I spent monday and tuesday attending a conference on mental health in the workspace. Topics ranged from stress and depression to motivation and creativity. The speakers were psychologists, business managers, scientists and even a priest (Johannes M?llehave).

The quality of the individual sessions varied, but overall the conference was good. I am left with the impression that mental health in the workspace is now being taken seriously. 15-20 years ago companies started improving the physical working conditions, and huge progress has been made in this area. Mental health, however, has long been a taboo, in private life and especially at work.

Therefore it was very refreshing to hear Jytte Hilden (ex-minister and current cultural director of the Royal Library) talk openly about her 3 bouts with depression. The latest happened a couple of years back, and when she needed 2 months off from work to deal with it, the Royal Library gave her that. She also did something I admire deeply: Before leaving, she assembled her staff, and told them exactly what was going to happen. She believes that this made it easier for her to come back after the 2 months, than if people had been told a cover story.

It was also very interesting to hear Niels Due Jensen the CEO of Grundfoss (the worlds second largest producer of pumps with 11.000 employees worldwide). He talked about how Grundfoss fight stress in their employees, and how they try to help seriously ill employees. It was clear to see, that this is a company that cares for it’s people, above and beyond the bottom line.

However, I have one major concern about the way the issues of mental health at work are being handled. In most cases it’s a matter of trying to avoid something. Companies are fighting stress, they have programs against smoking and drinking or they are trying to prevent employee burnout. These are fine and essential pursuits, but looking only at what you are to avoid os not enough in my opinion. You could in theory create a workspace where nobody suffered from stress, burnout etc., but that does not automatically make it a great place to work.

I think we should try to define the qualities that we DO want present in our work, and try to envision a way of working together that will give people a positive work life. It’s more fun to create a future when you base it on something you want, than when you base it something you want to avoid!

Possibly the best music video ever

Team up Fatboy Slim, Spike Jonze and Christopher Walken and what do you get? My favourite music video. It’s weird and beautiful, and Christopher Walken even choreographed his own dance moves.

Trivia about Christopher Walken from imdb: “Manages to insert a little dance number into all of his roles, no matter how small, scripted or not”. I’d never thought of that, but yeah – there’s the wedding dance in “deer hunter”, there’s the tango scene in “scent of a woman” and some truly amazing dance scenes in “pennies from heaven”. Though I don’t seem to recall him dancing in “pulp fiction”..?

Book review: The marriage of sense and soul

Science gives us truth. Religion gives us meaning. We need both. In this book Ken Wilber argues that we need a world view that unifies science and religion/spirituality, which is hardly news. What was new (to me at least), is that he claims that such a world view is possible, without distorting the essential nature of the two.
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Yay, books

My latest order from Amazon just arrived. Some 15 titles from Margaret Wheatley, Peter Senge, Harrison Owen and many others. We’re talking a combined 40 cm. of shelf-space on the soul and spirit at work, systems thinking, self-organization, physical thinking, learning and much, much more. Seeing all those books waiting to be read is exhilarating and intimidating.

How Denmark won the 1992 european soccer championship

TV2 Zulu (ubertrendy danish TV channel) has just finished showing all of Denmarks games from that glorious summer ten years ago, and it brings back to mind one of the most unlikely tales in sports history.

Denmark went into the tournament as rank outsiders. We didn’t even qualify, we were just called in to make up the numbers after Yugoslavia was banned because of the civil war in the balkans. While the other teams had had months to prepare, the announcement that Denmark would participate instead of Yugoslavia came ten days(!) before the start of the tournament.

Denmarks best international result until then had been a place among the best 16 in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico (unless you go back to -56 where we won an olympic silver medal).

And yet we won in -92! Always with the smallest possible margins, always with luck on our side, never doing more than the minimum requirements, and yet eliminating teams like England and Holland, to finally beat Germany 2-0 in the final. Ask any dane above the age of 18, and he or she will probably be able to tell you what they were doing on that day.

And how did we do it? The most important reason was a good team, with few strong individualists. The danish team seemed to fight for each other, every player backing up his team-mates. Luck played into it, and we had plenty of it that summer. We had so much luck, that it couldn’t just be a coincidence. Also, we were the outsiders. We had nothing to lose and everything to win. We went in to every game with no expectations. It would have been irrational to expect anything of the team under the circumstances. And yet we won. Might there be a lesson here?

And if you’ll excuse me, I will now lean back in my chair for a moment, think back on those days, and enjoy that irrational, beautiful, warm, glowing feeling I always get when I’m reminded of it – even now ten years later.

Book review: Harpo speaks

“I’ve played piano in a whorehouse. I’ve smuggled secret papers out of Russia… I’ve gambled with Nick the Greek, sat on the floor with Greta Garbo, sparred with Benny Leonard, horsed around with the Prince of Wales, played ping-pong with George Gershwin. George Bernard Shaw has asked me for advice. I’ve basked on the riviera with Somerset Maugham… I’ve been thrown out of the casino at Monte Carlo.”

(From the back flap of “Harpo Speaks” by Harpo Marx).
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Exercise: Believe the best about people

We were down at the local supermarket today, and the guy behind the cash register was slouched in his chair like a rag doll, made no eye contact with customers, and had a vibe about him that said “I’d rather be anywhere else”. Normally, I’d be thinking along the lines of “indifferent asshole, why doesn’t he cheer up”, but suddenly it hit me: Maybe there’s a good reason he’s like that.
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Book review: Orbiting the giant hairball

Gordon Mackenzie spent 20 years working for Hallmark, and his experiences there have enabled him to write what he calls “a corporate fools guide to surviving with grace“. There’s no doubt that Gordon is a free spirit, and here he shares the mindset and that allowed him to survive and prosper in a large, conservative organization. That’s how he came up with the mental image of the corporate hairball – a disgusting but instructive metaphor…
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