One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Work is just like school. We’ve all been told that people learn differently, they also work differently. We need to be cognizant of everyone’s individual productivity styles.

Throughout my life I’ve been told that people learn differently. In school, some people are able to read a text book and memorize it right away while other people have to take notes on what they read. This way they have to process the information in order to determine what is important and then the act of writing it down reinforces the words/concepts. Still other people are more auditory learners, they have to read books out loud so they can hear the words. 

When I danced, some people were able to pick up the moves just by watching the instructor and could recreate the sequence perfectly. I, on the other hand, had to do the sequence while watching the instructor in order to remember it. 

If we all learn differently doesn’t it stand to reason then that we all work differently too? The Harvard Business Review recently published two articles “Match Your Productivity Approach to the Way You Work” and “Assessment: What’s Your Personal Productivity Style?”, both of which discuss this point. In these articles Carson Tate says that not only do we all have different work approaches, but that if we try to conform to one “standard” approach it can decrease our productivity.

That makes sense right? If you’re an auditory learner but you try and study by just reading silently you won’t learn as much. If you are more of a free form thinker and you try and force yourself into a rigid schedule you won’t be as productive.

The Harvard Business Review assessment focuses on how you brainstorm, prioritize and attack projects which are all key points, but I think there is even more to consider, like environment. For example, when you are working on a big project do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?  

What about how you sit at your desk? I’ve never been one to sit in a “traditional” manner, I find it uncomfortable. In college all of my studying was done sitting cross legged. All of my papers were written with me sitting cross legged. But, when I started working I didn’t think it was professional to sit cross legged so I sat normally and my focus and productivity decreased. I couldn’t concentrate because half of my brain was thinking about how uncomfortable I was. So, if I need to buckle down and crank something out, I sit cross legged. 

Now, some people may think that this is just part of the “millennial personality”, and to some extent that may be true. But I think it is mostly just the natural evolution of the professional environment.

Think back to the early days of corporate America when management was strictly top-down. Overtime we learned that this method of management wasn’t the best for long-term success and slowly evolved into a more collaborative system. Now it is rare to find a successful company that refuses the input from less senior management. Was that shift based on generational differences? I don’t believe so. 

In 1943 Abraham Maslow came out with his paper on "A Theory of Human Motivation" in which he discussed his famous hierarchy of needs. It was this knowledge that inspired a change in management. I believe we can see the evolution of the corporate world in his pyramid of needs. Thus far we have been striving to fulfill the fourth need - Esteem. This need, Maslow said, is based on “the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom” as well as the “desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), recognition, attention, importance or appreciation”.

Now that we have fulfilled that need more or less, we move on to the fifth and final need – Self Actualization. “Even if all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.” 

Maslow admits that he does not know much about this final need because society at that point had yet to reach it. I believe the individuality Maslow alludes to goes beyond just a person’s profession and is more centered on our individual needs for learning, productivity, and creativity. 

Carolyn Gregoire from The Huffington Post recently wrote an article “Working From Home Is Good For You And Your Boss” where she discusses a study which found that the performance from people who work at home was 13% higher than the performance of those who worked from the office. Carolyn postulates that this might be because they were less worried about being distracted which is very likely. I think the increased performance may also have to do with the fact that people who work at home are free to do things their way without worrying about the stigma of how “things should be done.” 

In the corporate world we may believe that there is a “right way” to do things, but we need to remember, work is just like school, everyone has a different method and it is important to recognize the individual in order to get the best product.

What do you think?

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