Maslow studied self-actualizing people. He said they had “a rare capacity to resolve value dichotomies.” Then he wrote, “Duty cannot be contrasted with pleasure nor work with play when duty is pleasure.”
In his poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Robert Frost says his objective is to unite his avocation and his vocation: “Only where love and need are one,/And the work is play for mortal stakes,/Is the deed ever really done/For Heaven and the future’s sakes.”
When we do what we are supposed to do because it is our duty, we are normal. When we love to do it, we become extraordinary. We find ourselves embedded in an emergent, synergistic web. We not only work on the task, the task works on us. Working on the task ignites virtues, enriches relationships and makes the outcomes generative. All these dynamics loop back on us and we flourish in an upward cycle of self-actualization.
I recalled my own experiences working with a visionary man. He so believed in the vision he had that he pursued it constantly. I watched him lead his organization with passion and noted that he had extraordinary influence. When he spoke, people listened and willingly devoted themselves to the pursuit of the vision. He did not force them; he declared the vision with such confidence that for him the future already seemed to exist.
I remembered how he was always extending himself, moving forward by trial and error. He was open to taking risks and learning. It did not embarrass him to learn from failure. He always shared his vulnerability and he constantly talked about the vision.
Others tended to trust him. They slowly embraced the vision and then began to pursue it with the same passion he displayed. They often came to him with willing contributions of their own, contributions he did not know to ask for. The future was being co-created in the present by people unified in a system of collective intelligence.
The last paragraph is important. It violates many normal assumptions. Trust replaces fear. The future becomes more attractive than the past. Passion replaces complacency. Individuals of self-interest become a collective in pursuit of the common good. The mind of the authority figure is replaced by collective intelligence. Hierarchical control gives way to spontaneous contribution. The differentiation between present and future dissolves as the future is co-created and emerges in the present moment.
- Have you ever turned duty into passion?
- Do you help your people turn duty into passion?
- What experiment could you run today?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?