Jamie Notter is a consultant, speaker, and author who helps organizations perform better by strengthening their culture. Jamie brings twenty years of experience in conflict resolution, generations, diversity, social media, and leadership to his consulting work. An accomplished blogger, author, and speaker, Jamie has written three books, including his most recent hardcover (with Maddie Grant), Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
Management was invented 100 years ago, during a time in society when machines were transforming the world. Not surprisingly, then, we designed our organizations to run like machines. It made sense at the time, and it afforded us amazing increases in productivity, but we’ve squeezed just about all the juice out of that lemon, and now the downsides–the lack of agility and the horrible employee engagement numbers–have become more problematic. Today there is another revolution–the social media revolution–that is showing us what it could look like if we operated based on more human principles, rather than machine thinking. If we could make our organizations more open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous, we’d start to see the kind of agility, engagement, and results that we’ve seen with social media. I’m encouraged by the growing number of companies that are serving as positive examples of this revolution.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
I am revolutionizing work by helping companies change their cultures to be more human. I am almost disappointed that it has come down to culture, actually, which can be a bit of a buzzword in the business world, accompanied by inspirational posters, flowery values statements, and hipster-inspired foosball tables. But in the end, culture comes down to what is valued, and the companies that are shifting to valuing things like transparency, decentralization, authenticity, collaboration, and experimentation are the ones that are thriving today. I am lucky, because I get to help them do that.
Why do you do what you do?
My whole life has been about helping people move through the dark places that scare them so they can get to the other side, where things really work. That’s why I got into the conflict resolution field 20 years ago and then the organization development field eight years after that. The more I see of the work world, the more I understand the depth of the revolution that is required. I can’t see myself working on anything else.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
After high school I got to travel in Europe, which included seeing, in person, sculptures by Michelangelo and paintings by Renoir. Those were the only two times I felt actually blown away by art. My current art education is focused on contemporary art and is being facilitated by my co-author, Maddie Grant, who has two art history degrees.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
What makes my approach to culture and the future of work unique is how I connect it to the world of social media. I find it interesting that amidst all of the writing, speaking, and conversing that is happening around this social media revolution, so few have translated it into a new way of working. Similarly, there is no shortage of pontification about organizational culture, change management, and leadership–most of which seems disconnected to what people on the ground are actually doing in areas like social media. I guess social media seems too much in the weeds compared to the lofty thinking about management and leadership. But to me, that is precisely the problem. What I love about social media is that it is a “practicing art.” You can’t understand it until you actually do it. I read recently, “The problem with Wikipedia is that it doesn’t work in theory. It only works in practice.” We need that ethos in the management world, because we are way too good at staying in our heads. And with power becoming more and more decentralized, that approach will fail more frequently. One important way that I try to be different is having the discipline to integrate the theory and the practice, the thinking with the doing. Social media is a great vehicle for doing that.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
A few years ago I had my eyes opened by the martial art of Aikido. It is known as the martial art of peace, since every move is defensive. The point of all the moves in Aikido is to disarm the attacker while preventing him or her from harm. Lessons for the business world: most outcomes can be traced back to whether YOU are centered and balanced or not. To understand an opponent you need to be close to them and see things as they do. When conflict emerges, move towards it (that actually gives you more options).
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
I start with transparency. Look around and identify one or two things to share with others in your organization that don’t have that information already. It could be radical, like the boss sharing internal salary and bonus data with everyone (like Whole Foods does), or it could be small and easy, like bringing your team over to another department to share what your team does all day. The more information that is freely flowing within the system, the more powerful it is.
What time of the day do you do your best work?
I’m a morning person. I am happy to get up at 5 or 6 just so I can get a couple of hours of writing and work done before anyone starts emailing or calling. When Maddie Grant and I wrote Humanize, we had nearly a 24/7 operation going, as she is a night person. She’d take my drafts and work on them til the wee hours of the morning, and I’d wake up a couple of hours later and keep the ball rolling.
What do you do for fun?
I love running and cycling. I’m up to about 1500 miles cycling and 250 miles running per year, and if it gets much lower than that, I start to get unhappy. I’m not a racer or anything; I only compete with myself. But “athlete” is a part of my identity that I just can’t shake.
What does your preferred work environment look like?
I’m flexible on this one, except that I require room to roam. I’m a pacer. In the middle of working, I NEED to get up and walk around. When I worked in an office, this also helped me build and maintain relationships, particularly with people in other departments. But even working for myself, I need that physical movement to keep my brain sharp.
Where in the world are you?
Rockville, MD (just outside of Washington, DC)
How can people connect with you?