At the Conference Board of Canada Innovation Summit this year one of the speakers during their lunch was Nitin Kawale, President of Cisco Canada. He spoke about how Cisco was enabling a concept he called Work Life “Blending” and contrasted it with the age old challenge of work life balance by accepting that in a connected world “balance” is virtually impossible to attain.
At the time I disagreed – maybe because I heard the voices of my parents and grandparents in my head as they “balanced” their work and life to enable the family experiences that I remember so fondly as I grew up. But the more I have reflected on that brief talk the more I am realizing that Nitin is right – balance is unattainable today, but more importantly I’m not sure that balance was the right goal in the first place.
Balance infers that we are able to somehow disconnect our work and personal lives to allow us to focus on one at a time and that there are nice clean borders around each that we can move in one direction or the other to create balance in our life. Further, the goal of work life balance infers that only when we have found the optimal balance point between these two separate and distinct worlds are we able to achieve happiness.
But if we look back in history (as in 500BC history) we find some insight that aligns pretty well with Nitin’s “blending” concept – long before the age of cell phones and Facebook:
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. -Confucius
It would seem to me that Confucius was making an early case for the “blending” idea. It’s not about separating our work and personal life, it’s about choosing a job that allows us to “never work” again. After all, if I love my job and love my life there is no reason that the two can’t happily coexist together rather than neatly balanced on opposite sides of a scale.
The more I think about it in fact, it is exactly the pursuit of “balance” that has made it so challenging for me to find the right mix of work and play in my own life. I’m passionate about both my professional growth and my personal life and family, but by trying to box them up separately and looking for an optimal balance point I’ve struggled. I’ve never been able to keep them truly separate – even before the days of 24-hour connections and Blackberries. But that’s the problem… they don’t need to be separate.
If you were called to the final interview for your ideal job TONIGHT, would you attend or try and reschedule to watch the Maple Leafs?
It was that question that finally cemented the blending solution for me. My ideal job would involve work I love and a company that understands my need to be flexible with my time to allow me to focus on family, interests, and work to maximize my enjoyment and productivity in all areas of my life. That may mean that some days I need to reschedule work things to allow me to do things that interest me personally, some days I may need to work from home to allow me to be present for important milestones of my kids, and some days I will have to work a non-traditional schedule to allow me to effectively care for the areas of my life outside the four walls of work. In exchange that organization will get a passionate supporter, a driven leader, and someone who’s willing to be responding to and dealing with issues from 5am to midnight and most weekends, no matter where I might be.
My life isn’t about trying to find an optimal balance between work and personal life, but rather about finding an optimal blend of activities and actions throughout each day that allow me to create value all around me with family, work, co-workers, and friends while accepting and embracing that I don’t plan to ever work another day in my life.
I don’t have to worry about balance any more, I can just enjoy being a passionate and dedicated person in all aspects of my life and allow it all to overlap without the stress of finding a “balance point”.
I like the idea of work life “blending”. It’s liberating.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.