Here’s a name for you: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Try pronouncing that one! (It’s a Hungarian moniker. Sounds like cheek-sent-me-high-ee.) Dr. Csikzentmihalyi is professor of Psychology at one of my alma maters, Claremont Graduate University in California, where he is professor of Psychology and Management and heads the Quality of Life Research Center. He doesn’t write directly about sales, per se. But he does speak to the issue of meaning in business eloquently and scientifically. And there are certainly corollary implications for sales in his work.
His work centers around the study of happiness, personal efficaciousness, and creativity. To wildly oversimplify Dr. Csikzentmihalyi’s work, he writes about what makes for value and meaning and happiness in business and work. Among other things, he tackles the question of what makes a business life worth living and what makes life worth living.
I have just begun to scratch the surface of his work and I won’t insult Dr. Csikzentmihalyi with further shallow oversimplification from my limited understanding and exposure, but he writes well, accessibly, and with the humility and humor of a true seeker. For example, to give just a hint of his tonality and concerns, in his book “Good Business“, he quotes Norman Augustino, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin:
“I’ve always wanted to be successful. My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it….You have to enjoy what you’re doing. You won’t be very good if you don’t. And secondly, you have to feel you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work.”
I‘m not an intellectual or an academic, like Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. This blog is meant to be practical, intuitive, annectdotal, and non-whitepaperish. It’s not the Harvard Business Review. But one of my recurring themes and passionate beliefs is that there is a great underestimation of the importance of meaning in the salesman’s life. Good salesmen and women are not testosterone driven, Darwinian manipulators, as they so often are portrayed. I believe deeply that lucre and achievement of material well-being are over emphasized in discussions of incentivizing sales folk.
My niche outsourced sales company, Corporate Rain, has mostly succeeded for sixteen years by projecting an institutional concern for ethics and meaning equally with profit. Maybe it’s a lucky accident, but it surely has made for a trope of centered happiness in myself and, I believe, in my sales associates and employees.
If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, I recommend a new book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink.