American Dream Project - A ThoughtRocket blog to help you take action on your dreams.

Don’t “Lean In”—“Start Out”: We Need Women to Re-Invent Our Economy

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Last week I proposed that Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign for women to Lean In to their work was wrong-headed. It is. It is the opposite of what businesses needs to save themselves from the innovator’s dilemma. Today, a vast number of businesses are in slow death spirals. Many companies have big brand names, money in the bank, and absolutely no clue or plan on how to grow, innovate, or matter. Harvard’s Clayton Christensen became famous writing about the “Innovator’s Dilemma,” which is the obvious fact that many companies achieve huge and rapid success on one breakthrough product and then descend into years of dullness, scraping for tiny percentages of market share as competitors commoditize their original innovation. This creative crash-dive sucks the zest out of culture, chases off talent, and makes grinding stress the daily experience for employees. Companies like Hewlett-Packard (HP), Microsoft, and Yahoo come to mind.

I have had a front row seat at many of these dinosaur organizations and the pattern is always the same. Success makes most leaders risk averse. Resource allocation becomes political. Bureaucracy stifles innovation. Meetings choke the culture. Soon the MBAs take over with 100 slide presentations and microscopic spreadsheets. The final spin into the ground is negative innovation. Yes, negative innovation. These are dumb ideas designed to extract money from customers for things they find obnoxious but don’t have much choice to avoid. Airline bag fees are a great current example. Hospital overcharges are another. Pricy software updates are, too. These types of business models are the result of putting leaders in charge who are overly analytical and hyper-competitive. They have trained their brains to think of customers as wallets rather than people. Meanwhile, the ideas for game-changing value that consumers reward is routinely ignored because the “right” brains are not in the room when decisions are made.

Increasingly those brains are found in the heads of women. Here’s why. A research colleague of mine has spent 25 years profiling more than a quarter of a million business leaders. One of his measures is identifying the prime motive of individuals. Your prime motive focuses your attention on certain data, experiences, and values. It forms your thinking pattern as to how you see opportunities and solve problems. Prime motives fall into three categories: winning, achievement, and helping others. The distribution of these prime motives across the general population is about equal. One third of us are primarily driven to win by beating the competition. Another third are motivated to achieve distinguishing goals. The final third invests most of their energy in figuring how to improve, enhance, and enrich the lives of others. Of course, each of the three prime motives are found in both genres. Yet, many more women’s prime motive is oriented toward helping others, which seems to be a product of high emotional empathy. Remember, emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman tells us that analytical (cognitive manipulative) empathy runs higher in males and feeling-emotional empathy runs higher in females.

When organizations are surveyed using this prime motive instrument what we see is that at higher levels of big organizations highly competitive people and high goal achievement people dominate. At the C-level there is often not one high empathy leader. This doesn’t mean high empathy people are poor leaders. It means our businesses and institutions tend to over value competitive goal-seeking missile types. But that is not what produces products or services that customers want. Instead it creates profitable businesses with exhausted, disengaged employees with tired products and money sitting in corporate treasuries that leaders don’t have a clue on how to invest because they are so risk averse and unable to meaningfully innovate.

In my three decades of experience, the obstacles women face in advancing in leadership are real. They are not made up excuses of whiny women who are afraid to speak up or work hard. The obstacles are far more systemic. Organizations are primarily hierarchal which rewards competitive, self-serving behaviors. Marketable innovations, which are bright ideas made practical are best developed through stake holder collaboration and fearless trial and error. Collaboration and learning are not in the wheelhouse of most corporate, male-dominated leaders or their corporate cultures. The result is that true customer empathy is marginalized, good ideas die, and women are left on sidelines.

That’s why in my view the quickest way to the top for women is not to change the current system, but rather start their own. I call it Smart Capitalism. It’s value-adding, sustainable, human centered, and kick-ass.

My advice to women is not to “Lean In” but to “Start Out.” Create a new economy based on your strengths. Go ahead, ladies. Make your difference. We’ll all be better off.

Why We Need Women Leaders

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ADP News, American Dream Project

Sheryl Sandberg has created a firestorm of controversy with her campaign to challenge women to work harder to become leaders. Her book, Lean In, seems to promote assertiveness and ambition as the path to senior executive leadership.

But she is wrong. Dead off the mark in my assessment. And that’s a shame. I have been advising and coaching men and women senior executives for over 30 years, and believe me, the world is screaming for more women leaders. Lots more. And not just in business. We also need them in politics and religion. We need the unique strengths of female emotional intelligence everywhere. Yes, I am talking about actual gender differences. The positive kind that have been scientifically validated and that I have observed as I have developed leaders and business strategy.

Here’s the female brain’s edge–Empathy. Real, genuine, emotional empathy. Dr. Daniel Goleman invented the field of emotional intelligence or EI. Lately he’s been working with neuroscientists to study the regions of the brain that enable people to be self-aware, control impulses, and empathize with others. Of course, you know where I am going with this. A majority of women have brains better wired for emotional intelligence than men. This has the potential to be a huge advantage in inspiring, motivating, and engaging people toward a compelling vision. It is a powerful advantage for collaborating. Yet, it turns out women have one major disadvantage regarding emotional intelligence. They tend to magnify failure, disappointment, misunderstanding, and stress. In fact, women tend to internalize stress, blaming themselves, while men externalize stress by blaming others.

