Spaghetti Principle Best Way to Change Minds

IMG_0580 by Brent (2)
IMG_0580.  Photo courtesy of Brent.

Does everything change when you touch it?  Yes for spaghetti: spaghetti changes when you touch it.  But what about people?  Do people change when you try to move them?  Sometimes.  Only sometimes.

One of my sub-skills is my ability to give one-on-one tutorials to colleagues to bring them to a higher level proficiency in Microsoft Excel.  Results vary, not because of talent, but more because of the person’s interest-level and their opportunity to apply the learning. I have done these tutorials enough times to know that there is a major concept that everyone needs to “get.”  So I offer the spaghetti metaphor.

When you move cooked spaghetti from the colander to the dining table, there are two ways that it gets there.  First, you move spaghetti out of the colander and onto the plate, changing the layout of the noodles in the process.  Then, after putting on the sauce, you move the entire plate to the dining table.  Transporting the plate does not change the layout of the noodles.  You can move the noodles or move the entire plate.  The distinction is that in some cases you change the configuration of the contents and in other cases you change their location but with the configuration left intact.

For those struggling with Excel, the issue is that if a rectangular cell has formulas in it, you must cut-and-paste the cell, drag-and-move the entire cell, or copy the formula inside the formula prompt to move a formula without altering it.  By contrast, if you copy-and-paste a cell or you use the autofill feature, your formula will automatically change so that all the cell references move accordingly.  You don’t have to worry about this if you’re not manipulating Excel right now.  As I mentioned, your ability to grasp this depends on your opportunity to apply the learning.

Enough math, let’s extend the concept to people’s opinions.  Are there cases where we attempt to move the logic in the minds of others?  Yes indeed.  Sometimes when you attempt to compel others to think of things differently, you get to change the configuration of their spaghetti-scramble of ideas.  But other times, you simply move the plate.  You get a person with the exact same opinions as before, they’re just in a different place, possibly more entrenched.

On Ozan Varol’s website, the rocket-scientist-turned-contrarian-author has some advice on how to change people’s minds.  Varol explains that people’s beliefs have an outsized impact on their grasp of the facts.  This role of beliefs drives a cognitive fallacy known as confirmation bias, the tendency for us to select facts that strengthen our beliefs and gloss-over those facts that are disruptive and uncomfortable.  The challenge is that we cannot use facts to drive changes-of-opinion, because it’s almost impossible to get into peoples’ grasp of “the facts” without attacking their intelligence.  So their defenses go up and they tell you where to go.  You know how this goes.

Varol recommends re-framing either-or debates around an alternate frame of reference.  His best example is when Columbians in the 1950s were grappling with the collapse of the Rojas dictatorship.  An entrenched mindset would blame the military for complicity in the Rojas regime, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, citizens offered an alternative narrative that “…it was the ‘presidential family’ and a few corrupt civilians close to Rojas – not military officers – who were responsible for the regime’s success.”  This narrative significantly reduced the risk of Columbia slipping into a military dictatorship.

As an academic, Varol presents papers at conferences with a subtle verbal shift.  He presents opinions somewhat detached from himself (“This paper argues…”) so that his ideas are lobbed into the public sphere to be thrashed about until others come to a more meaningful conclusion.  When he made this shift his ideas “took a life of their own” allowing him to view his own arguments with some objectivity.

You can do this too.  Varol encourages you to befriend those who disagree with you, expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, and presume that you will experience some discomfort.

Personally, I think the big deal is to get over yourself.  Or to be precise, that I need to get over myself. (See what I did there?)  If everyone other than me has opinions that are a random configuration of noodles, what are the odds that my own ideas are configured perfectly?

When it’s my turn to make spaghetti, I get the noodles into the plate, even them up, pour the sauce, and just get it all onto the table.  I have one kid that hates parmesan, and another that hates pepper.  Neither of them uses a spoon.  They handle the noodles as they see fit.  I let everyone enjoy what’s in front of them, while we talk about our day and our lives.  Hands off the noodles, because now’s the time to enjoy people.

Information is the New Sugar

pie. by chad glenn. (=)
pie. Photo courtesy of chad glenn.

On Pi Day, are you able to resist temptation?

