Are You Alive at Work?

Have you ever been so engaged in a project that the hours you spent working on it seemed like minutes and you almost hated to finish it?

A key mechanism in reaching that state is your brain’s”seeking system,” says Daniel M. Cable, a social psychologist and professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, “When our seeking system is activated,” he says,”we feel more motivated, purposeful, and zestful. We feel more alive.”

In his book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, Cable says that employees’ seeking systems play an important role in fostering creativity and innovation. However, many organizations are “deactivating” the seeking systems of their employees by limiting their roles, stressing efficiency, and enforcing precise metrics.

Three triggers that activate the seeking system–self-expression, experimentation, and purpose–are disregarded or discouraged in many organizations. People who can respond to these triggers at work actually produce more dopamine–the same neurotransmitter that is increased by physical exercise. Absence of those triggers leads to fear and apathy. The effect of a work environment that discourages employees from offering ideas or taking time to try new approaches is similar to that of an opiate.

Think ponds are a way to preserve your seeking system–whether you work somewhere that encourages self-expression, experimentation, and purpose or the opposite. Your think pond celebrates ideas and provides a space for experimentation. Finding meaning and purpose in the work is intrinsic to the process.

If you already love your work, maybe a think pond will help you improve and advance the ideas and solutions your employer seeks and go after opportunities that make you feel even more alive.

If not, maybe your think pond will give you a diversion that compensates for your stultifying workplace. Maybe it will help you change it. Maybe it will bring you the clarity and courage you need to leave it for the situation that gives you life.

What Unites Us?

Pick out ten people from the phone directory, randomly. Chances are, they will differ widely in their methods for earning a living, their career aspirations, and their educational credentials. They will each have their own interests outside of work, their own ways of making the world better, and their own unique mix of strengths and struggles. However, something unites all their diverse enterprises–all the different ways they spend their time, earn their money, and pursue their own conceptions of excellence and success. What we all share are four inter-related, lifelong human capabilities:

We dream. We learn. We create. We launch.

Those capabilities are at the root of everything we do in the world and we continually develop them and draw from them. They underpin all our efforts to plan careers, pursue jobs, improve skills, build reputations, cultivate clients, and build networks. They are with us throughout our studies and in every job we hold, as well as in all the periods of transition and change in between. They are the cornerstones of what we do to add value in our workplace and in all the communities to which we belong.  They create the framework for facing challenges, confronting change or upheaval, and dealing with what disturbs or inspires us. They contribute to our everyday, mundane activities, such as cooking or shopping, our pursuit of and escape from routine, and all our efforts to care for family, friends, community, and world. They help us cope, persevere, grow, and find joy. Regardless of occupation or location or education or wealth, every person possesses these four capabilities in some form and develops them to some degree.

Those four endeavors are powerful tools we can use to confront the changes and uncertainties of this time and to live a more rewarding, meaningful life. Most of us, however, are not using the tools at our disposal to our full advantage, nor are we sharpening them in preparation for future challenges.

How can we pursue these endeavors with greater passion, intention, and discipline?

What Does It Mean to Thrive at Work?

To thrive at work is to provide for my family while doing work that aligns with my vision of life and of a better world. The work is meaningful to me and I am fully exercising the abilities I value. Thriving means I have an appropriate balance between stability and flexibility so that I am always able to foresee and adapt to changes in my field. It means I am able to contribute to the work of others and call upon a network of collaborators when an exciting opportunity opens. It means having the freedom to try new things and explore new ideas.

Inspiring Quotes for Think Ponds

“The future is not in building a new tower of Babel, but in cultivating well trodden paths from house to house.”
Raimundo Panikkar

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
Howard Zinn

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope…These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

“Fake” vs “Real” News: Not That Simple

I think we all know by now that the content found on the Facebook platform is a mix of real and fake news, but we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking in black and white terms. Otherwise, we will start categorizing news we disagree with as fake. Here is how I would categorize the information we see every day online:

Straight News. Accounts of completely verifiable events and statements. Journalists gather facts and evidence from first-hand observation of events and reliable sources. In writing their stories, they strive to present information with adherence to the ethical principles and traditional practices of responsible journalism, which places a premium on fairness, accuracy, and objectivity. Fact-checkers and editors provide further quality control. After publication, reputable media outlets are accountable for any errors that are revealed.

In-Depth Journalism. Articles in which principled writers take a position and make a strong case for that position after thorough and objective research. They follow journalistic and ethical principles, as well as the rules of logic and rhetoric. Their research includes careful examination of all principal documents in the public record (e.g., laws or pending legislation, existing regulations, relevant court decisions, relevant correspondence, speeches and statements), interviews with knowledgeable sources that credibly represent all parties, and thorough examination of opposing viewpoints. They do background reading and interviews to ensure that key facts are surrounded by a relevant “bigger picture.”

Public Relations & Advocacy Communications. Information that often imitates journalistic forms and style but is designed to shape public opinion about an organization or group and the causes, positions, or products it represents. PR professionals study their target audience and craft messaging that will persuade them toward desired beliefs or actions. PR and communications professionals typically strive to portray their subjects in the best possible light without making overtly false claims or omitting key facts. Readers realize the bias when they’re looking at company literature or op eds written by a CEO. But sometimes it’s not apparent what interests are behind the content. Exxon or Dow, for example, may sponsor a documentary about Alaska that has nothing to do with their oil pipelines and disposal of chemical waste. But the subtle message is that they are environmentalists who would not do harm. Moreover, journalists may get story ideas from press releases and use material from a company as background in their stories. Often, due to budgetary reasons, news organizations rely too heavily on media releases or inside sources.

Junk news. Sensational, often misleading headlines followed by shallow, poorly sourced content that echoes the emotions and prejudices of targeted groups without adding anything new to what is already reported elsewhere. Its purpose is to generate ad revenues, often for junk products. The information in junk news is not fake, but its production typically bypasses the quality controls that exist in reputable newsrooms. To produce junk news, the “writers” selectively assemble facts and quotes from reputable news sources, but they often ignore important context, opposing evidence, and background that would weaken the grand narrative that the targeted audience chooses to believe.


Propaganda. Content in which language, structure, and facts have been purposely manipulated to mislead, sway, divert attention, obscure truth, and/or cloud judgment. Typically, its purpose is to serve the interests of those holding or seeking power by promoting (propagating) an alternative to the predominant narrative. Not all propaganda is patently false. More often, propagandists present accurate facts but cite sources and select details that make the preconceived claims seem more logical, well-supported, and emotionally compelling than they are. They may use words, forms, images, and music that underscore the effect they are seeking. In short, propagandists persuade an audience to reach a conclusion based on emotion, psychological manipulation, or faulty reasoning rather than relevant evidence.

Fake news. Fabricated stories with little or no basis in facts that are represented as news. Fake news stories may be used as clickbait to build traffic for ads or for disinformation purposes. Fake news often can be disproven simply by googling claims of fact, using a trusted fact checking publication, and thinking about the reliability of sources. Many people don’t take those steps, however.

Think Pond Wish List

Think Ponds are for people who want to:

  • Do joyful, creative, meaningful, and fulfilling work.
  • Have conversations and experiences that stretch the mind, spark the imagination, and expand the vision.
  • Make “digital life” less fragmented, more inquiring, and more aspirational.
  • Become attuned to possibilities and potential changes that could have wide-ranging effects on their lives and the world.
  • Work with a diverse array of minds and talents.