Practices to practice to “Make Meaningful Work”

Our Mission for Making Meaningful Work consists of eight best practices that help us frame and answer the question of how to make meaningful work. We keep these practices in mind throughout our day-to-day project work. They help us and the people with whom we work to choose a healthier approach to work and achieve sparkle by gaining clarity on our projects’ intent.

The world needs big thinkers and big dreamers — people who are willing to look beyond the day-to-day operations and current constraints and look for ways to inspire.

If you want your work to be more meaningful, we encourage you to adopt these best practices on your projects. They will help you to discover how you can make meaningful work. We’re including some exercises that will help you learn how to put this guidance into practice. You can adapt these best practices to your needs or supplement them, as necessary.

1. Maintain positivity and create flow instead of taking a negative approach.

Businesses are often conservative by nature and avoid taking risks. But the world needs big thinkers and big dreamers — people who are willing to look beyond the day-to-day operations and current constraints and look for ways to inspire.

Practice: List five positives in a situation, then discuss them with others.

2. Listen actively first and learn. Be present before sharing your opinions.

Forming relationships with other people means viewing them as our equals — human beings who can contribute actively to our conversations.

Practice: Listen before speaking to better understand the other person first. Remember, you have two ears with which to practice listening.

3. Be aware of your own biases.

In identifying assumptions, our team should take a pause from our work to reflect on the evidence we’ve gathered, the approaches we’ve taken, the experiments our project has generated, and our team’s own reasoning. This will help us to identify our biases and open our minds to external criticism.

Practice: List five assumptions or fears that you need to challenge, then discuss them with others.

4. Understand and define the problem you’re solving before proposing solutions.

In defining our intentions, team members should take the time to interact with one another and our stakeholders and share existing knowledge. We should develop a plan and agree upon our project’s focus, exploring how this will determine the quality of project outcomes.

Practice: List five attributes of a problem, then list contributors to each attribute.

5. See the magic in the nuances. Deconstruct extreme statements and look for useful nuances.

When sharing observations, our team should come together, read stories about people’s behavior, and record them in the team’s collective memory. This routine will enable us to identify surprising or deeply memorable situations that deserve further analysis by the whole team.

Practice: Consider an extreme statement, then list five questions for which you would like answers.

6. Recognize similarities before differences and find commonality among people, roles and teams.

When people experience positive emotions, we should take advantage of opportunities to bridge those emotions quickly to another positive moment, then link up all this goodness through design. If people experience negative emotions, we must find opportunities to devise techniques that let us address them. We need to be able to assess people’s feelings — from moment to moment — and understand what approaches get the best from the people around us.

Practice: Introduce yourself to people on other teams you need to work with, then learn more about what their job entails.

7. Engage in continuous, life-long learning. Pursue opportunities for incremental improvement instead of seeking massive changes.

To learn and improve, we need to get out of our cubicles, get out of the building, and understand how our products and services fit into real people’s lives. To communicate our understanding of human needs, we need to capture rich stories in the voice of the customer, as well as photos and videos. We must encourage businesses to foster constant curiosity about how they can serve people better.

Practice: Read at least one article per week, then share what you’ve learned with others.

8. Engender trust. Model being open, trusting people.

People often perceive trust once it’s already present, but the way we build trust is often unconscious and instinctive. Our ability to build trust comes directly from our ability to be vulnerable and accept other ways of doing things. While it may sound counterintuitive, one way to start building trust between people is to start trusting others before you have their trust.

Practice: Identify a task that you haven’t delegated because you don’t trust that someone else would do it as well as you.

With continued practice, following these best practices strengthens a project’s narrative, by helping you connect the dots and understand the connections between them.

Identifying Core Elements of Making Meaningful Work

Sensemaking [lets you] gain clarity on the overall narrative and encourage focus, intention, and continuous learning.

We would like to learn about you, your projects, your roles, and the problems you face to help us identify and clarify more of the core elements that make meaningful work.

Some core elements of making meaningful work include the following:

  • Reflection on yourself and the people you work with
  • Curiosity to help you gain other perspectives and see the benefits of anticipating and looking forward
  • Listening to make sense of project stories and understand the people around you — including listening to yourself and the team members and partners you work with — and making sense of the contexts for which you design
  • Sense making to gain clarity on the overall narrative and encourage focus, intention, and continuous learning
  • Connecting the dots using data from multiple sources to help define and connect feedback loops
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