It’s on this last point that Sandberg tends to over focus. She seems to say if women would be emotionally tougher, more insistent, and work harder without feeling guilty for neglecting their loved ones they would be more successful. The sad thing is that these are things men already do extremely well. Men are frankly awesome at being hard-driving workaholics. That’s our strength. But you don’t become successful by trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths. And right now, women’s core strength of emotional intelligence is potentially the single greatest driver of economic value creation for business in the 21st Century.

As we emerge from the Great Recession, the biggest challenge companies face is igniting growth. Ever since the birth of the Total Quality movement which transformed itself into Six Sigma and Lean Process, global companies have been obsessed with taking cost out of their business. “More with less” has created a generation of analytical leaders chained to spreadsheets and PowerPoints. Reducing reality to numbers is something a non-empathetic brain excels at. The result is that most businesses have benchmarked themselves into stifling mediocrity.

What every leader wants now is value-added innovation. Innovation that gets customers’ attention, creates emotional energy (brand), and becomes a unique value advantage. What’s a bit pathetic is to observe leaders trying to activate the creative juices demanding their people “innovate dammit”… as if the same hyper-analytical processes that produce efficiency will also create game-changing innovation. Take my word for it—it doesn’t.

This is where the strength of women leaders comes in. Yes, I am talking about value-added innovation. Its greatest fuel is consumer empathy. The true, unabridged emotional kind of empathy. You see men are capable of empathy, too. It’s just that typical male empathy is primarily analytical. We look at emotional feelings as something to manipulate or a problem to solve. Goleman’s research reveals that a female’s brain has many more neural connections focused on feeling what others are feeling. This genuine, emotional empathy produces two responses: relieve the source of pain immediately (comfort, support, communication) and eliminate the root cause of the pain (innovate, invent, solve). What I am proposing here is that the native emotional intelligence of women is better designed to understand customer desires and pain points and that they could be much better than competitive, analytical male brains at innovating value that customers actually value. And creating unique value that customers are willing to pay for in a world quickly being crowded by knock-offs, commodities and copycats is the game changer.

Recent research comparing the emotional intelligence of the top 10% of male leaders appears to back me up. Goleman’s research shows that these outstanding leaders have much higher emotional empathy than typical male-brained leaders. So perhaps the path for women to high level leadership is not to become simply more ambitious and hard working but rather to develop and advance their powerful emotional intelligence that enable them to collaborate to create products and services people really want and human friendly workplaces that attract the commitment of world class talent.

Yes, we need more women in senior leadership. Many more. Enterprises that have courage to value the consumer empathy that women can bring will have a distinct, innovation advantage. But I won’t hold my breath. Modern corporations are systematically designed to favor highly competitive meat eaters. The most realistic future for women in leadership positions is to promote a new generation of female entrepreneurs who are too impatient to wait for men to see their value. Women who will create value-adding enterprises that redefine and remake the 21st century. Women who will, ironically, out-compete men because of their natural strengths at not competing. I am looking forward to it.


Please Watch This, It Will Change Your Day…maybe more.

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ADP News, American Dream Project

When John Lennon wrote his iconic “Imagine” about an imaginary future where tolerance, empathy, and universal respect for human rights would trump our fear-based insistence that only people like ourselves should be treated well, it shook up lots of people’s faith. After all he asked us to imagine a world without religion. If you got past that, you heard him ask us to imagine believing in something even deeper, more fundamental, more spiritual.

Today there is a messy tension between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is rooted in a quest to understand and somehow experience the non-material world. Interest in spirituality is being propelled by a wave of new books from credible people such as a brain doctor (Proof of Heaven) and skeptical scientists who have had near death episodes which enabled them to directly experience a spiritual world that Einstein described as “beyond time and space.” These spiritual experiences defy serious counter explanations of biochemical hallucinations or other attempts to dismiss them as nonsense.

The common conclusion of people, including myself, who have experienced intense moments of transcendence is… that love is it. Love is everything. It is the realization that not only God is love, but also that in some deep way love is God…meaning love is the essence of everything that ultimately matters. I am not suggesting that God is simply a vibe; rather that God is both a loving identity and the force of pure love.

The tension between spiritual experience and religion is that religion is organized. It has dogma and doctrine largely shaped by individuals who claim to know something the rest of us don’t. In order for religious organizations to gain allegiance there is a strong impulse to create a chosen people story that makes us good and everyone unlike us bad. Instead of letting God do the judging, we do it. Often violently. So when John Lennon sings about a world without religion he is talking about a world without hatred, war, and intolerance…which is in fact the spiritual world people actually experience when they “die” and live to tell about it.

Please understand I am not anti-religion. In fact I go to church regularly. Yet I have my own private beliefs and experiences that cause me to reject some doctrines of the church I attend. It is vital to my personal integrity and honors my personal experiences.

I do believe that spiritual maturity leads us all to the same place…LOVE.

