A Culture of Burnout Can Never Be a Culture of Creativity: Arianna Huffington’s Message to the INBOUND Conference
Last week was exhausting. Monday-Thursday were all very long days, working upwards of 12 hours at INBOUND, Hubspot’s marketing industry conference of over 5,000 people in downtown Boston. Industry thought leaders like Seth Godin, Nate Silver, Rand Fishkin, Nancy Duarte, Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah and a long list of others all presented their ideas and provided inspiration for the throngs of marketers, salespeople and other industry representatives in attendance.
Out of the hundreds of people whose ideas I absorbed throughout the week, Arianna Huffington’s keynote about Fearless Leadership on Wednesday morning stuck out above all the rest. It was an inspiring speech and her message hit very close to home: a culture of burnout can never be a culture of creativity.
She painted a picture of the successful American businessman: sleep deprived, exhausted, working 24/7 year after year until they have a corner office and a heart attack in their 50’s. Then she painted a picture of an alternative approach, one championed by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who used meditation and retreats into nature to cultivate their senses of creativity and decision-making.
Huffington’s message resonated with me so deeply due to an idea that was implanted in my head several months ago. It was an idea Stephen Covey conveyed in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey points out the importance of balancing P with PC, or Production with Production Capability. He tells a story of two men racing to see who can cut down a tree the fastest. One starts by chopping as furiously and quickly as he can. The other starts by sharpening his saw. The man who sharpens his saw for the first 15 minutes and falls behind the other, quickly catches up and surpasses him winning the race.
Essentially Covey is saying you have to take the necessary time to cultivate your means of production instead of focusing entirely on producing. If you work until you burn yourself out, your production suffers in the long run. Instead of working 12 hours a day, work for 8 hours and rest for four. After working for 12 hours a day week after week your body will shut down and the quality of your work will suffer. If you’re interested in producing high-quality, creative, meaningful work, then taking a sustainable, viable approach is the only real option.
Arianna Huffington spoke directly to this point. She told the INBOUND conference that stress costs American corporations $300 Billion each year in healthcare costs and loss of production. She prioritizes time and well-being over money and power. She told the crowd she keeps her bedroom a technology-free zone. She doesn’t want to be tempted to check her email or go online. She only reads paper books in bed (no ebooks). She believes very strongly in the importance of sleep and discounts the notion that depriving oneself of sleep is a badge of honor (she instituted nap rooms at The Huffington Post’s corporate office).
The tagline of the INBOUND Conference was, “Come Together, Get Inspired, Be Remarkable.” Huffington makes a simple but all the same brilliant point: in order to do something truly remarkable, you have to be in a present, capable state of mind more often then you’re not. Huffington advocates for adequate sleep, mindfulness meditation, and yoga as leadership tools to be taught in business schools. She shared the story of Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, who injured himself in a skiing accident. During his recovery, he became hooked on pain killers and it was yoga and meditation that rescued him from his addiction, transforming his life in the process. He then went on to make yoga and meditation available to all Aetna employees.
I was having dinner with a friend of mine Friday night who attended INBOUND and works in marketing at a global software company. She told me about an internal conversation she had that was largely inspired by Huffington’s speech. Her manager called a meeting to talk about her team’s work habits and whether or not they were sustainable, the importance of turning off their smart phones, checking out of work at the end of the day, taking care of themselves, and prioritizing their personal well-being. I was really happy to hear Arianna Huffington’s message got through to them and their corporate culture was evolving in a more mindful, sustainable direction.
I’ll be interested to see whether or not Hubspot’s corporate culture evolves in that same direction as well.