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Sparking joy

07/19/15  4:12 PM 

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.


Oh, I loved your blog piece! I can just picture an organization using Kondo’s method to examine all of their policies, especially if they truly picked them up one-by-one and asked about them sparking joy for the employees.

I still think about two human resources blunders that I ran across in my own experience. The first was back when I worked at Norcal, the medical malpractice insurance company. There was a counter in the lunchroom where they offered not only free coffee, but a variety of tea bags and packets of hot cocoa and soup. It can’t have cost much, but at some point the bean counters gave the order to offer only coffee. It seemed like a small thing, but the reaction among my co-workers was seething resentment and a feeling that they were being pinched and devalued. The other was that Chaz’s umbrella corporation — a multibillion dollar Fortune 500 company — stopped giving holiday bonuses, but began sending out $25 Target gift cards every Christmas as a consolation present. Every time that Target card arrived it was a reminder of how we no longer got a holiday bonus!

On the other hand — a terrific example of sparking joy — my nieces and I got a behind-the-scenes tour last month of Pixar (over in the East Bay.) Kaitlyn’s roommate has a cousin who works there. Three things stood out:

1) Employee offices were clustered together by workgroup and they collaborated on a “theme” for their section and then decorated as much as they wanted. I saw clusters with jungle themes, Mexican themes, Robot themes — you name it. Furniture was whatever they wanted and they were free to have couches for naps and hang up “do not disturb” signs on their doors.

2) It was a large campus with large buildings, so employees were allowed to skateboard and pedal scooter, even inside.

3) In the main building, across from an always-open cafe, was a cereal bar: a huge room with tables and a long counter that had dispensers holding every type of cereal you can imagine, and a ‘fridge full of milk, all for free. It was immensely popular with everyone and so a great way to ensure that people didn’t remain isolated in their own departments. They also put the only bathrooms for the building on that main level, not far from the cereal bar, so that people would have to get up and walk when they needed to go. It not only ensured a little exercise, but increased the chances of people stopping to chat.

Posted by: Paula | August 3, 2015, 6:49 am

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