Alive at Work:

The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do. By Daniel M. Cable

A Book Review
Book Cover of Alive at Work by Daniel M. Cable

“Alive at Work” Isn’t that what we all want to feel?

“I wonder what my soul does all day when I’m at work.” —Graffiti seen in London

How many people go to work feeling disengaged, bored, having “accepted working as a sort of long commute to the weekend?” Daniel M. Cable, Professor of Organisational Behavior at London Business School, explains how our desire to engage is not the result of how motivated we may be, it is about our biology.

Cable describes an actual part of our brain, the “seeking system” that drives us to be curious, to explore our environment, and to understand who we are in the world. When we follow those urges, our seeking system releases a bit of dopamine. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure, and linked to motivation and concentration. So, when we are playing a new game and dopamine is released, it makes us want to keep playing. The seeking system is what drives us to stay up all night coding a new app or writing a play. It’s what makes us feel more alive.

Too many company-cultures that are overly rigid or discourage risk, seem almost designed to stifle our seeking systems, dull or snuff out our eagerness to learn, explore, figure out new ways of doing things. As a result, their employees disengage and are not able to contribute in unique ways that would be creative and impactful. To stay competitive, companies need people to be creative, agile, innovative and to take risks–to engage. By igniting the seeking systems of their employees, business leaders can bring more meaning into the lives of the people they lead.

Through real life examples and extensive research, “Alive at Work” illustrates ways of stimulating the seeking system that creates changes in company culture. Cable describes:
•How to create a culture where people feel like themselves at work, their best selves; resulting in a much more open, comfortable work environment.
•How to design an environment where people feel safe to experiment, and are open to new ideas.
•How to help people feel more connected to their work and to find a sense of purpose in what they do.

Though Cable does not specifically address working from home or other “out of the office” environments, there is little doubt that creative and flexible approaches to the work environment can keep the work culture more creative and open, establishing a situation where innovation and enthusiasm can thrive. When real-world commuting is taken out of the picture (and let’s be honest – commuting can suck the life out of any person, no matter where you are) the increase in time and quality of life which follow, allow space for other passions, boosting the work-life balance and, in turn, creating a healthier and more productive workforce.

Cable mentions that as leaders, “It’s hard to inspire others when you are not feeling inspired. To be effective, you need a purpose for leading that you really believe in. Perhaps that purpose could be to make people feel more alive at work: to make life more worth living for the employees you serve.”

Maybe as part of helping people find more meaning in the work they do, leaders need to help their employees achieve a healthier work-life balance.

As leaders, you are in the unique position to model the importance of that balance. 100Ninjas helps many businesses and entrepreneurs balance their lives by removing some of the work that can weigh you down.