Why am I, a man, writing about this?
I'm writing about it because this is what I do. It is my area of expertise. I study groups of people who excel at something, examine the research and draw conclusions.
I am not a housekeeper, but when I joined the Gallup Organization back in 1987, my first assignment was to design psychological tests to help Walt Disney World select more housekeepers like their best housekeepers. The initial step in the design process was to gather a small study group of the very best housekeepers and ask them questions to discover the traits or habits or insights they shared. So, imagine eight housekeepers sitting around a table, some nervous, others completely relaxed, chatting away in English or Haitian Creole or Portuguese. One of them had been a housekeeper for only 18 months, while another had cleaned the same section of rooms in the same hotel for 23 years. They were of different races, sexes and ages. They didn't know each other.
And yet, when I asked them the question, "How do you know if a room is clean?" they all spontaneously gave the same answer: "To know if a room is clean, the last thing you do before leaving it is to lie on the guest's bed and turn on the ceiling fan."
"Because," they explained, "that is the very first thing that a guest will do after a long day out. They will walk into the room, flop down on the bed and turn on the fan. If dust comes off the top of the fan, no matter how sparkling clean the rest of the room is, the guest might think it is as dirty as the top of the fan."
I love this phenomenon: that people who look very different on the surface, and who don't know each other, do actually share an insight or a practice or an approach, something you can discover by asking open-ended questions and then keeping quiet. I pursued this phenomenon with my next project, the study of the world's best managers, which eventually grew into my first book, First, Break All the Rules. From this research with great managers, I now know that when you ask them an open-ended question, such as, "What is the best way to motivate people?" they all say the same thing. "It depends on the person." And from this, and other similar questions, I also know that individualization is one of the practices shared by all great managers. I know this for certain, even though, as my team will attest, I am not a great manager.
Spurred by the data I shared in my previous post, and by a rather overwhelming outpouring of questions after an appearance on The Oprah Show, I decided to take the same approach with women. If you could find the happiest and most successful women, women who had somehow bucked this downward trend in life satisfaction, women who had made life choices that strengthened them, who had become happier the older they got, if you could find these women and ask them questions and listen, what would you discover? Despite all their differences—of style, age, career, wealth, value system—what if anything would they have in common? What would they share?
I'll focus my next post on how we selected the study group and what we learned.
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