Which brings me to this video. If you’ve seen this, watch it again, and if you haven’t seen it, drop whatever you are doing and put 100% of your loving attention on it. I can’t say more except that love is it.

(I want to offer a special thanks to Steve Clayback who sent this video to me.)

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Take The 60-Second Life Quiz and Make the New Year the Beginning Of Something Great

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Take ten seconds to answer each of the 6 questions by choosing either statement A or statement B. Choose the one that most describes your true inner feelings—not how you think you should feel, but how you actually do feel.

Question #1:
A: Most days, I look forward to getting to work.
B: Most days, the thought of getting to work makes me feel stressed or irritated.

Question #2:
A: The person in my most important relationship (spouse, partner, best friend, etc.) usually makes me feel appreciated and valued.
B: The person in my most important relationship too often criticizes or judges me in ways that hurt my feelings.

Question #3:
A: Most days, I eat, sleep, and exercise so that I have high energy throughout the day.
B: Most days, I feel tired or even exhausted before the sun goes down.

Question #4:
A: I nearly always have enough money to pay my bills on time, and I don’t worry about money very often.
B: I frequently worry about paying my bills and my financial situation.

Question #5:
A: I have many enjoyable activities (hobbies, interests) that I regularly engage in, that help lift my mood.
B: I am frequently bored and have few enthusiastic interests.

Question #6:
A: I have clear spiritual beliefs that give purpose to my life.
B: I have vague spiritual feelings about my purpose in life.

If you chose the first statement (A) in each question, congratulations! You are in the top 10% of Americans. But if you are among the majority, who have some serious dissatisfaction with life, do not despair. It’s all fixable.

The truth is you can have the life you want…in 24 months. Research shows that’s the amount of time you need to get clear on what needs to change, develop a strategy to change, learn what you need to learn, start, fail, correct, and persevere to achieve the big changes you genuinely desire. So one way to think about it is like this: in 24 months, the life you have is the life you are choosing today.

Your answers to the 60-second Life Quiz seem like they are dependent on your present circumstances. It seems logical that the energy you have for your work depends on the work you are doing, or your boss or co-workers. The zing and satisfaction of your marriage or friendships seems dependent on the quality of your spouse or friend. Your financial stress all seems related to how much money you earn. Well, of course, happy answers to the Life Quiz are based on the real circumstances of your life right now. At the same time, you can also begin to change your circumstances now, so that any unhappy answer can be shifted 180 degrees within 24 months, often much more quickly.

I am quite sure of this because of the recent research I have been doing for a client on human motivation to change. To summarize, all the relevant studies on positive well-being and deep life satisfaction (what the top 10% feel) reveal that personal motivation begins and ends with self-determination. People who “feel” they have the power to change their lives do. People who most often feel frustrated by circumstances beyond their control hang on to a limp trapeze, unable to generate any momentum to swing to the next trapeze that will take them where they wish to go.

Psychologists tell us the source of momentum is self-efficacy, which means “the belief that I can plan and accomplish self-chosen goals.” The key words here are “self-chosen.” Many of us spend our lives trying to accomplish other people’s goals. It could be our boss’, our parent’s, our children’s, or those of our social norms. Virtually every person in our lives, along with every advertiser in the media, has an agenda for us. And if we don’t have a clear agenda for ourselves, we will most likely struggle with relentless and unnecessary frustration, disappointment, and overwhelm. At least that’s what the research says.

So how do you drive self-determination? It starts with your inner life. It starts with your assumptions about what causes you to be less than what you can imagine becoming. If you assume something outside you has to change before you can, you will wait and wait and wait. Your power comes from action. Your power comes from doing something today to start changing what you can control, so you will feel powerful enough to change more and more. Let’s take a quick look at the six questions.

  1. Work. It’s a free country. You can become skilled at some things you love doing that are valuable to others. Ask yourself, what do I do well that I enjoy? Pay attention to what work gives you energy. Learn it, master it, pursue it.
  2. Ask your significant others what they most appreciate about you, and request some genuine encouragement or affirmation when you describe it. Get couples counseling if you need to. Don’t tolerate relentless criticism. Respect yourself, and select friends who you respect.
  3. Eat healthy, get 8 hours of sleep, and walk at least 30 minutes a day. Stretch while you’re on the phone or watching TV. Taking control of your personal health is ground zero for self-determination. Being fit will make you more confident and elevate your mood.
  4. Spend less. Spending money on things that bring you little lasting joy is a bad habit that most often is a stress-coping response. Earn more. You need to make $75K in our economy. You don’t need a college education to do it. You just need to know how you create value and become excellent at it.
  5. Discover and feel your passions. If it’s surfing, gardening, cooking, going to the movies…whatever it is, make a more extreme commitment to it. Become an expert at the things you intrinsically love. It will bring you joy and make you interesting.
  6. Take a position on the meaning of life. Seek God or Good in the way that inspires you to become the best person you can imagine. Read inspiring books, literature, or wisdom scripture. Meditate or visit churches with services and messages that inspire your thinking and your soul. Don’t let the questions you can’t answer overwhelm the answers you have. Believe in something.

