Explaining Southern California's economy

Montessori: It's good for business

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a Montessori student as a child, introduces the new Kindle Fire tablet in New York, on September 28, 2011.

An interesting post from Harvard Business Review's blogs, written by Ambiga Dhiraj of Mu Sigma in Chicago. Her company is revamping professional development in the image of...Montessori education. If you don't know about Montessori, here's a good primer. I should confess right up front that my daughter, who's nine, has been in a Montessori elementary school for the last two years, and my 6-year-old son will start at the same school this fall. He also went to Montessori preschool. My wife and I are big fans.

Businesses could be, too. Mu Sigma certainly is:

[I]n 2010 we began to model our development after Montessori schools, whose principals include "an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural psychological development, as well as technological advancements in society." Since then we've applied these basic tenets to our workforce.

[...]

Prior to the Montessori model, our managers used promotions as carrots. Now they are challenged to motivate employees in other ways — by giving them interesting projects to work on, public praise for their work, and the right guidance and encouragement.

The end effect is that employees develop a longer-term vision for their place at our company — it's the genesis of a career, rather than just an entry-level job. There will inevitably be some turnover, as there is in any firm, but we believe this intrinsic motivation — an employee's love for what she does— is better than money and promotions. We've already seen the results in terms of lower turnover among the entry-level employees who have been through the program. Our retention rates were noticeably higher in 2011 than they were in 2009-2010, and are trending steadily upward.

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The Great Tablet Distraction Debate grinds on

Amazon Introduces New Tablet At News Conference In New York

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28: The new Amazon tablet called the Kindle Fire is displayed on September 28, 2011 in New York City. The Fire, which will be priced at $199, is an expanded version of the company’s Kindle e-reader that has 8GB of storage and WiFi. The Fire gives users access to streaming video, as well as e-books, apps and music, and has a Web browser. In addition to the Fire, Bezos introduced four new Kindles including a Kindle touch model. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal weighs in, cleverly, on a micro-debate spurred by this New York Times article about how people are too distracted while reading on a tablet — an Apple iPad, an Amazon Kindle Fire — to actually, you know, read.

Madrigal attacks the NYT story at three levels:

•You can just as easily be distracted while reading a book on paper as you can while reading a book in a digital format

•Reality is far more distracting than what's going in that magical little gadget in your hot little hands: "If the e-reader engages you more with the thing in your hand, even though the gadget itself is more distracting, that could be a net distraction win."

•We will evolve into an undistracted, tablet-using species: "Humans respond to the novel technologies they encounter to reshape their experiences of them. If distraction is really bothering all these people, and they really want to read books, then they will find a way to do so."

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Why working hard is working wrong

There's a deep Calvinist preoccupation in the American workplace with hard work. Break the big rocks into little rocks all day long and you shall surely see a reward. And in fact, for some people, this is an excellent formula.

However, it may not be the way to go for most of us. I've been following the Energy Project for a while now, via the blog posts that president and CEO Tony Schwartz writes for his site and for Harvard Business Review. Schwartz offers a very different perspective, based on the idea that people aren't machines and that our energy is actually the most valuable capital we bring to the workplace:

The way we’re working isn’t working. Does anyone doubt that’s true?

Only 20 percent of us– 1 out of every five – feels fully engaged at work, according to one global study of 90,000 employees across 18 countries. Forty percent of us are actively disengaged. Over 100 studies have now demonstrated the correlation between employee engagement and business performance.

So where have we gone so wrong?

The answer is rooted in the false assumption that we operate best in the same linear way that our computers do: continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time.

That’s unsustainable. When demand exceeds our capacity, we default into the survival zone. We’re suboptimal. It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for our employers.

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