Have you ever worked in a job that you really didn't like or didn't feel fulfilled by the work that you were doing? More broadly, have you ever wondered if there was more to "life" than what you were experiencing? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. And importantly, you should know that because we're all human, it is totally natural—and healthy—to ask ourselves such fundamental questions about the way we work and live. In fact, we propose that the search for meaning is a "megatrend" of the 21st Century. Our book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, deals explicitly with this quest for meaning as it applies to both our personal and work lives. It is grounded firmly in the philosophy and approach, with the personal urging, of the world-renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of the classic bestseller, Man's Search for Meaning.
We are, by nature, creatures of habit. Searching for a life that is both predictable and within our "comfort zone," we rely on routine and, for the most part, learned thinking patterns. In effect, we are prone to create pathways in our minds in much the same way that a path is beaten through a grass field from repeated use. And because these patterns are automatic, we may come to believe that these habitual ways of thinking and behaving are "beyond our control." In other words, life, it seems, just happens to us. As a consequence, we lock ourselves inside our own mental prisons and hold ourselves "Prisoners of Our Thoughts." This, in turn, limits our true potential, including our potential to innovate—in our personal life and in our work life.
In our experience, the capacity to advance and sustain innovation at all levels, both personally and collectively, is dependent upon a level and type of "engagement" that cannot be attained without acknowledging and cultivating what Viktor Frankl referred to as the primary, intrinsic motivation of all human beings, that is, the search for meaning. To be sure, the power of full engagement is closely associated with unleashing innovation potential. But this is not enough, good intentions notwithstanding, for all approaches to achieving full engagement are not created equal. Totalitarian regimes, for example, may technically obtain "full engagement," but they risk doing so for the wrong reasons and, ultimately, wrong results! (Do you remember when "driving fear out of the workplace" was in fashion as a guiding principle of Total Quality Management?)
Alternatively, we propose that the real objective of engagement must be founded on an authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals or to what we describe as the "will to meaning" in Prisoners of Our Thoughts. In other words, the real power behind advancing and sustaining innovation is the "power of meaning-full engagement!" And this kind of engagement can only be achieved if we are not prisoners of our thoughts and if we do not hold others prisoners in our thoughts.
Are you a prisoner of your thoughts? Moreover, are you holding your co-workers, your colleagues, your partners, and/or your customers "prisoners" in your thoughts? In order to Innovate with Meaning, we have to ensure that we don’t lock ourselves inside our own inner mental prisons. And, importantly, we have to recognize that, metaphorically-speaking, it is us, each and every one of us, who holds the key to unlocking the door to our prison cell!
Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com) and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com). They are co-authors of an article, "Innovating with Meaning," in Leadership Excellence Magazine (November 2008) and the book, Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).