These action ideas are offered just to start you in shifting your inner voice. They are not a change plan. But your inner voice is the air traffic controller of your life logic and you take control of what your voice is telling you. Give yourself permission to turn up the volume on your dreams. It’s the first step to having a much more fulfilling life within 24 months.

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7 Days of Love, A Love Experiment

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The happiest people in the world are in love. Not just red-hot love of new romance, but more importantly, the enduring love of a trusted other who you fully accept and who fully accepts you. My message today asks you to perform a love experiment for the next 7 days. This experiment is designed to create and deepen the love of your loved ones. It’s simple to do, and I explain the 3 steps at the end. But first, a little about the art and science of love.

Love is the greatest human act. Love is a choice. True love comes from our higher self. Without soulfulness love is reduced to simply conditional approval. But this kind of low grade, low calorie, positive vibe isn’t love. Real love, the kind that comes from our deepest and best self, is in its essence, non-judgmental. This kind of unconditional love is unnatural to our animal instincts that often use loving words like an artificial sweetener in order to get what we want. Indeed, we “naturally” want peace, approval, affection, and reciprocal kindness. So we bite our tongues, walk on eggshells, and do what we must to smooth over our bumpy feelings of irritation, frustration, and disappointment with our loved ones. At least most of us do that much of the time.

But there is a higher quality of love that is always possible but less frequently experienced. This TRUE LOVE doesn’t require anyone to “shape up” or suddenly become nicer. It requires no change at all in others, only ourselves. It begins with non-judgmental inner feelings in which all of our demands of others cease. TRUE LOVE inspires. It is fearless. It comes from an epiphany of inner wisdom that we can love without trusting.

Trust is separate from love. Trust must be earned. Trust grows in a relationship in which both people consistently keep promises, are fair, and are competent. Trust is hard to earn and is very fragile. One untrustworthy act can destroy years of trust. In our entire lives there may be a handful of people we fully trust.

Yet we can love everyone. The way we become free to love is to tap our inner strength to need no one’s approval. The path to this kind of strength is through self-directed vision. It is keeping a clear vision of our essential and core selves. It requires a rich inner life of authentic awareness in which we realize we are not the voices in our heads that either reinforce self-centered arrogance or beat us up with doubt, criticism, and fear. That crazy conversation which goes on constantly can be turned off, and we can turn our attention to our soul.

I learned this from nearly a decade of suffering beginning in 1990 and ending in 1999. I can only say that I have come to experience a spiritual-mind that is both unique and united. I am, of course, not alone. Millions of people in the course of human history have discovered the essence of their identity. The core of us who is not afraid. The core of us that doesn’t need anyone to change for us to love them. The core of us that doesn’t need, period.

It’s true, we don’t need anyone to change for us to be happy. Rather what we must be is both strong and non-judgmental. We are strong when we quit letting people be mean to us. Instead love requires us to ask mean people to stop and distance ourselves if they don’t. At the same time we can remain compassionate, knowing that people are not their behavior. We also need to establish boundaries against bullies and separate ourselves from manipulators. All the while we can love them and pray for them. It is far easier to be compassionate toward immature or unhealthy people when we are far enough away to be invulnerable to their harmful ways. As for those whom really mean us no harm but are simply awkwardly doing the best they can, well, those are all the people in our lives we can love without judgment.

When we see beyond our loved ones’ behavior and allow the “eyes” of our soul to see the intention of another we literally create a “third space” between our inner world and theirs. This new, shared world allows us to affirm, inspire, connect, and help our loved ones. Awesome.

Yet none of this genuinely happens when we judge others and justify ourselves for doing so. Research is clear that the happiest people in relationships are those who are in the love-fog of fresh infatuation and couples who have been together over 30 years. You see both new love and old love have one thing in common. The lovers don’t require the other to change to be loved. New lovers are uncritical and old lovers have given up. This is wise because we are all very messy. Our personalities, irrational prejudices and quirks are better embraced than rejected. All of us are weird in ways we think are normal. So let it go.

Here is my challenge for you. For the next 7 days, focus on the most important person in your life. (For this to work it’s best if they are non-toxic, that is, neither a bully or a manipulator that reaches the level of being a mean person.) During these 7 days suspend all judgment. Don’t even wish they would change anything. Instead just give them your full, genuine attention as much as possible. And do the following:

  1. Affirm anything that you notice that is good or praiseworthy (their efforts, their work, their looks, their kindness, their humor…anything.) There is only one requirement. You must be genuine. Fake praise will backfire.
  2. Listen only for understanding. Don’t try to solve their problems or confirm their justifications. Just listen without an agenda with your full presence.
  3. Take time to have fun together. Support what they are passionate about. Help, watch or participate in whatever it is they love to do. Ask questions. Take a sincere interest in what they are interested in. This will surprise them.

These 3 habits are proven to create feelings of love and the brain chemicals of closeness. Try them every day with your chosen person for the next 7 days. Keep track of your results. Write a note to yourself every morning about how and when you are going to do the 3 habits of “making love “ and how it went the day before. Observe what happens. My hope for all of you is that you create the gift of greater love with your most important loved ones.

Do it now… start the new year off with gobs of fresh, tangy love.

