Sparking joy

A US friend I holidayed with earlier this year recommended me a book The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.

Over the years I've bought several books on organizing maybe because personal organizing seems to go with organisation design in my mind, they're both about streamlining, clearing clutter, and making things effective and efficient. I've followed many of their precepts and advice. This weekend – following the Kondo path I jettisoned several cases of books including It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys: The Seven-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized. I learned from this book and now can find my keys when I need them. But I'm not sure I followed all seven steps.

Marie Kondo is very against prescriptive steps. Her method is more straightforward. She starts by asking clients to put everything that is roughly in the same category in a heap in the middle of the floor. (So, for example, collect together all your clothing from wherever it is in your house and pile it up on the floor). Then pick up each item and ask yourself if it 'sparks joy'. If not get rid of it. I'm very taken by this although it's a little too late for me as apart from the books – now reduced considerably – I have virtually no possessions or stuff having ditched just about everything else when I left America.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a colleague, Mark Lancelott, (read a recent blog of his here) about analogies he uses in his organisation design work. He favours one about weeding the garden, and pruning the shrubs and trees. Having read the book, I think the Marie Kondo approach would be terrific and not just as an analogy – more as an approach: some examples

  • Imagine taking all your HR policies and looking at them and then asking which of them 'sparks joy' in employees? Which of the policies would you get rid of in the light of that feedback?
  • Think about your business strategy. How is it worded and implemented to 'spark joy' in your customers and stakeholders.
  • How would you change your workplace environment if you reduced it to the items that 'sparked joy'?
  • What organisational papers, documents, reports, and PowerPoints 'spark joy'? (Kondo thinks no papers are worth keeping which could cause alarm in the audit department).

I can visualise the raised eyebrows if organisation design by the Kondo method was mooted but if we believe in employee engagement and high performance or maybe in the concept that 'Work is love made visible' then the idea of sparking joy is not too alien.

Given the stunning success of Kondo's book it might be timely for organisation designers to surf this wave and apply the Kondo method to organisational systems, processes, policies, and workplace environments. People may know what we are talking about, see the connection, and be willing to give it a go – so long, of course, as it wasn't 'another initiative'.

We already have some related principles in lean techniques and the agile principles so we could build on these.

Of course we'd have to overcome our risk averse-ness 'we might need it some day' mentality, but as George Carlin's short comic piece on stuff reminds us we get weighed down by unnecessary things. And we can see this in our organisational lives too. We hang on to stuff that is way past usefulness or other merit. (See my blog piece on horseholding).

I wonder if 'sparking joy' should be one of the aims of good organisation design? Let me know.