Huffington claims that, "the two metrics of success that drive the American workplace are money and power, but by themselves, they make a two-legged stool -- fine for balancing on for a short time, but after a while, you're headed for a fall. And guided by this limited definition of success, more and more 'successful' people are falling. So what we need is a more humane and sustainable definition of success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder, empathy, and the ability to give back. But how do we recalibrate our current benchmarks of success? That's what we'll be discussing."
I was struck by the mostly individual-centered idea of success that Huffington described in her post. Sure, giving back and empathy are other-connected, but they still originate in the individual. Success is measured by what the self can do. The conference focused mostly, it seemed, on themes like wellness, vacation, meditation, digital detox, and promotion of a better quality of life. Only one person, as far as I can tell, talked about networks: Anne-Marie Slaughter:
"The ability to operate effectively in a horizontal web of relationships (a network of networks) is more important than ever. So why is it that the metric of success is still "getting to the top"? Don't get me wrong: I would still like to see 250 women CEOs in the Fortune 500. But I would equally like to see men defining success as building coalitions and networks to solve problems, organizing volunteers, creating public-private partnerships, and connecting and mobilizing alliances of many diverse actors to turn talk into action. That is every bit as much the exercise of power and leadership as sitting at the top of a vast hierarchy hoping that orders get transmitted properly to the levels below."
In her original post about the conference, Huffington invited bloggers to talk about what they felt might be their own version of the Third Metric. I've been thinking about this quite a bit since the initial post, and before I read Slaughter's post, was thinking how to phrase this: that I wish success could be defined not by the number of Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest followers you have (which is also a measure of network, though, I'd argue, not a very authentic one) or the number of blog readers you have (which could also be questionable), but the degree to which you've been able to leverage the connections between the people you know, the way in which you have become a connective node in the universe. (As an aside, this is sometimes how I have described myself in job interviews, and have always felt an odd mix of pride and shame that my goal wasn't more traditionally-leadership oriented; while I see myself as ambitious, my professional ambition has been more about expanding my network so that I can figure out how to match talent with opportunity, so that I can find people who really need each other, and in the end, make myself less necessary to them.)
To put it differently, what would happen if we measured our success by the achievements of others who stood on our shoulders?
While the other themes of the conference are equally important, because everything Huffington writes about the declining number of real vacation days and increased levels of stress and illness (of all kinds) in the American workforce is true, I suspect that if we focused a little less on getting to the top, as Slaughter suggests, and more on creating an authentic web, we would find out work more personally fulfilling, more balanced, more effective. I'm not saying that we should be the doormat where everyone wipes their feet on the way up the stairs, but we should be looking for the talent and skills that complement our own and the others around us so that we work smarter, not just harder, for solutions to a more diverse and inclusive set of problems.
To take a metaphor from the foodie universe: what's so great about Heidi Swanson and Mark Bittman, for example, is not just that they've published some fabulous cookbooks, but that they've given people a way to think differently about food. Without them, and my unassuming basket-maker Martha at our local farmer's market, who was willing to talk about her secrets for kale salads in general, I never would have come up with my own french lentil and kale salad this past week.
Do you have a Third Metric? Had you heard about the Huffington Post conference?
2 c. French (dePuy) lentils
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. olive oil
salt to taste
1 bunch kale, center stems removed, finely julienned
1/4 c. pumpkin seeds
1/4 c cranberries
2 T. mint, finely chopped (optional)
Rinse and pick over the lentils. Place them in a pot and cover with water until they are submerged about 1 inch below. Cook about 20-30 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
Toss lentils with lemon juice and olive oil. Add kale and other ingredients; toss well.
If there isn't enough olive oil and lemon to coat the kale, continue to add both by the T. until it's well-dressed; the lemon juice will break down the kale. Salt to taste.