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Stopping Sex to End Violence

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If you still doubt this consider the fact that nearly all (over 95%) of micro loans are made to female entrepreneurs in developing countries rather than males. The repayment ratio of these loans, which on average doubles a household income within a year, is more than 97% when made to women. Men are bad loan risks for these loans because most often they spend loan proceeds or any increased income to pursue their favorite hobbies – gambling, drinking, and prostitution.

I am not anti-male. I am only stating the facts. Men are hunters and women are gatherers. Women are also community builders. When women succeed using micro loans they invest their new wealth in their children’s education, clean water projects, cows and goats—things that strengthen their families and communities. This scenario has played out with tens of millions of micro loan recipients, and it only confirms what we experience throughout our lifetimes with wise women

Many anthropologists observe that women are the prime source of civilizations. And if you watch beer commercials it’s easy to imagine that without women’s civilizing force we’d be living like cave men.

So…maybe it’s time to let women run things. If women were in charge do you think we’d have gone to war in Iraq?

If women were in charge do you think…

  • We would allow millions of children to go uneducated?
  • We would allow millions of children to go hungry every day?
  • We would not have universal health care?
  • We would waste tens of billions creating weapons we will never use?
  • We would make sure everyone had access to assault weapons and blow off mass murder as necessary collateral damage?
  • We’d go off fiscal cliffs because egos are more important than our nation’s strength?
  • We’d continue to condone unequal pay to women?
  • We’d claim that the best society is one in which every person fends for themselves and that everyone gets what they deserve?

As gatherers I think there is a good chance that wise women have new solutions to old problems. Don’t you?

Of course not all women are empathetic and civilized. Ayn Rand was a women who was definitely more hunter than gatherer, but come on. The story of civilization is not built on the vicious power of the strongest. It is rather the emergence of community building based on building personal responsibility in children so they will promote community responsibility as adults.

For millennia women have had to motivate men to become civilized. In our own history passionate women were behind the movements to end slavery, child labor, and toxic working conditions.

In some parts of the world women are getting impatient with their uncivilized husbands and are attempting to push civilization faster. In the African country of Togo where tyranny and violence has crushed the defenseless for the past 50 years, Togolese women have organized “sex strikes” to press their husbands into action that will establish human rights and equal justice. A sex strike is refusing to engage in sex with your husband until things change. Togolese women combine their abstinence with prayer and fasting to work on men’s souls as well as their passions.

This battle for civilizing Togo is just beginning, but the sex strike has gotten the attention of women activists world wide. Perhaps it’s time to tame the animal instincts of men who too often mistake their competitive hormones for standing on principle. (Just imagine American women staging a national sex strike rile up men to insist our congress come up with both sensible and compassionate solutions to solve our solvable problems…just imagine)

Perhaps it’s time to fully civilize our future so that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are promises we authentically offer to all of our citizens. Maybe it’s time for gathering rather than hunting. Maybe it’s time for many more wise women to run many more things than they’ve ever been allowed to. It’s hard to imagine they’d do a worse job.

Wise Women unite! Please.

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Is Business Uncivilized?

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I have spent time lately talking to people who were recently laid off from jobs they liked. Merry Christmas, right? The idea that hard work equals financial success is a myth. Of course it’s true that unless you inherit money or win the lottery it’s nearly impossible to be successful without persistent hard work. But it’s equally true you can work bone-achingly hard in a diner, a coalmine, or a global corporation and struggle and stress your entire life.

Most people today feel especially vulnerable because business managers have become hardened to the suffering caused by laying off workers at the first sign of an economic slowdown. For 50 years our university business schools have reduced business leadership to a series of models dealing with strategy and finance. The human side of business is not even a topic. Labor is a “thing.” A cost line on a profit and loss statement. This mindset has led us to an age of zombie employees who largely live in numb uncertainty about their future.

It’s not surprising.

Frankly it’s hard for senior management to empathize. They usually spend little time making friends with people unlike themselves. When executives think about their own potential job loss they worry about the emotional disappointment of failing but rarely about immediate dire economic consequences. Often their “going away packages” are a year of salary and they usually have deep financial savings that soften the practical effects of a job loss. It’s very rare for these types of executives to put themselves in the shoes of anyone who is one or two paychecks away from missing a rent payment.

Well, I know this sounds outrageous, but I believe the copout excuse that layoffs are just a part of business is simply immoral. That’s right. Immoral. The ethical way to judge the morality of layoffs begins with the understanding that the civilized standard of morality is that each of us has an intrinsic obligation to not cause avoidable suffering. That’s a high standard. But it’s the only standard that matters. If you or I willfully cause human suffering from actions we choose to take, that’s just plain bad.

Think of it this way. Life itself is unfair enough. Through no fault of their own people suffer from cancer, die from accidents, or are wiped out by natural disasters. That kind of human suffering is unavoidable. It’s under the category of “stuff happens.” Civilization evolved to institutionalize compassion. People come together to pool resources to prevent or relieve the suffering caused by events we can’t control. For the most part we do that well.

