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Inner Work Life

The premise behind Theresa Amabile’s “The Progress Principle” is that individual performance in the work place is a function of the quality of one’s “Inner Work Life” (IWL). In addition, the greatest effector of a positive IWL is “continuing progress on meaningful work“.

To set the context for her subsequent findings, at the beginning of the book Ms. Amabile describes her research protocol:

“We recruited 238 people in 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 industries. Some of the companies were small start-ups; some were well established, with marquee names. But all of the teams had one thing in common: they were composed primarily of knowledge workers, professionals whose work required them to solve complex problems creatively. Most of the teams participated in our study throughout the course of a particular project—on average, about four months. Every workday, we e-mailed everyone on the team a diary form that included several questions about that day. Most of those questions asked for numerical ratings about their inner work lives—their perceptions, emotions, and motivations during that day. The most important question allowed our respondents free rein: “Briefly describe one event from today that stands out in your mind. Amazingly, 75 percent of these e-mailed forms came back completed within twenty-four hours, yielding nearly 12,000 individual diary reports.

The figure below shows the three tightly integrated and inseparable components of IWL and four major external forces that act upon it.

Of course, the quality of IWL can vary from month-to-month, day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour, depending on the presence and magnitude of the external forces acting upon it and the person-specific thoughts/feelings/motivation regarding said forces.

Contributors to an increase in IWL are catalysts, nourishers, meaningful work, and especially, progress on that meaningful work. Detractors are meaningless work, inhibitors, toxins, and setbacks to progress.

In orgs that are setup (either intentionally or unintentionally) as internally competitive command and control hierarchies where “me” is king, inhibitors, toxins, and setbacks abound. In great orgs,  which can be structured as collaborative hierarchies or as any other pattern, catalysts, nourishers, and progress are pervasive up and down and across the structure.

Of course, the best parts of Ms. Amabile book are when she exhibits many of the heartfelt entries written by real people from her massive stash of 12,000 diary entries. Read it and weep, or read it and leap for joy, or read it and “meh“.

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  1. January 4, 2012 at 1:03 am

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