Reading Time: 2 minutes
My book review this week is on Seth Godin’s brand new book, The Song of Significance: A Manifesto for Teams. He draws an analogy to the way that bees form new hives – completely undirected – no map, no plan, but highly motivated. For if a new hive is not found within a few days, the bees die. He compares industrial work – where workers do what they are told and the work is quite routine in nature – to “significant” work – where workers are engaged on challenging, meaningful, purpose-filled work – and where employers offer autonomy, dignity, respect, and safety. Clearly, significant work wins in the comparison, though Godin notes that industrial work meets the needs of many and has been quite important to our economic growth. Here are my takeaways, mostly for teams and leaders:
  • Traditional productivity measures cannot do justice to the tasks associated with significant work – which requires creativity and innovation.
  • Aim to be a leader, not a manager. Think of an orchestra conductor. They depend on others to make the music.
  • Fear is healthy – and “dancing with fear requires significance, tension, and the belief that we’re doing something that matters.” p. 66
  • Embrace tension. Significant work carries tension – which is different from stress. Tension brings about the energy needed to move forward – and includes deadlines, budgets, and complex problems needing to be solved. Godin defines stress as “the unhappy feeling of wanting two things at the same time. To stay and to go. To speak up and to shrink back. To get this done and to get that done.”) p. 99
  • If we don’t prioritize the work of developing a culture of engagement, curiosity, safety, responsibility, and purpose, we become top-down managers and people quickly lose interest in work that has no meaning for them.
  • Stigmergy is a characteristic of “an organization that hears itself, leads together, and creates resilience by embracing the edges, not simply the center.” (p. 91) It also sounds like the way bees form new hives – where the actions of one bee sets up a succeeding action that has a domino effect.
  • Mutual respect is required for effective collaboration.
  • Meetings should be about conversations that involve everyone – yes they are harder to prepare for – but that’s how we make better decisions. Avoid meetings that are just a way to pass out instructions.
  • An alternative to treating humans as a “measurable asset” is to “measure the health and output of the culture itself. To hold the leaders accountable for enrollment, commitment, and the rigor of shipping work that makes an impact.” (p. 176)