What’s twisted is that our modern economists have legitimized the view that in spite of living in a time a high civilization property rights trump human rights and our mutual obligations. Economists maintain that the investors of a business have a supreme right to the highest possible profits all the time. Under this theory, in the 1980’s Jack Welch started firing people from profitable divisions of GE so the shareholders could make more money. That’s when “doing more with less” became the mantra of business. It usually meant making more with less people.

But this notion is simply crazy. Critical thinking requires a leader to consider who has the greatest stake in their company’s success. It isn’t the investors. The average share of stock is held for only four weeks or at most months in today’s world of high speed trading. It isn’t a customer. Customers can easily find equal replacements for virtually any product or service. In other words, neither investors nor customers suffer much from disengaging from a business. But employees…they are frequently devastated.

So today U.S. companies have over 900 billion dollars sitting idle in their treasuries. Their leaders can’t think of any way to invest that money productively. They buy their own stock. They increase dividends. But they are so trapped in their traditional business models they can’t think of new ways to put smart, loyal, hardworking people to work. Instead Hewlett Packard lays off 27,000, Citibank 11,000, and on and on. These layoffs are not a failure of the employees; it’s the failure of leaders. It’s not only a sign of incompetence; it’s a sign that most businesses have moral compasses pointing south instead of north.

I am not suggesting we pass laws to prevent layoffs. We need efficient labor markets. What I am advocating is something far more important. It’s simply that business leaders need to accept their primary moral responsibility to the well-being of their employees. To sit on billions of idle cash while former employees watch their lives disintegrate is simply wrong.

We need a revolution of thinking about the economy we are creating. We need to accept ethical responsibility for making choices that impact people’s lives, their health, and their families. We need a moral revolution in business leadership. Nothing less.

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Don’t Work For a Jerk

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Work should be a source of joy.

Okay, if that’s too strong…

It should at least be a source of personal well-being.

Gallup’s research confirms that work is the second most important factor in promoting our life satisfaction. (The first is the quality of our relationships.) We spend half our waking hours working. It is a source of personal identity, growth, and self-efficacy.

That’s all great when our work is good. But when work is not good, it’s our single greatest source of stress. And new research is confirming what we all know. If our work is stressful, it’s mostly because our boss is bad.

Here’s why:

Business organizations are designed as power hierarchies. This is because the military is run as a power hierarchy, and modern organizations come from the military gene pool. The family tree of business also runs back to royalty, warlords, and a host of archaic organization models.

The people at the top of hierarchies hold life-and-death power (or hire-or-fire power) over everyone. They are also expected to be smarter, better informed, and more capable than their employees.

Of course, sometimes they are.

Often they are not.

But it’s not competency alone that determines whether a leader creates a great place to work. More often, it is his or her personality, values, and worldview.

The emerging research on leaders of large, modern enterprises is that they tend to be more narcissistic and less empathetic than average. I know…this is not surprising. But let’s take a closer look.


  • Tend to act confident, be well-groomed, self-promoting, and extroverted. They make eye contact, offer inflated compliments, and have high energy.
  • Need and may demand the spotlight, recognition, and admiration.
  • Are self-serving, self-focused, and insistent.
  • Constantly search for better deals, better people, better jobs, better spouses.

And their grand ability is to leverage their influence to dominate a social group. That’s why leadership positions in business, politics, and the media appear to be loaded with narcissists.

What’s dangerous about this is that the most dominant trait of a narcissist is fake empathy. That is when a person pretends to care about the sufferings and sacrifices of others, but really doesn’t. It’s what enables business executives to permanently lay off hardworking, creative, successful employees to temporarily raise profits. It’s what enables leaders to sell and promote bad food and harmful products, or brazenly pollute and poison the environment.

Researchers have now administered thousands of personality assessments, and found that people with low empathy scores tend to become lawyers, economists, and investment bankers. (I know, I know…no surprise.)

So what’s this got to do with our work? Everything.

IBM published research last year revealing the person most employees least enjoy spending time with is their boss. They found that our stress hormone levels skyrocket when we talk to our bosses, due to the massive economic and social power bosses have. If that power is wielded by a narcissist or a low-empathy leader, it’s frankly very scary.

The cure is simple. Not easy, but simple. It has two elements.

First, become great at something. That way, you have a career instead of a job. We all earn money by creating value. Value in a business is primarily created by saving money or making money. Be clear on what you’re great at, and get better. Become an expert in a field you’re passionate about.

You do this by reading, going to conferences, writing, speaking, doing. Do something for at least 30 minutes each day to learn something new in your field of choice. Give yourself three years to get in the top 25% of your field. In five years be in the top 10%. Life is short. Be great at your work so you will always be in demand.

Second, don’t work for a jerk. Remember, business is a magnet for slick narcissists. So if you are going to work for someone other than yourself, you must target great companies that push self-promoters away. You will discover these humane places to work through networking, reading local lists of good companies, and asking around.

Sometimes transitions take time. Don’t fret about it. Just don’t settle for being stressed, scared, and exploited.

I just finished teaching a career class to about 60 adult UCSD students. What was reinforced to me is that we all have gifts to give. We have a difference we can make. And if you want to, you can put yourself in the right place with the right people to work the way you are uniquely designed to. Never give up your dream.