The bright colours?

The sweet flavours?

Maybe once a year it’s good for you.  But what if you were force-fed sweets every day?  That’s what’s happening today with information.

In an article in Wired, author Zynep Tufekci makes a comparison to food when describing the addictive power of information.

“…within the next few years, the number of children struggling with obesity will surpass the number struggling with hunger. Why? When the human condition was marked by hunger and famine, it made perfect sense to crave condensed calories and salt. Now we live in a food glut environment, and we have few genetic, cultural, or psychological defenses against this novel threat to our health.”

The author compares our food behaviours to our current addictions to highly processed data:

“Humans are a social species, equipped with few defenses against the natural world beyond our ability to acquire knowledge and stay in groups that work together. We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite.”

There was a time when humans desperately needed food and new information.  Once these needs are satisfied the ability of industry to exploit our lingering sense of need and push unhealthy variants and volumes became the next big threat.

With food, it is helpful to seek out existing traditions in which things have been figure out already.  Healthy people eat in a manner that resembles the cuisine of their grandparents, rejecting processed foods and fad diets alike.  To quote Michael Pollan, the food writer, “eat food, not to much, mostly plants.”  So, if we were to seek healthy and viable traditions in the free flow of information, where would we turn?

Pi Day is a great place to start.  In the late nineties, I stayed at the home of a family friend named Larry Shaw, a science educator at the San Francisco Exploratorium.  During this trip Larry handed me a slice of pie on March 14.  I didn’t figure out until years later that he was the creator of Pi Day.  Larry looked like a hippie, and he had a great sense of fun.  But he was closer-at-heart to a serious movement to empower people to disagree with those with power, and express disagreements through free speech.

We watched a brief documentary about the Freedom of the Speech Movement.  In 1964 a man named Jack Weinberg was arrested for distributing political materials on the Berkeley campus.  Students encircled the police car Weinberg was in.  There was a 32-hour stand-off during which activist Mario Savio gave a compelling speech, saying:

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. …you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

In the era of social media and big data we are experiencing this same problem, but in reverse.  In decades past, government and industry asserted legal power and made threats against the publication of some news.  Coercion-narrowed perspectives whipped the public mood into compliance.  When protests break out today, we know about it through social media in minutes, without the support of broadcast media.  This should be the golden era of free speech.  But it’s not.

Nowadays when you see news it is unclear if you are receiving something accurate.  And if you are the one posting the video Tufecki asks “…is anyone even watching it?  Or has it been lost in a sea of posts from hundreds of millions of content producers?”  It’s not the case that accurate news is reaching the broadest audience, and it’s not the case that you as a citizen can make your voice heard.

Social media offers a community experience that is equivalent to shopping for groceries at a convenience store.

Tufekci notes that the world’s attention is overwhelmingly funnelled through Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter.  These entities

“…stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. …they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs. They use massive surveillance of our behavior, online and off, to generate increasingly accurate, automated predictions of what advertisements we are most susceptible to…”

The author makes the case that freedom of speech is not an end in its own right.  Rather, it is a vehicle through which we achieve other social goals, such as public education, respectful debate, holding institutions accountable, and building healthy communities.  Consider Savio’s “bodies upon the gears” speech and you know he wasn’t in this so you could look at food porn or cat videos.

We shall seek the best possible recipe for our knowledge.  We need to read books, watch well-produced documentaries, and talk to trustworthy friends who are knowledgeable on the right topic.  We must be skeptical of those in power but even more skeptical about friends who coddle us with complacent views.  Seek information that is healthy and fulfilling, and guard it like a borrowed recipe from your grandmother’s box of index cards.

And yet, enjoy small amounts of rumor and gossip, like the indulgence in a favorite slice of pie.  You still get to have fun, once in a while.  You’re still human.

Not Too Shocking – Those High Numbers from AI Job Disruption

Shocked. By Mark Turnauckas.
Shocked. Photo courtesy of Mark Turnauckas.

Can you think of a time you took advantage of a new technology, and in the process got way more work done?  We’re all going to need more stories like this in order to stay ahead of the game.

