Warning: This is a thought-in-progress! Hence rambles horribly with terrible drawings and a rather incomplete conclusion…
Last week on the Jubilee Line, somewhere between Waterloo and Bermondsey, I had an epiphany (or maybe it was an Epiphanot…), driven by Yuval Noah Harari’s belief that suffering is the only thing that isn’t a myth.
It was this:
The only thing that’s real in life is how people feel.
Everything else – money, work, friends, family, government, religion, sport – is only experienced through how people feel, whether that be about themselves, their lives, or each other.
And if that’s true, then it may be fair to argue that:
The only thing that really matters in life is how you make other people feel.
This got me thinking about a lot of things, in particular (and maybe to start with) how to choose a purposeful career, and how to be a customer-led company…
If the only thing that matters is how you make people feel, then perhaps the most purposeful roles are those that directly impact people’s feelings. And if a job is further away from having a direct impact, then the less purposeful it might feel.
So teachers, nurses, and speech therapists are all in the ‘inner circle’, directly helping and affecting people’s feelings every day. These professions are most likely to be remembered for having a big impact on people’s lives, at the times when they were needed the most. Then you’d move out slightly, to food sellers, taxi drivers, and journalists, facilitators of feelings but maybe not having that direct one-on-one contact with people that the first group have. Then perhaps the outer group is filled with those who are a long way from people, with a focus more on other priorities – investment bankers might be a popular example to put in here.
I’ve tried to demonstrate with this poorly scribbled diagram:
Then I started to wonder whether the same approach was true for companies, too. The inner circle would be your front-line staff, seeing customers day-to-day, delivering the customer experience and directly impacting how those people feel when they’re interacting with the company. As you get further out, you reach Marketing, a department focussed on how people feel about a brand, but with the people in the department not usually speaking to the customers themselves. And on the outer circle, the CEO, with the power to influence and impact the feelings of thousands of employees and customers – but someone who rarely directly impacts either group.
The most customer-led (and often most successful) companies I’ve seen and worked with are those whose Executive team are more directly connected with customers and colleagues, understanding how the choices they make will impact both, and making a decision based on that knowledge. Conversely, those less successful often make decisions with little thought or regard for how it might make people feel – or with thought, and then a decision to ignore.
Of course, this is a far simplified version of the truth. Within any role and profession you may directly or indirectly impact people. For example, you might work in a large corporate HQ, distant from customers – but with a focus on helping everyone in your team be the best they can be, spending your time coaching and mentoring and impacting lives that way. Some people may take jobs they hate, because it will give them enough money to make their family feel good. Others may be in jobs where they’ll have no choice but to make people feel bad. And then there’s the complexity of whether this should be about how you make others feel versus how you make yourself feel, again something that will shift depending on the person and situation.
But even in accepting all that, perhaps this simplified version does suggest one thing. If in all of our decisions – whether those be about our careers, our customers, or our dinner for tonight – we consider the impact on how people will feel, then we might feel better about ourselves, and about how we’ve made others feel, too.
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