Pursue Happiness Through Your Work

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ADP News, American Dream Project

You already know how frustrated I am about how poorly our leaders are addressing the challenges we all face as a society. I am not the only one, of course. But we each must focus more on what we can do, rather than only shaking our fists at what we can’t do.

In that spirit, I continue to gather the emerging research of what actually drives individual happiness, and promote personal change to achieve it. So that’s what I want to encourage you to do…pursue your happiness—with verve, gusto, and commitment. Right now…in your present circumstances.

Lately, I have been teaching a class of adults at UC San Diego how to take charge of their career to create both more financial security and meaningful work. This is vital because Gallup’s global research confirms that “work well-being” is the second biggest driver of happiness (after relationship/family well-being).

These days, work well-being is difficult to stumble into. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that most jobs being created today are characterized by

  1. high demands,
  2. low pay,
  3. low power, and
  4. low security.

Occupational health research describes these four characteristics as a toxic combination causing relentless stress. But if this kind of job sounds familiar, let me assure you that you don’t have to settle for a stress-filled, unrewarding job or career.

There are many, many forces you can proactively take control of, and the first is to get a deep understanding of how you create value for others. This is the source of our own economic well-being. People who become extraordinary at creating value for others make far bigger impacts than typical workers. In fact, a 10-year research project I am directly involved with reveals that consistently extraordinary performance has both tangible (money) and intangible (inner satisfaction) impact. Extraordinary performance is defined by customers, employers, colleagues, and supervisors who rate individuals across 40 factors related to work performance. It turns out the people in the top 10 percent of these ratings create 2 to 5 times the economic value and are 4 times more engaged than good performers.

So, what has that got to do with pursuing happiness?

Plenty, it turns out.

People who excel in their work life by using their talents to create meaningful value are happier and healthier than people who just earn paychecks. People who simply view work as an economic necessity are generally less fulfilled than people who see that their work makes a difference to people.

That’s the key. Recent Harvard University research found that people in all kinds of jobs found their work engaging and meaningful if they knew it was valued by other human beings. People in all kinds of jobs found their work meaningful. The secret is being consciously aware of the difference you are making, and learning to personalize your work so that it reflects your unique style, values, or flair.

What the researchers discovered is that there are happy toll-takers, maids, and brain surgeons, and that there are unhappy toll takers, maids, and brain surgeons. Of course, some work is more intrinsically enriching than other work. But for the most part, happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment come from our desire to make our difference, rather than the nature of the work itself. With this surprising finding, the researchers set out to find out what happy workers have most in common.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that what they have in common is these three traits:

  1. Gratitude, not just for their job, but as an orientation of life. Gratitude helps them notice all the good things they enjoy, instead of the things they lack.
  2. Appreciation of others’ efforts, and an embrace of teamwork. Socially connecting with teammates is a big satisfier.
  3. Empathy for the people they serve. The more “real,” flesh-and-blood human beings depend on us as colleagues and customers, the more motivating it is to do a personalized job for them.

The research concluded that even in companies with toxic cultures, nearly 10 percent of employees found their work engaging and meaningful. In great companies, that number is over 80 percent.

The lessons for me are simple. If I am serious about my happiness, I need to be serious about doing meaningful work. Of course, meaningful work can include being a stay-at-home parent, or even a volunteer. Whatever my work, if I approach it with gratitude for opportunities I have, an appreciation for my coworkers’ efforts, and empathy for my customers, I will both enrich others and myself.

This is important. If you are unhappy with your work or your employer, seek first to change yourself, because you can make things better for your inner work life right now.

Now, if you are working for a negative, exploitative employer, always be on the search for an upgrade. Our work is too important to waste it working for Neanderthals.

Have We Lost Our Minds?

ADP News, American Dream Project

We swim in a media soup of politics. It is stressful. It hammers with an incessant thud of foreboding. Like most, my life has had deep downs and some inspiring ups, but right now I find it hard to stay focused on everything I should be personally grateful for, when the noise of our culture is so disturbing. Honestly, I have been trying to tune out the politics of self-destruction that has poisoned the minds of so many. It is harder still to listen to the weak, worn-out responses of civic leaders to those hell-bent on turning our society into a survival-of-the-fittest, “Hunger Games” nightmare.

What we need is some smart innovation about how best to create a 21st-century society where everyone has a genuine chance for a decent life. Who could oppose such a goal? Strangely, it seems many do. Yet this is exactly the goal of our founders. It is the foundation of what we call the Enlightenment, which was an explosion of new thinking about the purpose of society

Before the Enlightenment, there was only savagery. For thousands of years it took the form of tribalism, where the strongest tribes killed, enslaved, and raped weaker ones. During these dreadful millennia, everyone had to carry weapons to defend themselves from everyone else.

Later, civilization brought us commerce and the concentration of vast wealth among a self-appointed ruling class, who rigged the legal system and taxed the peasants to ensure their families would always have all the wealth, all the power, and control of the armies and navies. They even invented a religious doctrine called the “Divine Right of Kings,” that claimed that being born into an aristocracy was proof that God had chosen you to rule over everyone else. This was the nature of society until the past 200 years. For most people life was hard, hopeless, and short.