I’ll never forget my first exposure to a pirated version of Microsoft Excel.  I was in graduate school in 1994 and a young woman in my class, Bev, handed me a stack of eight floppy disks held together with a blue elastic band.  She told me Excel was way better than what I was using.  Six months later I had finished an entire graduate thesis based on clever charts and tables I had created using new software.  Six months after that, I was at a firm in one of the towers in Toronto’s downtown core with experienced consultants lining up at my cubicle, waiting for some solid analysis.  My mind had co-evolved around the technology, and I was valued.

For many months I was the only analyst on a team that had four consultants.  When new technologies are brought in, sometimes one person can do the work of several peers.  And this appears to be a concern today with incoming technologies, such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, and analytics.

There has been some excitement lately about McKinsey’s report that 800 million jobs will be eliminated worldwide by technology.  Reading the content of the report – not just the media coverage – I can assure you that it’s far less dramatic.

First, the 800 million jobs was the upside of a forecasted range, and the authors recommend considering the mid-point of the range, which is 400 million jobs.  Those 400 million jobs are proportional to 15% of current work activities in the global labour market.  These job losses are not expected to be immediate, as this is a forecast into 2030 – twelve years from now.  This means the forecast is closer to 30-35 million jobs lost per year, which seems far more modest on a planet with 7.6 billion inhabitants.

But it gets better.  Of the 400 million jobs lost, only 75 million jobs will be eliminated altogether.  The remaining job losses will be in cases where parts of our jobs will be eliminated.  About 30% of “constituent” work will be automated for 60% of occupations.  That is, there will be bots taking care of the more mundane parts of our jobs.  It remains to be seen whether this shift will result in 30% less employment, or if our outputs will just be more efficient.  There may be a line-up at your own desk, with senior people increasingly reliant on your own unique, human-machine hybrid.

This technological revolution will have more dramatic impacts on industrialized economies such as Canada, the U.S. and Europe.  New technologies have a cost of implementation, and cost savings are needed to justify the investment.  A lot of cost savings can be found in eliminating expensive jobs.  But in the developing world, wages are lower and the gains of the new technology won’t always outweigh the cost.  The trade-offs between hiring people and bringing in new technology often tips towards employing people in those places where wages are low.  It’s in the industrialized world where we will see the most change.

In my opinion (not necessarily McKinsey’s), this will have an impact on political optics.  Jobs will appear to be eliminated in industrialized economies and then magically reappear in the developing world.  But the back-story is that technology allows work to be done with fewer employees and more machines in industrialized countries.  And those western workplaces will have competition from countries where it is not optimal to bring in new technologies.  The jobs created in developing countries will look like the same jobs that used to exist in the West.  But that’s not what’s going on.  Developing economies are just briefly immune to the more-expensive technology, for as long as those countries have low wages.

McKinsey also reviewed the history of technological change and found that there tends to be a net gain from new technologies.  The technology benefits someone — the buyer, investor, or some new profession or trade.  That someone spends money in a manner that creates different jobs, often by taking advantage of yetanother new technology.  Those 400 million lost jobs are likely to be the downside of a net-gain from technology.

This raises the difficult issue of things getting better on average.  As I described in an earlier post, if one million jobs are eliminated and a million-plus-one jobs are created, this is a net gain of one job.  In the minds of economists, this is considered progress.  However, looking at the blow-back from voters in industrialized countries, it appears that we must now pay very close attention to the millions who were on the downside of this net-gain.  And perhaps you know some of these people.

McKinsey was all over this issue:

“Midcareer job training will be essential, as will enhancing labour market dynamism and enabling worker redeployment.  These changes will challenge current educational and workforce training models…  Another priority is rethinking and strengthening transition and income support for workers caught in the cross-currents of automation.” (p. 8)

Within the human resources crowd, we are experienced at either enduring push-back from unions, or anticipating labour’s response with meaningful policies and initiatives.  But regardless of whether you are sympathetic to the underclass, or just trying to implement a new technology as quickly as possible, you can see that society’s success at adapting to this change will hinge on the personal experience of those who have lost.

Looking around us, it seems like we are all trying to get our footing, trying to figure out for that one special thing that sets ourselves apart.  You might not be told ahead of time what that thing should be.  In fact, you might need to figure it out entirely by yourself.  But those who are always working on their angle will have a better shot than those who are relying on prior wins.

