Who’s the happiest?

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Hmmmmmm… BadConsultant was just noodling on some long-standing, proven research that small business owners experience both greater pressure and higher levels of happiness with their work than corporate


employees. This research holds strong in most geographies and cultures.

Yet, the majority of the US workforce still chooses to stay constrained in corporate employment. Still builds resumés

[or CV’s for the latinate among you]

to seek the next rung on the corporate ladder. Still compromises individual strengths for the square hole of the holy job description.

Got us thinking.

We’ve written many times about the artificial thing that is the modern organization, most fully in ‘The Strengths Springboard – is your organization ready?’ and, as BadConsultant turned over the small business research, that word – ‘artificial’ – kept sticking out. Per the dictionary:


  1. made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural : her skin glowed in the artificial light | an artificial limb | artificial flowers.

    • (of a situation or concept) not existing naturally; contrived or false : the artificial division of people into age groups.
  2. (of a person or a person’s behavior) insincere or affected : an artificial smile.

[self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back for using the right word – yay! great job!]

Says it all, really doesn’t it?

Large organizations are a construct of the 20th century, and definitely made/produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally.

[At this point, some bright spark will pipe up that ancient armies weren’t from the 20th century – to which BadConsultant will retort that people should watch less Hollywood and read some books – the Romans? Pretty well organized. Visigoths? Not so much. Remember the victor writes the history books]

Typically as a copy of something natural. Hmmmm… Organismic, mechanistic, matrix, lattice, hierarchy, global, worldwide – we are always, ALWAYS using metaphor to try and liken the organization to something more natural.

Artificial division of people – that one’s easy: staff, line, management, workers, leadership, committees, unions, teams, thought leaders, brown-bag lunch party organizers.

Insincere or affected.

It was this last one that got us thinking in connection with small business owners.

Think of the myths you hear within the average modern organization

[and if we have to tell you why modern organizations tend to a culture of averageness, you haven’t been following along]

in fact, let’s focus in on the annual performance review…

No… Let’s not do that – it’ll take way too much space and deserves a post

[or seventy-two]

all to itself.

Let’s bottom line – worker who has spent the majority of the year on busy-ness not business, justifying their lack of results by just how much pressure they’re under, manager commiserating and putting in for a higher rating than justified in order to keep worker happy. The illusion of pressure repaid by the illusion of happiness. All of it ‘insincere and affected’.

While there is speculation that small business owners feel happier because they have control and the buck stops with them – both of which are valid and supported in psychology research – BadConsultant is happy to suggest that a good deal of happiness comes from not having to maintain a false, insincere persona all the time.

Look around yourself. Really look… How much energy is being wasted to maintain the illusion of pressure and the illusion of happiness?



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2 thoughts on “Who’s the happiest?

  1. Great comment, consultinggrad – and we seem to agree… in large corporations you serve the BS

    [BadConsultant is now pleased to formally re-spell BureaucraSy – so that it contains BS naturally]

    while in small companies you serve the customer

    [and not the purpose/mission/vision – because who needs that when you’re talking directly to the people whose lives you affect – and who buy your stuff]

    All that said, there are no tablets of stone that say large corporations need to be that way – check out anything you can (Gary Hamel’s Future of Management is a good starting point) about WL Gore and Associates.


  2. Interesting thoughts BC.

    I think the difference between big corporate and small business owner, is that the former is steeped in convention and politics and the latter is able to be more dynamic and cut through the s**t.

    Of course, to be a big organisation you need process and structure which eventually must be adhered to universally or else the whole construct crumbles apart and you have chaos.

    Talking about measuring performance, managers and the like need numbers and are receptive to easy measurables. Thinking about my experience as a recruitment consultant this would be cvs submitted to clients, number of calls in a day, number of hours spent on the phone etc. But does that really give an indication of results and does doing this net me a nice commission?

    Not necessarily.

    I can work much smarter but my numbers will be down while hopefully my commission is up and I’m out the office by 6. So, to not upset the conventions and the way things are done, I need to balance the two. Complete my objectives and satisfy the wants of my seniors who live in a system that has reached the point of constraining rather than facilitating positive action.

    Therefore, we who make up the big organisation are in effect un-aligned as we all have different concerns and objectives.

    In a smaller company or one where I might be the owner, the pressure is there but I can focus on working smart and working to processes that help me and bend every-so-often to accommodate the natural way of life – things change, s**t happens. Effort and work is therefore predominantly if not entirely honest and concerned with efficiency not bureaucracy.

    And after a hard day’s honest work, one feels great even through the pressure.


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