I teach, I speak, I coach, I write, I do whatever I can think of to do to have people understand that it is their responsibility to make a demand on themselves that their work be inspiring and worthwhile.
About Mike Cook
It all started when I was about 25, having recently left graduate school to join a Fortune 10 Petroleum Company to begin what I hoped was going to be a long and satisfying career. While I was initially awed by the trappings of organizational success, office, good salary, amazing benefits and more, it wasn’t long before a nagging sense of “something missing” began to creep in.
Keep in mind this was 1973 and a lot of things we take for granted now didn’t even exist then. I am mostly talking about the technology we now use for work and recreation for that makes everything seem so quick and readily available. But honestly, while the technology is great and amazing, at the same time, work is still work, just as it was then. What is different is that employee engagement was not even on the radar screens of employers then, nor was the global marketplace. Time and technology have changed all this of course but even back in 1973, I was concerned about engagement, especially my own, and I wasn’t, engaged that is. To be sure I was at least busy much of the time but busy and challenged are not the same thing and I was rarely challenged, nor, from what I could see were my co-workers. Strangely, no one was talking about it.
Before too long I started to look around at other companies, certain that in my searching I would find a place where work was truly engaging. What I found was that where I was in fact was better than most places! Gradually I learned that I has stumbled into an organizational environment that was long since passed any concern for its survival. After all the nation and the world ran on petroleum, we used petroleum in ways well beyond fuel and there was little chance in 1973 that any real competition was going to show up soon, if ever.
When I was able to get anyone involved in conversations about my concerns they usually evolved into some version of “settle down Mike, things are good here and if you play your cards right 30 years from now your stock plan will be worth a ton of money and you’ll be set for retirement.” I was not left inspired, I was also not willing to wait 30 years to find something that was engaging.
Because I had a family, two children and a wife who stayed at home with the babies, I was reluctant to do anything rash. So, for eight years I plowed ahead, got promoted, was transferred twice and developed a reputation for being quirky but productive. Finally, I had to get out. It was apparent to me that I was pretty much a party of one with my discontent and in terms of overall performance there were few if any signs that the organization needed any radical change. Slowly it had become clear to me that the only thing that didn’t fit in the picture was me and it was time to go. So, I did.
Fast forward 37 years…it is now 2017. In the meantime, much has changed, the world is much more integrated than ever, fast is the order of the day and talent is the currency of success in most organizations. Employers everywhere rant about the challenge of finding good people yet they themselves have not so much changed as has the world. Work is still work but the principles of performance and productivity have changed in remarkable ways.
Where have I been in the intervening 37 years? I have been learning and practicing and finally the world has caught up to me. Finally, I feel like I belong.
I taught myself how to observe, I learned that money was not all that people worked for, I learned that people really put their all into things that have a hand in creating. I learned that most people prefer collaboration to competition, that being part of something that stands for something makes a real difference and not that many of us like confrontation. Mostly I learned that people want it to be worth their life to go to work and for the most part for most of us that is still missing. So, like I said, I feel at home now.
At 70 I still work 30-50 hours a week, depending on what's going on and what needs to be done. Mostly I devote myself to what makes life worth living at work. I use words like “intimate” and “interdependency”, words that make people a bit uncomfortable. I like to tell them that they were already uncomfortable I simply made them aware.
I teach, I speak, I coach, I write, I do whatever I can think of to do to have people understand that it is their responsibility to make a demand on themselves that their work be inspiring and worthwhile. I tell them not to trade the time of their life for a paycheck. Some get it, a lot don’t.
There are no good guys or bad guys in the story of what I do, there is only the possibility I see and the chance to enroll as many colleagues as possible in the pursuit.