In the 1700s, s a new breed of philosophers promoted the intrinsic dignity of every man. Eventually, this grew to include every human being—every man, every woman, every race. Once people were “enlightened” to believe in universal human dignity, the concept of a free and equal society became the aspiration of all moral people. It is one of the most powerful ideas ever ignited. It defines a core value. A value that changes everything.

The value is simple. Every person has the inherent right to pursue their happiness. It doesn’t mean we can grant happiness, or insure it for everyone. But, together, we can do a lot to give every citizen a genuine chance at self-determination. The principle of this value was expressed by the influential philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who said the best society was the one that creates the most opportunity for happiness for the most people. This idea inspired Thomas Jefferson’s famous declaration that we should be free to pursue happiness.

Awesome, right?

Well, right from the beginning, there was a big divide over what brings happiness. The battle is over a fundamental value. One side says happiness comes from pursuing self-interest. Selfishness with a dash of charity is the fundamental idea. This concept is tied directly to the belief that your level of material wealth determines your level of happiness.

As an idea, the selfish route to happiness has a long history connecting tribal warfare to the aristocracies of Europe, that seemed to show that whoever has the most power, money and security has the most happiness. The thinking goes that since power and wealth are always judged by competitive measures (that is, “What is my power compared to yours?” or “Who has the most money also has the most food, medicine, land, slaves, etc.”), the game of life is simple: just win. This idea that happiness comes from competitively driving your self-interest to dominate always leads to people who gain power to limit the ways others can gain it. It’s like a football team who, once they get ahead, suddenly changes the rules so that the team behind only gets to play four players.

This philosophy, based on material wealth accumulated through self-interested competition, has always had loud, table-pounding political defenders. This group would not ratify our Constitution if it outlawed slavery. This group fought against public canals, public roads, and public schools. This group fought against child labor and minimum wage laws and social security. This group fought against environmental protection, safety regulations, and limiting advertising of cigarettes. This group opposed women and African-Americans getting to vote or own property. They oppose equal pay, maternity leave, and early childhood education. They are very consistent. This group has always used the obvious deception that the non-rich should not want to limit the power of the rich, because someday you could be rich, and you will want all this asymmetrical power we enjoy.

This group is powerful because, to some extent, their philosophy of self does work! It turns out that free market competition does increase ingenuity and innovation, and does improve the material quality of the lives of billions of people. And that’s no small thing. The problem? It doesn’t account for all of the most important values—human value. A free market has no intrinsic morality. A free market rewards cheaters, pollution, poisoners and exploiters, because the short-term gains arising from irresponsible self-interest overpowers “enlightened” self-interest from being moral. A free market operating without common ethical values is bound to increase suffering of the innocent.

The most basic rule of ethics is to not do anything that would cause avoidable suffering of innocent people. Unavoidable suffering is caused by things like hurricanes and disease. Avoidable suffering is caused by selling cigarettes or bogus investments, or pollution, or…a zillion other legal but immoral things. Even laws and regulations have little impact, because the successful violators corrupt politicians, so that laws and regulations are changed to promote and even reward irresponsibility and exploitation.

As it turns out, pursuing happiness through self-interest is stupid. It doesn’t work. Over the past ten years, scientists have accumulated mountains of research confirming that happiness occurs at the intersection of contentment and optimism, and that these higher feelings directly arise from empathy, caring, compassion, and personal growth. It has nothing to do with selfishness.

In fact, after our basic needs are met, happiness has little to do with material things at all. The research is clear that the most chronically unhappy people are those who are the most competitive and materialistic. Research points out that multi-millionaires with materialistic values are less happy than people living in strong family systems, who are only living 20% above the level of daily sustenance. (In India, these people make only $4000 per year!)

I am not pointing this out to say that pursuing money at the cost of love and compassion is a bad idea. Someone far more important than me pointed that out 2,000 years ago. Rather, I am asking “What are we trying to achieve?” What I’m asking is why would any person support leaders who want to recreate America into a ruthlessly materialistic society, one that only rewards financial success and the arbitrary good luck of being born into a loving, stable family? How can so many of us seem to think that a society that is specially engineered to favor the favored, while increasing avoidable suffering to the unfavored, is the very best we can do?

I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how about half of Americans seem to think a survival-of-the-fittest society is the best fruit of political freedom. We are wasting precious time, and poisoning our future. New polls are showing more Americans than at any time in history are considering emigrating to other countries, because there are greater opportunities to pursue true happiness.

Have we lost our ever-loving minds?

The fact is, the best path to our best future has not been presented. While today’s conservatives are insane, the liberal politicians are stuck in a paternalistic merry-go-round—that is, well-meaning but poorly designed solutions. Our government is too often bloated, uninspired, and corrupt. What’s needed is government re-imagined to take advantage of the best of human nature, instead of rewarding the worst of our animal instincts.

In today’s environment, I don’t hold much hope that such innovation will come without much pain. My mission is to help you avoid as much of that pain as possible, by grabbing the steering wheel of your own life.

(I am teaching a career class at UC San Diego helping scores of people discover their unique path to happiness… I will keep you posted.)


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