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How Love and Justin Bieber Transformed the Way I Think About “Work”

Heart Intelligence and The Way We Are

How Love and Justin Bieber Transformed the Way I Think About “Work”

Heart Intelligence and The Way We Are

Hi. My name’s Cara. I grew up in the Bronx. I’ve been living in Portland for 14 years. I have a PhD in Rhetoric and Cultural Studies and have been working for the last 12 years in strategic leadership positions in non-profit, focusing on content, organizational culture, strategic planning, rebranding, and innovation. I’m what some of the kids call “legit.”

For others, though, maybe not so much. And that’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about love, work, innovation and play. But mostly about love. And people think love is squishy or new agey or should be reserved for family or just plain weird. So,they also sometimes think that I am squishy, new agey, and/or just plain weird.

But here’s the thing. When I was in graduate school, I read bell hooks on love and pedagogy. “Teachers talking about teaching as a loving interaction,” I thought, “very dicey stuff.” But it was the stuff that resonated for me. I knew—and not in my head, but with my mind, the seat of which is my heart—that, through teaching, I was trying to create more loving communities and that teaching, in and of itself, was a loving endeavor. Years later, I worked at an organization whose mission was to create more loving communities (no, not the stated mission, but that was what we were doing) and every time I talked about the importance of engaging around the creation of a more loving work community, I lost credibility. By the time I left this position, my credibility was seriously in question. Because I was interested in love.

An Aside

What do you think about Justin Bieber? Make a list. Anything. Do you like him or not? Why? Why not? What’s happening to him? What’s he doing? I’m coming back to this.

Back to Business

Given this love thing and all that it’s brought me, I’m doing some exploration about what I want to do next. I’ve been taking lots of meetings, in which I present myself as a humanist who wants to work from a place of ability and strength, but within the context of a loving environment. I’m reclaiming my credibility AND the L word.

Most organizations are pretty excited about this. They say things like,“Perfect! We’re looking for employees who are curious,who can generate excitement, who are keenly aware of and can skillfully work within a dynamic organizational culture.” They tell me, “we want folks with creative intelligence (***btw, if you haven’t you should totally read Bruce Nussbaum’s book on the topic), who can collaboratively problem solve, but also think outside of the box.” I’ve heard, “we want employees who can make us laugh, who are smart, human, authentic AND vulnerable. Don’t forget, you should know that you don’t know everything.”

Organizations are looking for a thing. They want to work with folks who embody that thing because these kinds of folks can help them build culture,relationships, work, product, etc.. That thing is what I want to unpack,here. What is it? How can it be helpful? Why do we want it and where is it?

For now, I’m calling that “thing,” heart intelligence. It’s an embodied intelligence, so there’s no need to measure it. It’s a technology of sorts—or what Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics calls a “techne:” a knowledge of making or doing as opposed to a disinterested understanding. So, it’s not theoretical knowledge (theoria) which resides in your mind and is reserved for discourse. It’s not practical knowledge (praxis), which resides in “direction” and is about doing. Techne resides in your body and is about making. Heart Intelligence is a techne, it’s an embodied knowing and, with it, I argue, one can innovate, lovingly. Again, the Biebs is my case study. I’ll get to that soon.


Heart intelligence is an activated knowing, a wisdom, characterized by:

  1. Compassion, for example, the belief that people ARE doing the best that they can do (even if we think they are not doing enough). Compassion is also the understanding that we are, all of us, seeking connection;
  2. Generosity/Warm-heartedness, for example, in the work place, a commitment to being hard on issues and soft on people (because love is about honesty, support, and kindness—not niceities);
  3. Vulnerability, as Brene Brown defines it, “daring to show up and let yourself be seen—instead of sitting on the side lines and judging;
  4. Willingness to contemplate love (there’s no definition for this, but the poet and scholar David Whyte refers to this willingness in his book: The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship);
  5. Curiosity, for example, about what people think, feel, why they do what they do, why you do what you do, how you can, together, support the mission of your organization (Scotty Mclennon—at the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford talks about the importance of curiosity).

I tried these ideas out last year at a conference in Chicago—the annual conference of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. And I discovered the following:

  1. People were scared to talk about love. This suggested to me that “love,” and/or “heart” is an important place to demystify and utilize.
  2. My colleagues were more animated and more curious at this panel than I’d seen them be at any other panel in six years. And this suggested to me that there was/is a great deal of energy for this conversation.
  3. During the course of this conversation, we didn’t reference theory or practice but talked about love as a technical intelligence, an embodied and activated wisdom; a craft that, if practiced, could transform organizational culture (this is where I came up with the techne idea).

So, heart intelligence—the techne characterized by compassion, warm-heartedness, generosity, vulnerability, willingness and curiosity—is a rich and nourishing place to explore. Folks are scared of it, but also have a lot of enthusiasm for this “thing,” that can essentially transform workplace and workplace practice.

Justin Bieber: A Case Study

I asked you early on to consider Justin Bieber. I’ve considered him a lot. My two children love Justin Bieber. I do too. In fact, I pawned my wedding rings to purchase tickets to his 2012 concert (this is, I’m afraid, a different post). So, I’ve been following him very closely in the news this past year.

I want to ask you to reflect on your response to my initial prompt that you think about JB. Now, I want you to imagine you and I were hired by the JB team as consultants to work on brand advocacy, customer loyalty and social media. How would we utilize our heart intelligence to develop questions and find solutions that we might not otherwise access?

Activating heart intelligence, we might ask: why do people hate him? Why do they love him? What is happening to him? What will happen to him? And what does that tell us about our culture?

Conversation regarding these questions would emerge in the spirit of compassion, connectivity, being hard on issues and soft on people, knowing people do the best they can (so without blame), authentic curiosity (without an outcome already in mind).

We haven’t, of course, actually been hired by JB’s team, so I don’t know the answers to those questions, but we might develop deeper questions like, for example:

· What are the impacts of his actions on our youth (not how do we sell more effectively to youth?)?

· Where is he and what is he capable of, given his situation and our cultural context (not, how do we get him to stop acting so crazy?)?

· What is “good,” for him and what is “good,” for his customers (not how do we make more money?)?

· What kinds of knowledge do we need to make available to both him and his customers to ensure that goodness (how do we make good things happen in the world)?

· Who are these customers, what are they consuming (gossip, for example) why? Is that “damaging or helpful?”

The point of these questions? Well, if we can open ourselves up to them, we may discover that working on brand, customer loyalty and social media can do more than simply increase revenue and/or credibility. Approaching these issues with heart intelligence can also help us build healthier and more loving communities. The bottom line is multiple—money (yes, this is why we’ve been hired) and love. And maybe at some point we can address that money issue in a way that is more heart-felt as well.

Look for my next post on what I learned when I pawned my wedding rings to purchase Justin Bieber tickets!