Yesterday, a couple hundred of us gathered at the Stanford d.school to celebrate David Kelley’s 60th birthday. The outpouring of love and affection was something — the guests included old friends he grew-up with, his family, Stanford colleagues (David is a professor and the main founder of the Stanford d.school), IDEO colleagues (David is co-founder of IDEO, was the first CEO, and the driving force behind the culture), dozens of former students, many of his friends from Silicon Valley businesses, and his friends from the car world (David loves old cars and has a pretty cool collection of old American cars and other cool things like a well-restored and “chopped” Mini and some classic Porsches). The outpouring of affection was even stronger than it might have been because several years back David was diagnosed with cancer, and he seems to have beat it (his doctor was there, who David thanked for saving his life).
David is one of the inspiring and wise people I’ve ever met (I once tried to write a book about him and IDEO called The Attitude of Wisdom… I have written about wisdom in subsequent books, but I still regret not finishing that book.) One key to David’s success is that, before he starts talking to the person in front of him, he actually listens carefully and takes in their body language before offering a comment or opinion — it is a rare talent, and one of many signs of his magnificent empathy. (Here is a recent Fast Company article that covers David and some of his latest accomplishments.)
I could tell a a hundred stories about David, and as part of celebrating his 60th, perhaps I will write out a few more. But one that has been top of mind lately is his “Love and Money” drawing (he did the one above for Good Boss, Bad Boss, but it remains unchanged over the years). One of the first times I talked to David in depth, at some point in the early 1990s, as I was asking him about his management philosophy, he drew-out the graphic above and explained that, to run a business, you need to make money, but you also need to retain the talents and motivation of great people. Yes, he said there are times when love and money go together, but there are always stretches of time when a boss needs to ask people to do things they don’t want to do and don’t love to make the necessary money required to keep the doors open. But the smart boss realizes that he or she damn well build up some love points in advance to burn when some unpleasant money tasks are required.
This simple idea is strikingly similar to one of the main ideas in Good Boss, Bad Boss — albeit one derived from research and theory on leaders rather than David’s pencil. As I argue in the book, the best bosses realize that one of the balancing acts that they walk is between pressing people to perform well for the collective good and treating them with respect, dignity, and injecting joy into their days at work. This is why I came close to calling Good Boss, Bad Boss “Top Dog on a Tightrope” as the best bosses carry-off this daily balancing act in a masterful way.
This is developed on Good Boss, Bad Boss in some detail. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 that focuses on my conversation with David about love and money (the same one where he drew the above picture; the original is in my Stanford office):
David sees his job, or the job of any boss, as enabling people to experience dignity and joy as they travel through their work days (the love part, what I call humanity) AND to do work that keeps the lights on and provides them with fair pay, health care, and other necessities (the money part, what I call performance). David says that, although sometimes you can accomplish both at once, there are always stretches when people must do things they don’t love to bring in money. David explains that great bosses work to strike a balance between love and money over time, for example, by making sure that a designer who has worked on a dull, frustrating, and lucrative project gets to choose an inspiring if less profitable project the next time.
Managers at IDEO don’t accomplish this balancing act just through bigger moves like project assignments. They do it in little ways too: When designers have been working like dogs and are tired, grumpy, and starting to bicker, managers find little ways to slow things down, have some fun, and promote civility and mutual respect. This might happen by making sure that a designer who has been grinding away designing a medical device can get a refreshing break by going to a brainstorming session, for example, on how to improve the airport security experience, get doctors to wash their hands, or design new playing pieces for the Monopoly board game. Managers at IDEO also provide breaks by shooting darts from Nerf guns or launching rubber darts called Finger Blasters at their people — which often degenerate into a full-scale 15 minute battles. Such adolescent antics won’t work in every workplace. But when the performance pressure starts heating-up and things are on the verge of turning ugly, skilled bosses everywhere find ways to give people a break, or tell a joke, or just make a warm gesture to place more weight on the “humanity” side of the scale. As David put it, “foam darts aren’t for everybody, but there is always some form of play in every culture that allows people to let off steam.”
Reprinted from Work Matters
Robert I. Sutton, PhD is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. His latest book is Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…and Survive the Worst. His previous book is The New York Times bestseller The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Follow him at twitter.com/work_matters.