BY Nabin Shrestha
Seth Godin compares the way bees set up new hives to how they form new hives - utterly undirected - no map, no plan, but tremendously motivated. The bees will die if a new colony is not discovered within a few days. He compares industrial work – where workers do what they are told and the work is quite routine in nature – to ‘significant’ work – where workers are engaged in challenging, meaningful, purpose-filled work – and where employers offer autonomy, dignity, respect, and safety. Clearly, significant work wins in the comparison, though Godin notes that industrial work meets the needs of many and has been quite important to our economic growth.
In ‘The Song of Significance’, Godin has written 144 brief essays on the pursuit of purpose in business and leadership. “We need to decide what work is for,” he says. In other words, profit as the sole driver of success is being questioned. Companies are increasingly looking to build legacies, make meaningful impacts, and create resonant stories. Godin says that businesses can create value, cause change, and make a difference by “leading with humans instead of treating them as cogs in a soulless machine”.
Base Culture on Connection
In classic Godin fashion, this is not just another business book. It is a rallying cry for executives to think outside of spreadsheets and quarterly reports. In essence, it is about pursuing a higher tune - a song that is consistent with your company's beliefs, mission, and role in the greater ecosystem. According to Godin, this necessitates the development of a culture built on connection and affiliation. "Culture defeats strategy, but culture is more difficult than strategy," he admits.
With more individuals aware that they have options elsewhere, organisations must foster a culture that fosters people's desire to engage in meaningful work. "Work gets done in a healthy culture because it is important and desired, not because a surveillance system insisted," he argues.
Significant Work Creates Human Value
His view that significant labour is work "on the edge”, with high stakes and high trust, is central to this. It is the polar opposite of the industrialist's race to the bottom, the race of productivity - of doing more with less. Significant work, on the other hand, "is the work that creates human value as we connect with and respect the individuals who create it," according to Godin. "Work is an expression of our energy and our dreams," he explains. “We owe the same decency and connection to those who accompany us on the journey that we would like to receive in return”. According to Seth Godin, meaning is a choice, and the significance revolution is "unmaking" the commercial power of industrialism and forcing us to construct organisations that were difficult to imagine a decade or two ago:
· Places that allow employees to work from wherever they like, whenever they like.
· Places that expect employees to innovate and bring humanity to their interactions.
· Places that encourage employees to gain new skills and develop into leaders.
Frederick Taylor or Honeybees?
Throughout the book, Godin discusses how many large corporations operate. He also weaves honeybee work throughout the book. Companies such as Ford and GE in the past, as well as Amazon and McDonald's now, manage people by measuring detail data about how they perform, based on ideas initially expressed by Frederick Taylor in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management. How long does it take to make a Big Mac in seconds? Can you pick things more quickly at the Amazon warehouse? Why did you have to use the bathroom three times today?
Honeybees, on the other hand, work collectively to sort things out without a leader. When a new queen is about to be born, the existing queen and up to half of the hive's most experienced bees will swarm and flee. Nothing is in charge, and everything is coordinated by cooperation. This book's four-quadrant graphic describes many ways to organise. McDonald's is in the upper left corner. Work that can be outsourced to lower-cost countries or AI is located on the bottom left. Bottom right is significant for culture and community since it is human. Significant work that adds human value is in the upper right corner, activity that cannot be industrialised or assigned to AI.
Significant Organisations are Team-centric
According to Godin, Milton Friedman stated that any organisation must be profit-driven. Others, he claims, have asserted that being customer-centric and utilising customer service as a proxy for profits is achievable. Significant organisations, he contends, are team-centric. He claims that the goal of these organisations is to influence change, and to do it with (and for) a group of individuals who care about making a difference. "The purpose of the beehive isn't to make honey; honey is the by-product of a healthy hive," he says.
A large company can gratify its clients while also making a profit, he adds, but it must first gain collaboration before performing the work to effect change. "The Song of Significance," described as an ‘urgent manifesto’ on work, management, and leadership, challenges businesses to assure agency, dignity, and respect for everyone on the payroll.