What Wolf of Wallstreet can (or can't) Teach Us about the Secret to Life

Jan 6 2014, 11:39am CST | by

What Wolf of Wallstreet can (or can't) Teach Us about the Secret to Life
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

It’s not exactly burning up the box office but Wolf of Wall Street is creating a lot of buzz. Is it, as People says, self-indulgent and skippable, a disappointing depiction of “a bunch of scheming, loathsome creeps given a whole movie in which to play (again) on our dime”? Blurbmeister Peter Travers disagrees, calling it one of the 2013’s ten best, “a high-wire act of bravura filmmaking” and “a lethally hilarious take on white-collar crime.”

Amidst the critical moshpit, one thing caught my eye. At a downtown screening of the film, in a theater overlooking the Goldman Sachs trading floor, bankers cheered the lead character’s spectacular drug use—and his “no snitch” ethos (mild spoiler ahead): “[T]he feds get Belfort to wear a wire to implicate others at his firm. Meeting with his No. 2, Belfort slides over a piece of paper: ‘Don’t incriminate yourself. I am wearing a wire.’ And the crowd goes wild. Don’t rat! Stand by your firm!” The reporter, Stephen Perlberg, points out that “guffawing while Leo attempts to evade federal indictment doesn’t exactly help America’s perception of your societal value.”

True—but the money guys have a point, however askew it may be.

They’re misapplying a business cliché: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Like most clichés, it expresses something both true and useful but also way oversimplified. The man most often credited with coining the phrase never said it, and he wouldn’t have been a fan of the monomaniacal focus on money, or any other metric. Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at the Claremont Graduate University, recently wrote about Peter Drucker’s nuanced view, which actually relates to the viewers’ sense of solidarity.

“Your first role . . . is the personal one,” Drucker told Bob Buford, a consulting client then running a cable TV business, in 1990. “It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do.” Drucker went on: “It cannot be measured or easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.”
So while I appreciate the got-your-back sentiment displayed at the screening, I do think conspicuous consumption is a pretty terrible organizing principle. There are much healthier, more productive ways of developing community in the workplace, and here are three./>

1. Go with the flow. We’ve all been there—so absorbed in a task that time just vanishes. Each of us has a different way of getting there, so how do we create flow at work? Researcher and jazz pianist R. Keith Sawyer says it requires balancing two paradoxical requirements: enough structure to support and direct improvisation but not so much that communication and innovation are shut down. According to Sawyer, “The most effective business teams balance these tensions in the same way: They listen closely, they are concentrated on the task, they communicate openly so that everyone gets immediate feedback, and they trust that genius will emerge from the group, not from any one member.” Develop group flow and better results, for the group and each individual, will flow from there.

2. Be helpful. The consulting firm IDEO tackles complicated design, branding, and process problems for clients in a broad range of business sectors. CEO Tim Brown says, “I believe that the more complex the problem, the more help you need. And that’s the kind of stuff we’re getting asked to tackle, so we need to figure out how to have a culture where help is much, much more embedded.” The company has created a “culture of helping,” in which reaching out for assistance is a normal part of the work process, no stigma attached. The result? Greater trust up and down all levels of the organization and potential mis-steps are caught before they can develop into real problems.

3. Get crafty. It’s not just for knitters or woodworkers. People who use their creative impulses to reshape their jobs in terms of tasks, relationships, and perceptions are both happier and more productive. Amy Wrzesniewski of the Yale School of Management talked to members of hospital cleaning staffs about their jobs and found two very different attitudes. One group looked at it as just a job, and not a particularly meaningful or interesting one. But other workers found ways to creating connections between their work and the mission of the hospital. They spent extra time with patients who received few visitors, or avoided certain cleaning supplies around patients who were sensitive to them. Wrzesniewski says, “It was not just that they were taking the same job and feeling better about it, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and whistling. It was that they were doing a different job.” The Center for Positive Organizations has developed a Job Crafting Exercise that will help you and your team reimagine your work to make it more fulfilling and engaging, for everyone.

No question that a movie about building community in the workplace would lack compelling visuals such as bikinied babes papered with benjamins. But if community makes for a boring cinematic experience, it creates a very satisfying life.

Source: Forbes Business


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