Monday, December 01, 2014

Review of "The Progress Principle" by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer - Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagment, and Creativity At Work

It is always a good sign in reading a book when the early chapters prompt me to think about colleagues and friends to whom I will want to send a copy of the book.  Such was the case when I began reading "The Progress Principle."  Teresa Amabile and her husband, Steven Kramer, have assembled the results of in-depth research into the small wins that make the difference between effective workplace environments and those that are less than optimal.

Using sanitized journal entries by individuals who noted the interactions with team members and management in a variety of companies, the authors present a very convincing case for paying attention to the inner emotional life of workers as a key metric for predicting success of the team and the company.

In analyzing over 12,000 journal entries, Amabile and Kramer describe the challenges that a manager faces in encouraging and pointing out small and incremental steps of progress in a team setting.  The evidence shows that many mangers and leaders assume that highly qualified team members do not need this kind of "coddling," when in fact every human being needs to sense that what they are doing day by day is contributing something of value, and that their contribution is both noticed and appreciated.

One very practical aspect of this book is the discussion about using checklists to ensure that a manager is tracking both catalysts and inhibitors to productivity and satisfaction among their team members.  The authors cite the work of a very successful surgeon who found tremendous improvement in his rate of success when he developed and employed checklists to use in surgery:

"If you are like most of the surgeons that Gawande tried to convince to use his checklist - or even like Gawande himself - you will think the checklist is beneath you.  Surely you are far too expert to need such a simplistic crutch.  But it's precisely because you are an expert and therefore have so many things to think about, that taking five minutes for the checklist can be so important.  We know from our own experience, and from that of many leaders we have spoken to, just how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the pressures of work and to lose track of those little successes that will eventually lead to that next breakthrough.  It's even easier to ignore those little setbacks that can derail." (Pages 172-3)

These insights align perfectly with similar points that are raised in the recently published "The Organized Mind" by Dr. Daniel J. Livitin.

White Rhino Report Review of "The Organized Mind"

He proposed that in an age of information overload, the more we can successfully outsource data to external tools and instruments - like checklists - the more we can make use of cognitive energy for important decision-making and creative thinking.  As a pilot, I was trained early in the game to use checklists to make sure that nothing was omitted in doing a pre-flight a inspection or a run through of all of the cockpit instruments prior to taxiing for takeoff.

In collecting and commenting on these anecdotes from a variety of companies, the authors have made a significant contribution to our understanding of the small daily steps that we can take in making ourselves and our colleagues more productive and more satisfied in our work as we make progress toward the completion of significant achievements.

This book will be a good addition to the personal and professional library of anyone who strives for excellence in their work.  I am off the the Post Office to send a copy of this book to a protegee working as a manger in a start-up company in New Orleans.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Susan Cain in QUIET talks about how working in teams can actually hinder the progress as it does not take into account the personality types of the individuals who comprise the team. That is just a simplified overview but I think it is an important work to consider when talking about teams.