When I talk to people about their work, I often find myself wondering what gets them out of bed in the morning. It takes a lot of energy to launch yourself from bed to the workplace – shower, dress, eat, kids, commute. Is it the money, the status, the excitement, the kombucha on tap, some combination? Though it may seem prosaic, understanding the motivators that power people at work can reveal their values and aspirations.
Life in startups, where I’ve spent most of my career, is a special case. Over time, I’ve come to recognize four basic reasons people "get out of bed" to start a company. There’s the most obvious reason: to make money, hopefully a lot of it. There’s the creative/intellectual reason, where you’re challenged by an endless stream of thorny problems. There’s the generic reason: “I’ve always wanted to start a company”. And, finally, there’s the mission-based reason, where you hope you can do some good for the planet.
Most of my startups have been of a decidedly creative nature. I never deluded myself into thinking that society was being held back by inadequate business forms or a paucity of shopping options (i.e., the problems my startups focused on solving). We helped businesses thrive and that was enough of a “mission” to keep me in the office 60 hours a week.
My work at Oji Life Lab, in contrast, is fueled by the drive to serve a deep human need. For me, this project started over a decade ago, as I shifted from a 24/7 focus on work to a more complete life: a new marriage, a newer daughter, and a collection of business projects.
Each of these areas required new skills in categories that I had never considered. Who knew that a marriage required know-how? (I know, 23 years later it seems obvious). Any parent knows that raising kids is the most difficult job you’ll ever have, but how do you get good at the job…beyond trial and error?
As I worked with companies and non-profits, I was constantly reminded that even the smartest, most motivated and best educated people often find themselves confronting challenges that they’re simply not prepared for. Whether it was helping a company reinvent itself to enter new markets (at Microsoft), developing a winning business strategy in a market in freefall (traditional photography), or generating public donations during a round-the-world running event, I found that we were often “winging it” on critical skills like decision-making and leadership when real mastery was needed.
Over time, I realized something fundamental: society trains us to do a job, but doesn’t really train us to be a human. We’ve each learned some deep skills – designing circuits or drafting contracts or selling office space or palpating a contusion – but we haven’t mastered the generalized skills that drive much of our success at work or home. The more I explored this idea, the clearer it became to me that I had to devote myself to helping people gain these core skills.
Then I got very lucky: I met my co-founders, Andrea, Marc and Robin. It’s not that they had been waiting around for me to enlighten them with my vision – they were already pursuing similar visions on their own. But once we found each other, we recognized that we could combine our efforts to multiply our impact.
This multiplication works because we’re all getting out of bed each morning for the same reason: to help people and teams elevate their performance with the larger goal of improving every aspect of peoples’ lives.
Though we work person-to-person, the coolest part of our mission is that we get to do it at digital scale, with people in all sorts of industries and all kinds of roles around North America and the world. We’re living in a unique moment in history when, for the first time, we have the technological tools to help people make big behavior changes without the expense (and creepiness) of having a coach follow us around for a few months. Our classroom is global and the impact is deep.
Every day, our learners tell us stories about how their new skills are helping them collaborate better, sell better, lead better, and perform better. People tell us that their relationships are improving at work, at home, and even with their teenagers (really!). Each story is rocket fuel that drives us forward as we work to help more people, in more ways.
That’s why I'm here at Oji Life Lab. It's why I get out of bed each morning and often shapes what I'm thinking about as I fall to sleep at night. Our mission is to help you create your better you. Let us know how we can help!