The Most Important Things in Life
I work with organisations who go beyond the boundaries of what’s considered possible in companies to help them become even better. Let me know if you work in such a place.
Two years ago, I started working with one of the most awesome and unique companies I know: Krankikom in Duisburg, Germany. Krankikom creates “creative digital solutions”. What’s unique about them?
- Krankikom is 19 years old, has about 100 people now, and in all those years only two people voluntarily left the company.
- In most cases, they hire friends and family and then find jobs for them within the company. They are the most diverse crowd of talent and personalities I’ve ever seen working in one company (and I’ve worked with corporations more than a hundred times their size).
- Apart from creating great apps and websites, their biggest asset is their capability to build human connections. They do this not only internally within Krankikom and with their clients, but also with their clients’ clients. They don’t just build websites, they build online identities.
- These connections are their amplifier for growth. As they create a context inside the company for their own people to grow, they create and nurture a context around them where new clients and projects grow. Over the past year alone, they took on two projects that were completely new and outside of their comfort zone. This happened because they built such trusting relationships with their clients.
How does that work? Alexander Kranki, who founded the company in 1995 after quitting a successful job in a large German corporation, wanted to create a workplace where he and others could be happy and enjoy their jobs. He authors an internal company blog, and this week, he wrote about what’s valuable to him:
The Most Important Things In Life.
I’ve written earlier that financial success doesn’t give a company its purpose, although it doesn’t work without it. It’s similar to the fact that human beings can’t live without water and blood – which on their own don’t make life worth living. And this is a good metaphor, I think.
Now I’m writing about our purpose, and the goals we’re trying to achieve as a company. After working together through the economics of our company, I can now relax and write freely without being misunderstood. When I say “Most important to me is, …” or “This is essential: …”, that doesn’t mean “…and I don’t care about money.” And still:
“Money has never made anyone rich.”
—Seneca junior, Roman statesman and philosopher.
Apparently some things never change.
Apparently some things never change.
Money is an essential but not sufficient condition for what success means to me. Financial success opens a frame, in which we can pursue our goals. The more economic success we have, the more freely we can move within that frame. Yet if we rank the things important to us beneath economic success, the whole thing wouldn’t make sense any more.
What is important to me?
To explain that, I’ll start by phrasing it provocatively:
Work is (one of) the most important thing(s) in life!
You won’t find this statement in the public mainstream – one which says, we work for a living, but we don’t live for working. We go to work to earn the money you need to enjoy the rest of your time; the “real” life.
I think this mainstream mentality is completely absurd.
You can’t give up such a big part of your lifetime and define it as “non-life”. If you take away childhood and retirement, for about 40 years or so (for every full-time employee) work is the single biggest activity by far. Nobody can just ignore what happens there. If I don’t enjoy work, I don’t enjoy most of my adult life.
I probably won’t enjoy my non-working time either. Whoever suffers most of the day on the job, won’t come home relaxed and happy. Nobody has a switch in their head to go from “work: dull” to “free time: cool” in a moment. We only have one head and we’re taking what’s in there everywhere we go.
Even more: everything we experience is shaping the brain in that head. What we do at work shapes us. If we’re frustrated most of the time while we’re awake, don’t feel valued, don’t enjoy what we do and act cynically, then it is very likely that we keep doing that for the rest of our time. Our brain becomes wired by these patterns of behaviour and experience. We learn to feel bad most of the time, we internalise that. It becomes part of who we are.
That was the most important reason why I decided to leave a large industrial coporation where I had started a promising career. Even if I had managed to move up into a really influential position (which I might have done in the course of a work life), the journey would have deformed me substantially over the years. It would have turned me into someone else, someone I didn’t want to become—at the very least an asshole, and potentially a mentally unstable one. The likelihood of getting depression in these circumstances is very high.
I met such people at the big corporation I worked in, department heads, directors, board members: few of those people seemed happy. They had a lot of money, beautiful houses, flashy cars, adequate wives (they were all men), power and influence; but there was one thing they did not have: joy in their lives. When they sat together, even with strangers of a similar kind, they quickly started to complain. How bad everything was, and how their convenient salary could never compensate for all they had to endure. In the end I thought: Their salaries are not success bonuses, but compensation for pain.
But luckily I knew things could be different. My childhood was very happy, probably because I had happy parents. Both worked and worked hard, because they loved what they did and identified themselves with their jobs. They were not on any board, they were a journalist and a primary school teacher. When they couldn’t work anymore and had to retire, both of them were very sad.
In my parents house, I observed work to be something that was great, exciting, releasing, fulfilling, and something that made them happy. They earned money for it, but that was more seen as something needed to be able to live adequately. It was not important if it was a little more or less, it was always enough. They didn’t need to buy status symbols to compensate for suffering frustration, as I observed later in other work places.
The contrast between these two happy people who were my parents and those ulcer-troubled, ever unhappy managers in large corporations essentially shaped my imagination of how work should be, what work means for the personal well-being of every individual. Condensed to one sentence:
Work must be enjoyable!
If work becomes enjoyable, if we enjoy how we spend most of the time in our lives, the learning spiral works the other way around: then happiness is wired into our brain, and we start our free time with good feelings. I think everybody owes it to themselves to make that happen.
We need to use this as a measurement to assess all strategic ideas in how we build our company: Is a structure, a direction, or an organsational change that we have we´ve chosen, helping to improve our preconditions for an enjoyable workplace?
This is the deepest core belief that leads me in our company. More about that next week. Until then, as always, and this time amplified by today’s topic: Enjoy your work!
I love this post because it aligns so well with my tagline:
You Deserve To Love What You Do.