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Originality Hacking

Making Business Serve the Human Need

by Jeremy Nulik

Before employees leave your company, there is a bizarre ritual that likely takes place: the exit interview. It is then that the soon-to-be-available-to-the-industry human is asked for insights. On paper, this follows logic. A learning organization ought want to know what would make it better.

But Adam Grant thinks we should kill them. “Why do we wait until people are walking out the door to find out what would have kept them,” says Grant, author of “Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World Forward.”

I saw him present a keynote address recently at the annual Workhuman Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Like so many of the vestiges of the machinery of human resources, the logic is backwards for today’s workplace.

From Grant’s perspective, this ritual is akin to asking your ex why she left you. And, if you have ever attempted the actual or metaphorical ritual, I can report to you that the answers you receive will not be helpful. They are along the lines of, “Whatever I have to say so you stop asking me questions.”

So instead of waiting until the finality of an employee exit, Grant implored that managers ask for insights when they would be most helpful: when the new hire starts.

“Ask them for their ideas when they join the organization. Because that is when they have all of the energy and fresh thinking,” says Grant.

Since new hires are a source of lively perspective, Grant also challenged the audience to ask another question: How would you kill the company in three years? It is often easier to spot the potential for improvements and innovations by asking for criticism over appreciative inquiry. Grant has behavioral data to back up this claim, but, on some level, all you need to do is to work among humans to know this.

Grant’s insight around business process seems almost like common sense, right? It is simple. Make the process fit the human needs and the outcomes will be improved. However, you are also likely practicing something like exit interviews in your business.

The exit interview serves a mechanical business purpose that sounds like it comes from a manufacturing manual. “If Resource X no longer sees Company as valuable, download all information from Resource X.” The trouble is that this resource is a human. And humans work on systems that are far more complex, dynamic and creative than the mechanical ones we have constructed.

The workplaces and brands of the future – the ones that Grant interviewed to come to his conclusions – are creating experiences that feel more human. More than workplace happiness or hip creative spaces, the philosophy animates from asking a simple question: What does a human need? By creating systems and experiences that feel more human, you can unlock original thinking and uncover leadership mindsets that have the potential to transform your company.

I know. It sounds too simple. Just a question. But living out this concept in your business is complex. We are beset at all times with conventional practices that masquerade as wisdom. The challenge for you is to ask yourself and your leadership team: What processes, communications and systems have I created out of conventional business wisdom?

Maybe it is in your marketing efforts, your operational processes or in your sales funnel. Once you have identified those processes, you can begin to find ways to make those systems more human by asking that simple question: What does a human need?

The goal is to re-create your business with the humans in mind. This is deeper than kumbaya good feelings. To fully realize the dynamic and creative potential of the people in your business, this is but a beginning.

Jeremy Nulik ( is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.

Submitted 3 years 258 days ago
Categories: categoryMarketing Works
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