Sure, there might be an employer who is loyal enough to set you up for success, or a program or union that will help with the job transition.  But as we take turns eliminating each other’s jobs, you might want to hold onto a dash of selfishness.  If you can bot-boss your way into a superior level of productivity, you might have a shot at being that one valued employee on the upside of a turbulent net-gain.

Either as a society, or as an individual, you need to write yourself into a story where you reached for the power cord and taught the corporate machine to work for you.

Ambiverts: Learning How to Be Two Very Different People

large bubble and soap suds on bright cobalt blue plate against w
Large bubble and soap suds on bright cobalt blue plate against white background. Photo courtesy of Lori Greig.

My favourite memory of a great party started at the end.  Five of us stayed behind after the others left, and the host said “hey, let’s clean the apartment right now.” We all played along like it was game, still laughing because we were tipsy.

One person loaded the dishwasher, another did the recycling.  My job was to round up the glasses and beer cans and wipe down every surface.  I remember having to avoid the vacuum cleaner, a big old thing that shone a bright light on everything it devoured in its path.

Because there were five of us, we were done in 15 minutes.  Then we washed our hands, cracked open one last cold one, and sat around chatting in a clean house just before bed.  It freed up several hours for more important things to do on a Sunday morning.  I was 19.

I’m an extreme extrovert, but after a big party I need my quiet time.  Just me and the dishes, doing our craft.  That is the moment when I understand introverts.

Over at Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, authors Karl Moore and Sara Avramovic describe the experience of those who are a blend of introvert and extrovert.  This hybrid identity has a new term – ambiverts.

In describing ambiverts, the authors point to a 2013 article in Psychological Science entitled “Rethinking the Extroverted Sales Ideal.”  That article runs an analysis of introvert-extrovert indicators against the sales performance in a call centre.  The study finds that those with an extraversion score of 4.5 out of 7 have the highest level of performance.  According to the study:

“Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interest and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”

It is not so much about having being the “best” personality but rather being adaptable.

The article notes that extraversion is a by-product of people having a need for stimulation, because the internal state of the extrovert is dissatisfied and bored with what’s going on inside.  They look to the outside world to get their kicks.  Introverts and ambiverts are closer to being satisfied or balanced in this regard.  Hence the act of selling is not some deep burning social need, and they can hang back a little, play it cool.  And sometimes that can close the deal.

There are nuances to the actual results of the regression analysis.  First, hours worked and job tenure are actually the biggest drivers of performance.  That is, if you work many hours per day and have many years of experience, with practice you become a lot better at your job.  But performance was also tested against the Big Five personality measures: Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Openness, and Neuroticism.  The traits were assessed on a straight-line and curved-line basis.

Just to get geeky about this for a few seconds, a straight-line measure would look at the two extremes of a personality indicator.  If there was a slope, the highest performance would be at one extreme or the other.  For example you need to be agreeable to be good at sales, but not all the time (it wasn’t statistically significant).  By contrast, if there was a curved-line relationship, and the curve was negative (downward), then there would be a “peak” in the middle, like a volleyball that tips just over the net.  And that is what they found with extraversion; that there is a sweet spot in the middle where you can sneak the volleyball over the net and score when you’re not expecting it.

Back at Quiet Revolution, Moore and Avramovic reported on interviews they conducted with over 50 ambiverts.  They note that being part-way between introversion and extraversion has its strengths and weaknesses.  In terms of strengths, ambiverts have the ability to move back and forth between two different modes, which may be exceptional if they are free to choose.  But ambiverts don’t always get to choose how they will behave.

In terms of internal motivations: “Ambiverts need to be both outgoing and independent, seemingly at random and sometimes with very little regard to what disposition would be best suited for the present moment.”  It may be ideal to sit quiet and listen right when someone else has something important to say.  But the ambivert could just-so-happen to be gearing up to assert an opinion of their own.  They could experience the worst of both worlds if their internal thermostat it out of synch with their environment.

The authors’ advice on how to be an effective ambivert is largely in taking initiative to match to their environment.  They recommend ambiverts control their environment, moving back and forth between alone-time and socializing at their choosing.  They recommend ambiverts plan ahead, building-in some alternation between social and alone moments.  And they recommend ambiverts learn to say no when something won’t work out for them.  All of these recommendations are very much about the person having autonomy, self-directed flexibility, and the independence to choose their mode.

