The Path to Meaningful Work and Life

Marjolein Lips-Wiersma and Lani Morris, The Map of meaning – A guide to sustaining our humanity in the world of work, Greenleaf, 2011

The lead author of this book is an Associate Professor of Management at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand and a leading figure in the Spirituality at Work movement. Her research and practice on meaningful work over the last decade, which has been primarily published in specialised academic journals, is now finally more accessible in The Map of Meaning, co-authored with Lani Morris, an independent organisational behaviour practitioner. In many ways this book brings some of the concepts and principles of SQ discussed previously to life. The simple yet profound Holistic Development Model (or Map of Meaning) provides a way to cultivate and practice SQ at both an individual and organisational level, whether one is interested in developing the self or engaging with work in a more meaningful way, or in fact creating and designing organisations that can provide greater meaning for those who work in them.

A key principle of SQ is being aware of one’s purpose, values and living a meaningful life. This book, which includes the Map and a series of exercises provides a practical way to engage with questions of meaningfulness in life and work. It is, as the authors say, ‘for anyone who firmly believes that it must be possible to align our deeper life purposes with our daily actions’ (p.5).

How does this book assist in developing SQ? The Map of Meaning contains four quadrants of meaningful work (see Figure): i) developing the inner self; ii) unity with others; iii) service to others; iv) expressing full potential. These emerge from the intersection of two key dimensions inherent in the human search for meaning: between the needs of the Self and the needs of Others, and between the need for Being (reflection) and the need for Doing (action). At the centre of the circle as well as surrounding it is the tension between ‘Inspiration’ (what gives people hope and purpose, including humanistic, theistic and spiritual understandings) and the reality and circumstances within which we find ourselves at any given point in time (real world pressures).

Working with the Map at either an individual, group or organisational level requires the application of certain simple exercises within each of the four quadrants. These offer opportunities for reflection and to find meaning in existing practices as well as to redesign practices and systems to create greater purpose and meaning. The key to greater meaning lies in achieving a more balanced and holistic state across the quadrants and dual tensions noted above. The upper left quadrant for example (Being – Self), is where self-knowledge can be applied to leadership, the bottom right quadrant (Others – Doing) is the space for genuine Corporate Responsibility.

The book is full of examples and case studies of how the Map has been used at all levels to achieve positive change and impact. It is a valuable tool for those who want to develop their SQ and apply it to areas such as leadership, genuine employee engagement, CR and systems level social change and impact, and to do so in a way that acknowledges the synergy that is required between such areas and the constraints that often exist.


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