The Social Architect: 4 Ways to Bring Soul into Work


We were walking through our neighborhood on Father’s Day this year when we spotted a man doing yard work.

“Happy Father’s Day!” I called out.

“What I want to do today is be productive!” he replied.

I understand that—it feels good to get things done.

The most recent book I highlighted on my Recommended Resources page provides thought-provoking reflections on our preference for productivity. Peter Block proposes that we live in an “engineer/economist” dominated world where practicality and productivity reign supreme. While these are, no doubt, important qualities, it is the “artist” (inclusive of arts, humanities and philosophy) whose voice is needed for our souls. The artist provides purpose, meaning and beauty.

Block calls the person who is a blend of engineer, economist and artist the architect. The architect dreams and designs while applying rules and efficiency. He goes on to say that the model today’s organizations and communities need most is the social architect:

“The task of the social architect is to design and bring into being organizations that serve both the marketplace and the soul of the people who work within them.”

What can you and I do this week to be a social architect? Here are four ways to start.

  1. Look out and up. When I learned to Nordic ski, the instructor told me to keep my eyes fixed on the top of the hills that I’m climbing. It would keep me balanced, aligned and motivated, rather than losing myself in my skis and the snow in front of me. It seems this advice applies to our lives and organizations. What does the top of your hill look like?
  2. Keep asking why. Continuous improvement and problem-solving experts know the power of analyzing root causes by repeatedly asking “why.” Try asking these 5 whys: Why does your role exist? Why does your organization exist? Why does your community exist? Why do your relationships matter? Why does it matter if you climb to the top of the hill?
  3. Decide how you’ll show up. Our company offers an incredible coaching experience to help people improve their presentation skills. At the start of the process, each person identifies three adjectives to describe how they want to be viewed when presenting to others. People will use words like “authentic,” “trustworthy” and “engaging” as they envision their best self interacting with others. When these words are declared, they implicitly guide our efforts toward producing a congruent result. What words would you use?
  4. Design structures that help people flourish. A couple of years ago, I referenced the work of Robert Fritz, who says that if you want different outcomes, you should adjust the underlying structure. In a recent survey of business leaders, we found that approximately 60% of people feel that they are not empowered to make decisions due to bureaucracy and multiple levels of approval required. With that kind of response, it’s likely no coincidence that every major employee engagement study has shown that only 30% of the global workforce is fully engaged in their work.

Sure, let’s be efficient and productive, but let’s also be artists at home and at work. In fact, let’s think of ourselves as social architects. How will that change the way you look at your work?

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