Why do people consider sports fun and exciting but view work as boring and burdensome? My longtime love of sports prompted me to look more closely at what made me enjoy playing them so much. Maybe I could gain an insight or two that could help turn work into a much more positive experience. Take basketball, for example. When I ask people what the most fun thing to do is in basketball, a few say “passing the ball.” Most say “shooting the ball.”
“When is it most fun to shoot the ball?” I ask.
“In a game,” is the response.
“When during the game?”
“When there are two seconds left and my team is 1 or 2 points behind or the score is tied.”
“What kind of basketball game?”
“In the championship game, in the NBA finals.”
Most people experience game settings as “fun,” “exciting,” and “rewarding” when they are playing for something important and have a key role in deciding the outcome of the contest. At AES, we set the audacious goal of creating the most fun workplace in human history. We defined fun to mean rewarding, exciting, creative, and successful.
Fun is not about Friday afternoon beer parties. What we meant by fun was captured many years later, in slightly broken English, by an AES employee writing from Kazakhstan: “The common principles of integrity, fairness, fun represent AES culture which are mostly convincing. They are also the basic spirits. I work on the site whether day or night, whether weekend or working days, whether with pay or without. In this kind of working environment, my talent was fully exerted. I felt a lot of fun to use my talent and experiences accumulated throughout years of hard work. I feel I am standing on the shoulder of a giant fulfilling the social responsibilities.”
Not only are these proposals new to most executives; the idea of carrying them out can be downright scary. So, it takes no small amount of courage for an organizational leader to embrace them intellectually and then put them into practice.
Courage is required when senior executives are asked to let others take the last-second shot. When executives give power away, they often feel insecure, as if they are not doing their jobs. In fact, they are meeting the highest requirements of their jobs when they delegate decisions to subordinates. Not only are decisions being made by the people who are most familiar with the facts, but the act of making them gives more people a real stake in the organization's performance.