How to Find True Fulfillment at Work

“Solving hard problems with good people—that’s the real adrenaline.”

Adam Grant is a world-renowned organizational psychologist, the top-rated professor at Wharton, and a curator of the Next Big Idea Club. Daniel Coyle is the New York Times bestselling author of The Talent Code, The Secret Race, and, most recently, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. When The Culture Code became an official selection for the first season of the Next Big Idea Club, the two sat down to discuss the difference between shallow fun and deep fun, and how top companies keep their employees feeling engaged and fulfilled on the job.

Adam: You shifted the way I think about fun—you made this awesome distinction between shallow and deep fun. What is it?

Daniel: Every workplace on planet Earth now is thinking about engagement: “How do we get this new generation engaged, loving work with their whole mind?”

One way that people have chosen to do that is by injecting the adrenaline of fun and games—having a ping-pong table, having beer at 5:00 every day, and having fun speakers come in. There’s a guy named Jacob Morgan who did some great research on this, and he said it sort of operates like an adrenaline shot. You see boosts of interest, and then it goes away.

Adam: It’s peripheral to the actual work and the mission of the organization. It’s like, “Hey, by the way…”

Daniel: “Foosball!”

Adam: “Yeah, it’s going to be really fun! I hope you associate that with the place you work and the boring job you do.”

Daniel: Exactly, there’s cynicism at the heart of it. That’s shallow fun—it’s foosball, it’s a blast. But then there’s deep fun, where you actually give people ownership and autonomy over parts of the work. It can be as simple as, “Hey, we’ve got this new space, and you guys are in charge of it. Here’s the catalog—go buy some furniture! Decide how to decorate it.” I’ve seen people do it with rebuilding their HR function to say, “Okay, this is how we’re going to do onboarding now. You guys are in charge of it.” Deep fun is that ownership and autonomy of solving hard problems together, not the boss wheeling in a foosball table.

Morgan’s research goes on to show that companies that focus on deep fun are four times more profitable than the others. It’s funny, great company cultures have this thing where people leave them, and then come back because they’re like, “It’s really hard work, but I don’t get this anywhere else.” Solving hard problems with good people—that’s the real adrenaline.

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