Hey pioneer

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Now, Ive got no personal experience of Thanksgiving or its significance, but its always struck me as a particularly wholesome celebration. The sort of festival Id really like to adopt, if I wasnt sensitive to the accusation of cultural appropriation (incidentally, the other one Id like to adopt is the Catalonian celebration of St Georges Day where they give their friends books… I guess I need to make some new friends in Barcelona).

The psychology of gratitude

In the spirit of Thanksgiving I wanted to start this weeks newsletter with a video from a Positive Psychologist on the scientific research on gratitude. Well I ended up watching hours and hours of videos and I still have not found the perfect, entertaining, five minute summary (Bee says the first five minutes of this No Stupid Questions podcast is good though).

I did however find this great collection of longer videos from the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of Berkeley, California. If youre interested in this area of positive psychology and its application to the world of work its well worth a look.

Gratitude and well-being at work

If you have not got time, and just want a quick summary from me: try to find ways to promote authentic expressions of gratitude in your company because the science suggests it has a multitude of positive impacts… including reducing peoples blood pressure and helping them to sleep longer (who knew?!).

At The Pioneers, we are obviously interested in the technical underpinnings of a peopleOS, but one of the things I am personally really proud of, is that we never forget we are dealing with human systems and real people, not machines.

One of the standout points in the Margaret Heffernan video I shared last week was about the difference it makes if people are helpful in a company. It sounds so obvious. Yet it feels so rare. And I think if we put our minds to it, I am not sure its that complicated to address.

In that context, I am really intrigued by how we can do more to create nudges in a peopleOS towards behaviours like gratitude, which have been shown in Positive Psychology research to make people happier and healthier. I am always skeptical about the lasting impact of flavour of the month type initiatives, but if you can weave nudges into the user experience in a subtle and sustainable way, I think it would make a significant difference to company culture and help to create healthy, vibrant, and flourishing work environments. Why not use Thanksgiving as the perfect excuse for you to have a quick think about a sustainable gratitude nudge you could introduce into your company…

The big read

I managed to read this article without getting kicked out by the paywall so I hope the link works for you too. I must admit, I am a complete sucker for the whole vibe of a good New Yorker article. While reading this one, I subconsciously did up the top button on my shirt just to make sure I was sufficiently hipster.

If theres one idea to ponder on from this weeks newsletter, its the idea that the quest for personal productivity creates a tragedy of the commons. Its like an arms race, we all stress about having too much to do. We respond by striving to get more productive, but our bursts of productivity just offload more tasks onto the people around us, who have to respond in kind. Have a read and see what you think…

The rise and fall of getting things done

Almost every company I can think of wants to be more productive. But as so often is the case, the instinctive approach is to try to fix this on the individual level. And yet if you follow the argument in this article, the focus on individual productivity and the autonomy of knowledge workers doesnt create a healthy system.

For me, all this just underlines the importance of the peopleOS perspective. If we want to find better ways of working, we have to see the wood from the trees; and in my opinion as People people we have to switch our focus from equipping the individual employee to how we can support small, autonomous teams with the tools and information they need to shape their own ways of working.

Still not sure what I am rabbiting on about when I talk about a peopleOS…. come on folks get with the programme! 😉 Why not have a quick read of this:

What is a peopleOS?


Finding the right person at the right time for your scale-up…

You need to stick with it for the first few minutes, but theres some good stuff in this Chicago Booth video on how start-ups can scale-up (and if you want to skip through it, almost all the good stuff comes from Amanda Lannert, CEO of Jellyvision).

I was particularly interested in the conversation about how challenging it is to recruit leadership roles in a scale-up, how resumés can lead you astray and how to pick the right person for the right context. It reminded me of Simon Wardley’s explanation of the “Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners” idea from Robert Cringley’s Accidental Empires.

For people who have not come across Simon’s work before, its probably worth grounding this article in a bit of context. I am by no means an expert (and I am nervous of misrepresenting him), but my understanding is that Simon’s ‘Wardley Maps’ are premised on the view that capitalism inevitably turns novel innovations into commodities over time; and in turn, that these new commodities create new opportunities for novel innovation. In my own simple mind, I think of it as a wind that blows left to right over his maps and from a strategic perspective, you want to align your company with the way the wind’s blowing.

The idea that flows from this is that there are particular attitudes and approaches (and people) who are more suited to different stages of the map or the development of a product or company: Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners.

As you scale your company, you need all three of these roles. But you need them in the right place at the right time. One of the most common mistakes scale-ups make is hiring a big hitting “Town Planner” when they actually need a “Settler” or not moving Pioneers onto new challenges quickly enough to create space for Settlers to create some process and order.

Well it feels like I’ve written a bit of a treatise this week, so if youve made it this far…

Until next week…


Founder and Wannabe Hipster, The Pioneers