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Learning gratitude by solving problems

This approach creates systemic opportunities to increase individual gratitude, and teaches individuals how to change systems.

Photo of Alex O'Neal
10 17

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Gratitude is behind much of the joy, hope, and progress we make in the workplace, and yet it's poorly understood and implemented in many organizations. Sincerity is crucial in gratitude, and Beck (2016; see pdf for references, details) defines four facets of sincere gratitude: 

  • Specificity
  • Personalization
  • Timeliness
  • Equivalency

May (1996), further explains that false gratitude is worse than none, as it creates anxiety rooted in a disconnect between reality and expectations. So in order to create gratitude, we need genuine opportunities to express it: someone to thank.

To give thanks requires a reason. This means we need to solve problems in the workplace. Potential solutions for common problems are obvious: training and career growth, mentoring, self-development, communication within a company. Beyond that, each company will have its own "gratitude attitude" culture and also its own problems. Creating systems which solve these problems, as well as offering methods of recognition, should create ample opportunities for thanks.

Based in the very human needs of recognition, growth, and reciprocity, these methods can be implemented not only at the departmental and company level, but individually. We know from system psychology that individuals can change systems. I therefore suggest training individuals in problem-solving that results in gratitude and humility - which might be expressed to themselves as well as others - for individuals who want to be the change but whose cultures aren't willing to take it on as a group.

(Aside: I believe the authenticity of the problem-solving and engagement by people could help reduce imposter syndrome.)

Research needs to occur to study successful instantiation of gratitude in organizations, and to determine success metrics. I would base quantitative and qualitative metrics in accepted psychological and sociological inventories, as well as service and product design analytics. Innovative new measures may evolve from this. A baseline needs to be obtained for each company, so change can be tracked.

Consultants should work with companies to:

  • Engage brainstorming and problem-solving top-down and bottom-up. Even if the consultant knows a solution, if the company comes up with it on their own they will be that much more engaged and invested.
  • Tailor solutions to company size, culture, and industry. Part of this includes evaluating the company's particular gratitude attitude, which gives us the baseline for measurement mentioned above.
  • Follow up as companies adjust to the new approach and new solutions.

Eventually techniques can be taught to others and spread more widely. Principles, tests, case studies, methodology, and analytics should be published in a journal and online, to provide a springboard for others. 





Idea Title

To be grateful, you need someone to thank.

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

By providing solutions to real problems, as well as hope, personal growth, and the chance to innovate, people will have a genuine reason to feel gratitude. Clear-cut methods of recognition and training will teach them how to recognize who to thank, how to thank them, and how to accept thanks genuinely.

Who are you innovating for?

Everyone who's working and feels insecure in their job; everyone who's passed over despite doing great work; everyone doing great work and grappling with imposter syndrome; everyone who sees problems and can't fix them by themselves. I want them to have gratitude and confidence because they helped solve a problem; gratitude and security because they've been recognized by their workplace; gratitude and clear self-knowledge because they know who they are and what they're capable of.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Departments within large companies; small-to-mid-sized companies; individuals. I am based in Austin, so I would begin there, but I think this could spread globally.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

Networking; public challenges/offers to companies willing to sign up; doing this for free the first time, in exchange for being allowed to share it as a advertising case study.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

See the pdf. Engagement must be obtained at the top, but involvement must happen throughout the company so everyone is invested in the process.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

Trial: Find a class or a startup or a small organization (a hobby club?) willing to test methods and approaches. Surveys. Focus groups.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

Find a mentor and dig more deeply and begin prototyping and testing. Time is limited for me; a grant would give me time to pursue this.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

2009, seeing people that weren't appreciated, I realized thanks were crucial to employee morale; 2014, not having someone to say thanks to, I realized that was crucial to my morale.

Tell us about yourself

I am a UX designer, analyst, and leader; product owner; founder of my own business, UXtraordinary.

Where are you / your team located?

Austin area, Texas

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

UXtroardinary LLC

Company / Organization Name

UXtraordinary

Tell us about your experience

Please see www.linkedin.com/in/alexoneal

Attachments (1)

IDEO-gratitude-aeoneal.pdf

A high level overview of gratitude, including the four telltale characteristics of sincerity, and why false gratitude is worse than none; examples of gratitude in the workplace (the good, the bad, and the ugly); approaches for systems to implement that increase opportunities for hope and gratitude within the workplace; a discussion of research direction and the ideas for measuring change; and results on an individual, departmental, company-wide, and community scale.

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