Perhaps this is good advice for everyone?  Even though I’m an extrovert, I still need alone time.  It may be cleaning up after a party, or folding the laundry, or thinking through something private during my daily commute.  These moments are chosen and planned, by me.  Do introverts have an equivalent experience?  Do they occasionally need social time to share their deep reflections, connect with one person they trust, or ask for help from someone who can help them get what they need?  If I have this right, what is important is that they be able to choose.

Perhaps this is why power-sharing is so important, at work and at home.  We don’t entirely get to prescribe that people should behave one particular way at one precise time.  And we don’t get to choose which part of a person we want.  We can only invite the whole person into the room, and go with the flow.

Think about that during your spare time on Sunday morning.

BLT McMuffin Ruined My Morning and Possibly My Career

BLT McMuffin Ruined my Morning and Possibly my Career
steak mcwheel. Photo courtesy of jordanalexduncan.

The new Egg BLT McMuffin nearly ruined my life.  I have data, I can prove it.  Don’t get me wrong, it tastes good.  But if you’re trying to get some morning mojo by picking up something in the drive-thru, do not buy this sandwich.

The bacon is an inconsistent shape and flatness, and the lettuce has a springiness that makes things unstable.  After three bites, my McMuffin started to fall apart, and the mayo ended up on my shirt and pants.  My first experiment with this horrible sandwich was on the day I met my new top client for the very first time.  When the moment came, I started talking before she had finished her sentence.  Twice.  My first impression with a very powerful person happened the day that McDonald’s chose to ruin my career.  I hereby call for a boycott of the Egg BLT McMuffin.

Your morning mood, prior to arriving at work, has a measurable impact on your workplace effectiveness.

Nancy Rothbard from University of Pennsylvania wrote an meaningful article in July 2016 in Harvard Business Review.  Rothbard was summarizing a paper she co-authored, “Waking Up on the Right or Wrong Side of the Bed: Start-of-Workday Mood, Work Events, Employee Affect, And Performance,” by Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk.  Academy of Management Journal, 2011, Vol. 54, No. 5, 959-980.

The study looks at customer service representatives in an insurance company — which had good performance metrics to begin with — to which they added surveys about employees’ moods.  They found that people who started their day happy “…stayed that way throughout the day, and interacting with customers tended to further enhance their mood.”  Those with a good start “…provided higher-quality service: they were more articulate on the phone with fewer “ums” and verbal tics, and used more proper grammar.”  And I bet they don’t cut people off, either.

By contrast, those who started their day in a bad mood “…didn’t really climb out of it, and felt even worse by the end of the day…”  The negative moods caused people to take more breaks, and the breaks were significant, “…leading to a greater than 10% loss of productivity.”  In my case, I struggled in the bathroom trying to get the oil out of my shirt with paper towel and hand-soap.  I am paid to do metrics, not laundry.

What can managers do to help?  Rothbard suggests that not sending evening emails will improve the employees’ recovery time, improving the likelihood of a good mood the next day.  And managers “…can allow employees a little space first thing in the morning, for example to chat with colleagues before an early meeting.”  Beyond Rothbard’s comments I think there is much more that can be done.

Managers are first and foremost the leaders of the mood of their team.  They need to share inspiration and positivity, since their mood has a contagion-effect on those who look up to them.  The manager needs to decide to be in a good mood, organize their life accordingly, and use their emotional contagion for the better.  If you are a leader, you might not be free to control the home life of your staff.  But you can finesse your own morning routine, and boost your team indirectly with a contagion-effect.

In a helpful article in, Allison Davis suggests that in order to have an effective morning, we need to take care of morning tasks the night before.  Your gym bag, your lunch, and your wardrobe must be in place before you wake up.  You need to plan your week or month prior to arriving at work, so that you arrive with a clear game plan.  You need to think through your “worry” items ahead of time, then write them down, forget about them, and arrive at work with a clear mind.

