ways of helping within our organizations. To pay it forward is the first stepping stone towards an ethos of collaboration. And it starts with us, with you, today, one advice at a time.