Innovation, Creativity and Right Livelihood

The 200-odd essays that comprise this blog are primarily intended for those who earn a living by producing tangible “stuff”. Innovation, hence creativity, is a common theme within these essays. Those who find creative expression in their work are likely to be engaged in “right livelihood” – or, as Joseph Campbell often said, “following their bliss”[1]  — within their work. It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of finding “right livelihood” in the 21st century. Toward Right Livelihood, an essay from last autumn, is worth repeating. C.H.


Toward Right Livelihood – from 18 September 2014

“Right Livelihood”?

Dreamstime BuddhaGreen Soul Botanical’s mission statement concludes with “…while providing right livelihood for those associated.”[2]  The term “right livelihood” is a Buddhist precept, part of the eight-fold path toward abatement of human suffering. Originally, “right livelihood” was defined in the negative, through a list of activities to be avoided in the course of earning one’s livelihood. For purposes of this blog, the term “right livelihood” is used to convey a high degree of personal job satisfaction.

Right Livelihood and Sustainability

This blog focuses on smaller manufacturing firms and the people that earn their livelihood from engagement with those manufacturers. Right livelihood entails the continuing viability – that is, the Sustainability – of those firms. And the many tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities that have closed since the Millennium suggests that “continuing viability” is no mean requirement. No factories = no livelihoods, right or otherwise.

On the other hand, organizations that intend to grow and prosper need to attract skills and talent. Those with skills and talent can, and increasingly will, demand access to right livelihood.

What to Do?

As the 21st century unfolds, manufacturers can expect declining need for labor and increasing need for the talents and skill sets that can take advantage of rapidly changing technology. Organizational and managerial concepts need to change apace.

Maslow's HierarchyThink Self Actualization: The operative meaning of right livelihood in any given situation is highly personal, hence subjective. Managers, however, can build an understanding by learning to see their organization through the eyes of others that are – or should be — associated with their firm. Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs provides a model for doing that.[3]

Organizational Structure: Industrial Age organizations usually had command and control based hierarchical structures. Today’s organizations need be structured to serve today’s realities. Professional partnerships, such as legal firms, offer one organizational model worth some thought. Family – owned firms offer another. There are a lot more.

Continuing Education: The pace of technological change continues to increase. The 20th century idea – complete your education then go to work and use it – is far from sufficient today. 21st century organizations are well advised to provide ready access to continuing education for those associated. Consider, for example, that a career military officer is, practically speaking, required to obtain a graduate degree during the course of his or her service. Further, the officer will spend much (approaching half) of his or her service time in service schools.

Fortunately, technology continues to make pertinent education much more readily available, even for smaller firms.

Talent and Tenure: Reid Hoffman, the CEO of Linked-In, has written a new book[4]  that maintains that lifetime employment is no longer a reality. He urges employees and employers alike to think in terms of tours of duty and provides some thought provoking models. When interviewing potential employees, Linked-In asks prospects what they want to do after they leave Linked-In!

It is also useful to consider professional athletic teams. Teams compete for talent, and develop that talent; with the mutual understanding that any given athletic will likely play for several teams during the rather short course of an athletic career.

Keep in mind that Silicon Valley and the National Football League are rather extreme examples. Still, the emphasis in the 21st century is on access to the skills and talents necessary at any given time. Every firm needs a plan for such access.


The Alliance, Right Livelihood and Sustainability

Added 25 September 2014

Wait a minute – take another look at the Talent and Tenure section just above. It’s really not sufficient to close with “…the emphasis in the 21st century is on access to the skills and talents necessary at any given time. Every firm needs a plan for such access.”

What sort of plan?

The Alliance, Reid Hoffman’s book mentioned above, does provide some insight. Early on, the book says:

“The Alliance isn’t just an argument that we need a new way of doing business. It’s a blueprint for how to actually do it. It’s a way to invest in the long-term future without sacrificing adaptability. The alliance makes employees more valuable by making them more adaptive and more skillful, gives managers the tools and guidance to work better with their direct reports, and teaches companies how to effectively leverage and retain entrepreneurial employees.” (page 20)

Employment at Linked-In consists of mutually agreed “tours of duty”, usually lasting 2 – 5 years. A written statement of mutual expectations for what is to be accomplished during each “tour” – for the company and for the employee’s career development – are spelled out. The statement is not legally binding. The basis is ethical, rather than legal. Generally, the company asks for a ‘right of first conversation” toward the end of each tour, where the employee’s next tour of duty is discussed – within Linked-In or without. When employees do leave, they become part of a Linked-In alumni association, through which present and former employees can network to everyone’s advantage.

Linked-In’s plan apparently works for Linked-In in their talent intensive high tech environment. It is not clear how well it would work in other situations, especially those where employment stability concerns employees more than career development opportunities. Still, all employers need the ability – and flexibility – to engage the skills and talents needed in the rapidly changing 21st century business world. And employees need an honest way to develop, utilize and be appropriately rewarded for their skills and talents over the course of their working lives.

As The Alliance concludes:

“Remember: a business without loyalty is a business without long-term thinking. A business without long-term thinking is a business that’s unable to invest in the future. And a business that isn’t investing in tomorrow’s opportunities and technologies is a company already in the process of dying.” (page 153)


Chuck at Big SurI find the matter of right livelihood to be especially important for any firm intending to survive, let alone thrive, in the 21st century. Ideas, thoughts and comments are especially appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

Buddha image: © Jannelainea | Dreamstime.comThe Great Buddha In Kamakura Japan / Daiputsu Photo

Hierarchy of needs graphic: Creative Commons via Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Maslow#mediaviewer/File:Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg


[1] “Follow your bliss” became a hallmark of Campbell’s thought following a series of television interviews with Bill Moyers entitled The Power of Myth, which were televised a few months after Campbell’s death in 1988. For more on this, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

[2] Green Soul Botanicals is an emerging artisanal manufacturing business. A continuing series of posts to this blog follows Green Soul’s development. For more on Green Soul, including Green Soul’s complete mission statement, see The Green in Green Soul, this blog: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/05/21/the-green-in-green-soul/

[3] For more on Professor Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs, see the Wikipedia wiki at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Maslow

[4] R. Hoffman, B. Casnocha and C. Yeh, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, Harvard Business Review Press (July 2014)