Joy in Work – a Societal Innovation

When I first saw “Societal Innovation” I thought “What’s that?” Google gave me “good for society and enhances society’s capacity to act”.  I added in my mind “and enhances society’s capacity to survive”.

So maybe there’s broadly two categories of societal innovation: Technical Innovation and Social Innovation. Dave Kerr (@dave_m_kerr) recently pointed out to me a great example of recent innovation that fits the first category:  the LifeStraw produced by a Swiss based Danish company, Vestergaard Frandsen, and cited in Tania Ellis’s book “The New Pioneers”.  This is a textile business which used to produce work uniforms but now specialises in disease control textiles & other innovative life saving products & concepts. The LifeStraw is a 25cm long water filtration straw which – at a price of less than 6 dollars for governments or international relief organisations – can be used by a person for up to a whole year to turn most dirty water into safe drinking water!

Certainly an innovation that enhances society’s capacity to survive in many parts of the world, and at such low cost.

But I’m more taken by the concept of “social innovation”, particularly as far as the world of work is concerned. I’m a great fan of the work of Dr W Edwards Deming, and I heard him speak in Nottingham in 1988. One phrase that really stuck with me is “Just think what this country could be if people could take joy in their work”.  It really ought to be the job of leaders to create the environment where people can do exactly that.

I have been privileged in my work to witness organisations that live this message. Leaders start to engage everyone to improve end to end processes, increasing both effectiveness and efficiency dramatically, but being most struck by the excitement and involvement generated amongst the people who work for them. People say things like “at last, my boss is treating me like I have a brain!” “At last, I’ve been able to develop ideas I’ve had for improvement ever since I joined!” “At last, I look forward to coming to work!”

Instead of imposing “management control”, these leaders have released people from their shackles and move instead to “leading the system”: giving direction and meaning to people’s work and then getting out of the way to allow improvement to happen.  And this enables a “chain reaction” of events which impacts technical innovation as well.

Going back to Dr Deming at Nottingham, someone asked a question “Does your philosophy apply to Research and Development organisations?” Dr Deming replied “Any good research has to be done by people who have joy in their work[1]”.

There is no way that the LifeStraw would have emerged from a company where people did not find joy in work.

21st Century leaders have a responsibility. For societal innovation to take place, for work that is good for society and enhances society’s capacity to act to emerge, they have to create places where people can engage and genuinely take joy from what they do.

[1] Henry Neave – “The Deming Dimension” p 210


About Nigel Clements

My work is about using the principles and methodology of Continuous Improvement to help teams and organisations seek practical changes for better performance. I particularly enjoy working in ways that teams at all levels can apply immediately to their situation. My expertise is centred on using the Deming Management Method to help organisations examine the way they operate, make changes based on their own experiment and learning, and become self-sufficient in creating a better future based on a better theory. Training, coaching, and consulting in systems thinking, better performance management based on understanding statistical variation, continuous improvement, and better ways of working helping everyone find “joy in work”. I am a very experienced facilitator of learning and development events, making them engaging, fun, and highly interactive. I will help you make sense of Systems Thinking, SPC, Performance Management, Lean, Six-Sigma, the Voice of the Customer, and the management of change in ways that you can employ directly.
This entry was posted in Societal Innovation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Joy in Work – a Societal Innovation

  1. Joy in anyones work is powerful but so is passion and commitment to see good or change occur, it is these that make societal innovation work

  2. Ken Eastwood says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I think freedom from command and control and trust in the workplace, with a focus on what is achieved rather than ‘rules’ all help too. New ways of working including flexible working and results orientated work-styles change the work dynamic. Visionary 21st century leaders have the opportunity to do things differently (and to do different things) and although not widely acknowledged (at least in the public sector) it is these approches that support innovation and will contribute to social good.

  3. Dave Gaster says:

    Another useful dimension Nigel, the question of ‘how do you teach us to be innovative’ led me to the comfort and freedom to talk in the workplace as the starting point. Placing joy in work gets there in a stronger way…. how can you have ‘joy in work’ if its not a safe, listening place to begin with.

    Innovation is easy in a trusting place…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s