happinessThey say you’re supposed to learn one new thing every day. I’m lucky enough to work in a place where I learn a ton of new things every day, which is a big part of what keeps me motivated and engaged. One of the things I didn’t expect to learn today: what do a hotelier from California, two Nobel prize winning economists, and the King of Bhutan have in common?


I watched Chip Conley’s excellent TED Talk this morning on the way in to work. Much like Tony Hsieh, who recently shared a stage with our Co-CEO Daniel, Chip has zeroed in on how a culture of happiness drives his company’s bottom line. He was inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which helped him to re-imagine his company and helped them triple in size even during the dotcom bust (Bay Area hotels experienced the largest drop in US hotel history during the bust).

I love the Einstein quote that he uses in his talk:

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. — Albert Einstein

Chip even stakes out the intellectually dangerous position of arguing with Einstein — and then wins the argument conclusively. His point is that we are merely measuring the mundane when we focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) instead of on what makes life (and work!) meaningful. He’s backed up by none other than Robert Kennedy, in a famous speech from March 1968:
Robert Kennedy

The gross national product (of a country) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. — Robert Kennedy

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

Chip spends a chunk of the talk on Gross National Happiness, a global movement to balance the mundane measurements of GDP with the critical evaluation of the extraordinary that makes life worth living. The concept was first articulated by Bhutan’s former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and served as a unifying vision for their five year strategic plan. The movement’s legacy can be seen in French President Sarkozy turning to two Nobel prize winning economists to measure his country’s happiness (see coverage from The Economist and The Independent).

Performance Management: Measuring the Mundane

This resonated really strongly for me. We spend a lot of time here at Rypple thinking about measuring performance in the workplace, a somewhat nebulous concept with connections into coaching, culture, feedback, leadership, productivity, etc. Most of the existing approaches to this problem are the essence of measuring the mundane: extremely expensive, batch processes that kill productivity for months at a time in order to produce volumes of data that server little real purpose. You could almost substitute “Performance management” for “gross national product” in Kennedy’s quote and not change another word.

So how to go from the mundane to the extraordinary? We don’t have the answer yet, but we’re making big strides toward it. We think it has a lot to do with continuous feedback and conversations. We’re pretty sure it involves establishing metrics and ways to measure the concepts of mastery, autonomy, and purpose from Dan Pink’s work. We’re hoping that you’ll help us figure this out by participating in the Agile People Manifesto project, which aims to do for management what the original Agile Manifesto did for software development.

I’ll end with the same thought-provoking (and soul searching) question that Chip ends on: What one thing can you start counting today that would actually be meaningful in your life? Answer in the comments below!

Jumping for joy photo by Éole. Licensed under CC.