Earlier this year I published my new year's resolution to invest more time in my professional development/personal enrichment by reading six books related to our industry or business in general. In that same blog I encouraged each of you to also devote increased time to your own professional development in 2012. In each of the books I read, I am listening for principles or lessons we can apply to our roles as creative leaders. Upon finishing Outliers: The Story of Success, it wasn't abruptly clear how this book supports that role, though I found great connection between the book and my role as a parent. Following some reflection there was a key principle that stood out: the idea that there are three qualities that work must have for people to find that work satisfying: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward.

Before I delve into those three things, let me state that I found this book fascinating. Gladwell provides numerous case studies to explain why success is not based on a person's intelligence and ambition but rather is based on things such as birth date, culture and class. For example, a large majority of Canadian hockey stars are born in the first three months of the year and very, very few are born in the last three. This is because the junior hockey leagues' age requirements run the calendar year, and in hockey, "physical maturity" matters. The older you are when the season begins, the better your chances of being successful. Similarly, many of the most successful computer software tycoons were all born between 1953 and 1955 (Steve Jobs, Paul Allen, Bill Gates, the Sun Microsystems founders). According to Gladwell, their success was in part due to being "the perfect age" in 1975 when the personal computer revolution began. The book also provides explanations as to why Asian students excel over American students in math, why many Jewish immigrants' children became lawyers and doctors, and how class impacts parenting styles which impacts a child's ability to succeed.

Three qualities of work that create satisfaction:

  • Autonomy: Are there opportunities to delegate that would empower others? Do team members have enough personal responsibility? Or have we put so many checks and balances into place that individuals don't feel independent in their work?
  • Complexity: Do team members have a good mix of complexity? Are they regularly feeling challenged by their work? Are they challenged by the right tings in their work? Is the challenging work spread across the team?
  • Connection between effort and reward: It's often beyond our control to tie monetary rewards to effort--or the connection is lost because too much time eclipses between the effort and reward. Other forms of reward, that hopefully you can have access to, include: recognition (public and to senior people, as well as peers as appropriate) and time (comp time, come in late, leave early). In addition, private appreciation is always well received. When was the last time you gave a team member a hand-written thank you note for their efforts? (and if you can also include a small gift card for lunch, Amazon or iTunes, even better).

For the intrigue and entertainment factors, this book gets an A. For applicability to the creative leader, a C--it's not going to dramatically change the way you do business, but it is going to make you think. And you're going to like what you're thinking about.

Don't forget to invest in your own professional development--join us in Chicago April 24 & 25 for Beyond the Creative 2!

In her role as Cella General Manager, Jackie Schaffer has consulted for Fortune 500 clients with more than 400 in-house team members and for teams at mid-sized businesses, government entities, and educational institutions with teams as small as four designers. Jackie's management competencies lie in operations assessments, financial management, and talent management, and she has a deep passion for balancing the creative and business needs of in-house shops while providing fulfilling opportunities for the team. Prior to joining Cella, she directed an international team of 80 creatives. During her tenure, she spearheaded the launch and development of the group's India-based team, built an interactive media division, and executed against a new visual identity.