For this reason I ensure my shirts are cleaned and pressed on the weekend.  All I need is for McDonald’s to put a McMuffin into my hands, and I’m ready to get to the office a few minutes early and rock my day.  Just another perfect morning, with a spotless shirt and an Egg McMuffin in my hand.

I once took a great course on emotional intelligence through Coursera, taught by Richard Boyatsis from Case Western Reserve University.  The course is called Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence, and you can find it here.  Emotional intelligence is a complex field because it’s not just about being positive.  There’s significant brain science involved, and your understanding how the brain works in aclinical sense has a big impact on understanding and managing your gut response.

My favorite take-away was the distinction between two modes of thought.  The sympathetic nervous system is the mode where you are under some stress.  This mode is good for rules compliance, cranking-out large volumes of identical outputs, and – in my experience – a certain kind of perseverance.  By contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system is a relaxed state where you are open to new ideas; grateful and hopeful; and superior at creative thinking, strategy, and looking at the future.

In terms of how to get into this positive state, you should know that you typically wake up that way.  As frustrations and annoyances pile up through your morning, your blood thickens with stress and your mind narrows.  You’re usually done by noon, ready for an afternoon producing large volumes of rules-compliant outputs.  You can minimize these frustrations if you can plan a good morning routine.

Managers under significant stress are routinely pulled into the sympathetic nervous system.  They become uncivil.  They display a lack of emotional intelligence as they rise through the ranks.  Their reduced ability to understand those unlike themselves has an adverse effect on inclusion.

To be a good leader you need to control your stress, not just on-the-fly, but also in terms of how your life is organized.  Your get-out-the-door errands are typically thoughtless and mundane.  Therefore, it is best to take care of them when your sympathetic nervous system is active anyway, such as on evenings and Fridays.

Early in your day and early in your week is the natural time for creating great new ideas.  By contrast, bad decisions are typically made on a Friday afternoon.  How many really bad ideas can you think of that happened on a Friday afternoon?

I can think of one.  The sandwich-that-shall-not-be-named.  The Egg BLT McMuffin from McDonald’s.  I’ll bet five bucks it was invented on a Friday afternoon.  Because that’s the worst idea that has ever existed.

Love Will Keep Us Together, Even at the Office

Hugging Zebras. By Nicole Doherty
Hugging Zebras. Photo courtesy of Nicole Doherty.

Sexual dynamics in the workplace can be troublesome even when they turn out well, and the worst-case scenarios can be a disaster.  Yet, if you think about your experience and look at the stories in the news about workplace sexual harassment, there is a recurring theme that harassment displays a lack of love.  We live in a pivotal era when harassment is rightly being called-out on a mass scale. At the same time, emerging research indicates that workplaces with love are higher functioning.  What shall we do?

This is a longer post than usual because the well of love is deep.

One of the main studies is aptly named “What’s Love Got To Do with It? The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting” by Sigal G. Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, Administrative Science Quarterly, May 29, 2014.

Barsade & O’Neill conducted research on the work environment in long-term care facilities.  Their research is summarized in a Harvard Business Review article, concluding that:

“Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.  They showed up to work more often.  …this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life, satisfaction, and fewer trips to the ER.”

For those skeptical that long-term care facilities are too focused on care to embody a larger workforce trend, these findings were repeated in a follow-up study of seven different industries.

Barsade & O’Neill make a distinction when describing companionate love, which is “…based on warmth, affection, and connection rather than passion…”

In analytics, data definitions are extremely important because people can apply a word to multiple meanings, causing errors before they run the numbers.

The School of Life has a four-minute YouTube video asserting that “love” is a troublesome word which creates confusion and unrealistic expectations.

The video notes that the ancient Greeks used three different words with better meaning: eros is passionate love, philia is a warmer and more-loyal type of friendship, and agape is a charitable love that we feel for those who have acted badly, are in pain, or whose faults and weaknesses are endearing.  I interpret that companionate love it is a blend of philia and agape.

