Searching for the meaning of life with Alain de Botton

This post originally appeared as a ‘Live Blog Postcard from the Beach’ in my role as ‘beach writer’ at the Purple Beach Experience 2015.

What is the point of culture? asks philosopher and author Alain de Botton. Alain unapologetically offers a utilitarian solution: the human soul is in trouble and art should offer us therapy. This is a theme that he argued in his book, ‘How Proust can change your life’.

When role models and supermodels like Miranda Kerr say they have found solace in eastern philosophy, Alain thinks this is because western thinkers have let us down, by failing to demonstrate a purpose for the arts in society. In fact Philosophy offers answers to our personal fears and crises. Take the idea of success. Our society places huge value on material prosperity as an indicator of how well we are doing. For many people in the west, their greatest fears are humiliation and poverty. This is exacerbated by mass media that delights in stories of failure. But the idea of success is ‘amenable to tweaking’. What if success was defined differently?

Alain thinks the solution to our fears is to work towards a more sympathetic society where we all understand how easy it is to ‘stuff up’; a world where we recognise that our mental health is very fragile and we are all ‘one blood clot away’ from the end of life.

When it comes to existential questions such as ‘the meaning of life’, Alain suggests that the ultimate goal of life is fulfilment and a sense of serving others. When jobs become meaningless, it is often because they have become disconnected from how we serve other people and why it matters.

The difficulty is getting such wisdom to ‘stick’. Hollywood films with mega-million budgets can move us for a couple of hours, but the next day, the effect has gone. Similarly, Alain suggests that companies who want to inculcate ‘values’ should learn from the great religions that used music, poetry, beautiful images, special places and above all, endless repetition from birth to death to establish their value systems.

Alain believes that every human fear presents a business opportunity. For example, Facebook has established a global empire by offering a sense of community to those who fear loneliness. In this era where so many people are searching for meaning, there is so much more to do, so many opportunities to address people’s fears in fulfilling ways.

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2015Postcards/viewBlog/5/Searching-for-the-meaning-of-life-with-Alain-de-Botton#sthash.wvna3gHY.dpuf

Engaging employees through social media – an idea whose time has come

Attending an event this evening hosted by Crelos, the organisational change consultancy, I was persuaded that social media has finally emerged as a major tool for employee engagement. Entitled ‘Into the Ether? Harnessing Social Media to Engage in Change’, the event launched a research report by Crelos consultant Alana Inness. I highly recommend having a read – it’s packed with useful insights about how enlightened companies are using social media tools right now.

Over the years, I’ve encountered several failed attempts to engage employees through social media. One that stays in the mind was an early attempt to introduce facebook like software to a bemused internal audience. Although the site was beautifully designed and attracted hundreds of sign-ups when launched,  a year later it was as dead as the proverbial dodo. People could simply not see the point of it, in spite of the majority of people being enthusiastic facebook fans outside of work. Similarly, I recall a highly charismatic leader whose enthusiasm for yammer introduced a new era of direct communication with his team, while his somewhat obsolescent internal communication manager watched from the sidelines. But when the leader left, the company’s flirtation with yammer ended. In both examples, it was a case of the right idea at the wrong time.

Yet it is as a collaboration tool that social media is now truly coming into its own, enabling organisations to harness the collective power of their people to solve problems. And if one of the essential principles of innovation is learning how to fail fast, social media has an important role to play. A memorable quote from the event was that there is ‘something very powerful about having a rubbish idea rubbished’ by your peers.

A reassuring message is that there are no real social media experts yet, because the technology is still too young. Everyone is still learning. The best way to start is to begin. If you don’t yet know what social media can do for you, then sign up and give it a try. That advice applies to organisations as well as to individuals. If you are one of those leaders whose idea of being on LinkedIn is to hand your PA all the business cards you collect, then now is the time to have a go yourself and see what it can do for you.