Freedom fuels the ‘pursuit of happiness’

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

-The unanimous Declaration of the 13 states of America July 4, 1776

How many countries in the world enshrine in their founding documents that one of the most important purposes of their government is to ensure that its citizens have the opportunity to pursue happiness? Just what were our Founding Fathers thinking about when they signed on to the Declaration of Independence?

A quick lesson in political history is in order.

Prior to the 18th century Enlightenment, most citizens were subject to autocratic rule either through feudalism, the divine right of kings, or religious establishments.
Great thinkers like John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau laid the philosophical groundwork by redefining the central role that individuals can play as a source of power in government. With that discussion they articulated certain rights that should belong to any individual.

So what has this got to do
with innovation?

The cover story of Time magazine the week of July 4 documented the fact that Americans are hardwired to pursue our own happiness. We are all children of immigrants, immigrants who founded a nation after crossing an ocean and leaving the security of their homes. Whether it was genetics or the happenstance of their environment, they bravely departed from their known world and moved to America.
Any individual willing to do something like that has cast security to the wind and proved to have an entrepreneurial bent.

Established polling of citizens throughout the world has determined that most people think the notion of starting a new business is a bad idea. Three countries ranked starting a new business as highly desirable: America, Canada and Australia. They were all founded by immigrants.

America is the country that got us to the moon; won World War II; implemented the Marshall plan to save Europe; built the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building; and survived the collapse of our economic system in the 1930s. Americans don’t quit or give up. We take on new challenges. We do not spend a lot of time looking back at failures.

As heirs to those entrepreneurial minded immigrants, we are genetically hardwired to seek challenges.

In America we have a pretty straightforward report card to determine whether or not we are succeeding, and that remains: making money. The Time magazine article points out that research suggests that rich isn’t just better, it’s much better!

Whether we want to admit it or not, we spend time on Facebook trying to make other people think we look happier, are more attractive and are more successful. This in turn translates into the fact that about 76 percent of people using Facebook do not feel better about themselves. They’re always comparing themselves to others who appear to be doing more interesting and challenging things.

Are we all condemned to be the next Great Gatsby?

Hardly. If we think of what motivates Americans to make money then we can create environments that enable innovation.

If Americans are hardwired to seek happiness by continually accomplishing goals and taking on new and innovative challenges, does that change the role of the leader?
I want to lock up the next CEO who tells me their job is to motivate employees! (If they post signs in their places of employment meant to motivate employees, my temptation is to tear them down.)

We’re not recognizing a fundamental fact about Americans: they want challenges; they want to succeed; they want to make money. So get out of their way!

Every CEO, every business leader, every team leader needs to ask themselves: are they creating the right environment to unleash the creative entrepreneurial spirit and inherent desire of employees to seek happiness through creative work?

Recent studies show that about 70 percent of Americans are not happy in their jobs. Is it any wonder? We develop spy systems such as video cameras; time clocks and other signs of mistrust based upon the fact that we think employees do not want to accomplish great things in their jobs.

So here’s a basic test that reveals whether a company has that kind of work environment. Do a “Fresh Eyes Audit.” This was recommended by noted author and former co-CEO of Kahler Slater Jill Morin in her outstanding book: “Better Make It Real.”

She suggests you need a stranger who unobtrusively can observe what’s going on in your business or organization. We cannot see the forest through the trees ourselves.
That outsider should ask these questions:

  1. Can every employee tell any customer in 90 seconds or less why your company exists?
  2. Is your company practicing the tools of innovation that require full involvement of employees and tap their brainpower? Those tools ensure that the ego of leadership does not get in the way of the inherent desire of employees to succeed.
  3. How many new products or services arise from the homework and contributions of the employees every year that help your company succeed in the marketplace?
  4. How are suggestions for the riskier innovative initiatives received? Do people say things like “we’ve tried that before, it’ll never work, here’s what’s wrong with it?” Or is there a willingness to test new ideas on customers to see if there’s a market? Prove it with examples.

If you had children, did you have to discipline them into learning to speak? Did you have to offer them bribes? Language represents the most complex activity we will ever learn as human beings. As a parent you did what a good parent should do: model good verbal skills and provide reading materials and opportunities for them to learn. Why would employers not do the same when they become adults in the workplace?

The tools of innovation help facilitate employee involvement in the innovation process. Guess what? I have led organizations that were tested anonymously for employee satisfaction. I found that the employees love it when you trust them and give them the tools they need to succeed. Most importantly, your company will be composed of employees who are a lot happier than competitors’ employees, and that has the potential to translate into revenues on the bottom line.

Remember our wise Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence. Go forth and provide the tools of innovation to your employees so they can use their natural inclination and talents to innovate and grow your company.

Dan Steininger is the president of Biz Starts Milwaukee and the president of Steininger & Associates, which teaches the tools of innovation. He can be reached at: Dan@BizStartsMilwaukee.com

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