In a Harvard Business Review article from 2016, Duncan Coombe discusses people’s tendency to use euphemisms to avoid saying the word love.  “You might prefer to use words like compassion, respect, or kindness.  That’s okay.  They all speak to the core idea, which is intentionally expressing concern and care for the well-being of another.” (emphasis added)

A lot of business leaders are nervous about love being connected to lust.  Barsade & O’Neill tell an interesting story:

“…we talked with employees at a large aerospace defense contractor who told us about a newly acquired division that had a strong culture of love.  Employees there routinely greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek. Visiting executives from the parent company were alarmed to see this gesture, finding it not only inappropriate but possibly an invitation to sexual harassment lawsuits. Although they initially tried to prohibit such displays of affection, ultimately they decided to allow the culture to flourish within the division…”

Reflecting on the different types of love, it is important to consider that passion and concern for others are two very different things.  Sexual harassment largely consists of advances made with little concern for the well-being of others.  One of the central problems with our sexual culture is that women are often perceived as objects devoid of perspective, opinions, and feelings.  The opposite of this would be a world in which men are sincerely curious about, and interested in, the perspectives and opinions of women in the workplace. 

Men are reading the news, reflecting on their past, and getting nervous about whether they are going to be accused of harassment.  But this is healthy, since they can’t feel nervous without cultivating a concern for the feelings of others.  It is not so much that our culture needs to be de-sexualized, rather that we should all be aspiring to greater concern for one another’s perspectives, emotional state, and general wellbeing.  As such, organizational love — a combination of philia and agape — complements a harassment-free workplace.

Andrew Rosen at has a humorous blog post, asserting that the co-worker crush is good for the office.  In brief, people work harder, dress better, communicate more clearly, and have more spring in their step getting out the door on Monday morning.  Mind you, this is a description of outward behaviours.  Entry-level attempts to create a harassment-free environment include prescriptions about how we ought to behave.  Don’t stare at a colleague’s cleavage, say firefighter not fireman, don’t ask people where they are from.  But you have to go deeper.

I once spent several years reading manuals on good manners.  I was raised by hippies and I needed to up my game.  It turns out that etiquette is the display of behaviours that adhere to certain rules.  By contrast, manners are good behaviours arising from a concern for the other person, with the goal to not cause harm or discomfort.

Looking closely at each prescribed behaviour, you learn that each of the correct behaviours are intended to prevent the social pain of others.  When you “get” manners, you do not get a high score for memorizing rules.  Instead, you learn to feel the other person’s feelings and choose your behaviour accordingly.  Once again, it comes back to love.

For example, I hold the door open for people all the time.  There’s a secure door in my workplace, and I feel the other’s person’s frustration about having to fumble for their key-card.  I put a small effort into relieving them of this frustration, not because of rules, but because I sincerely want them to be free of discomfort.  I think they know I feel this way, and that may be why I have never been asked me to stop opening the door for strong women.

Once you know yourself a little better, and get to know others as well, you also have a shot at influencing the collective wellbeing.  One of the books that Coombe referenced is Love Works (by Joel Manby) which veers into religion-based love.  I was starting to think this was taking me off-topic.  But then Coombe noted:

“I have previously suggested that love is indeed the underlying impulse behind corporate citizenship and sustainability. We believe that love is a much-needed antidote to many of the challenges facing our communities and planet.”

That is, if we reach into our hearts to find motivation to make a better world, we can’t help ourselves to live our values and apply our best efforts.  Coombe noted:

“…founder-led businesses, family businesses, and the military are where we have seen the most frequent references to (and comfort with) love. Why is this? Our understanding is that love requires high levels of personalization — it is the opposite of the detached corporate automaton.”

If you did a double-take when you saw references to the military having a lot of love, remember our more nuanced Greek definitions.  Philia is a warmer and more-loyal type of friendship, which includes the collective sense of brotherhood.  As Shakespeare described it in a speech in Henry V, “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”  Let’s love each other as a group, march forward into our best efforts, and share our victory or defeat, together.  This loving sense of sisterhood is also noticeable in the #metoo movement.

It’s not all unicorns and cupcakes.  Some people have had a difficult history with love.  Bringing up love in the workplace can make some people uncomfortable, and preaching to such people about love doesn’t work, according to Coombe.  This makes sense because you would only connect with them if you were considerate about where they were coming from.

Love is something you can give; it is not something you can ask for. But, if you add a little nuance, watch your manners, and give freely of your understanding and compassion, maybe a little love can make your workplace better.