work as adventure

Work as adventure

Impact associate Howie Crook has long felt his work to be a great adventure. For his Masters in leadership, Howie set out to explore to what extent others might share this viewpoint and what the implications for leadership may be.

Howie’s research consisted of a pilot questionnaire, in-depth interviews, followed by secondary questionnaire. Participants were drawn from the fields of training and development, healthcare, construction, IT and engineering.

Key findings:

Yes, work can be, and is, experienced as an adventure.

As the research progressed, 90% of respondents repeatedly agreed that work can be, and is experienced as, an adventure. Furthermore, when adventure is present, work is experienced with a sense of vibrancy and energy. Adventure was universally described as a positive experience.

‘Work is without doubt the most ongoing adventure of my life’

One of the most exciting findings was that although research participants believed work to be an adventure, rarely had they considered it in this way, prior to the research. By simply introducing the concept of adventure at work, we have the potential to make a positive change to the way people view and experience their work.

“I have to say that it is seeing work in a different light and changing negatives into positives of an adventure that actually can really give one increased fulfilment, resilience and wellbeing.”

“I truly never thought of it that way until I agreed to respond to your survey. After writing my response to your first question it’s absolutely an adventure.”

Adventure is commonly associated with daring feats of heroism. If you Google adventure, you will see ubiquitous images of outdoor challenge, so how does this relate to work? It is interesting that when you ask people what adventure means to them, common keywords are challenge, excitement, courage and play, also but to a lesser extent, the element of risk. In Howie’s research, very rarely did people suggest the outdoors as their source of adventure. Almost by definition, adventure is an inner experience that can be experienced in any situation.

‘It is about following a passion which often means taking a risk but one that is worthwhile, as I will grow a business doing something I love and living to work as opposed to working to live’

When asked ‘what does adventure mean to you?’ people commonly shift in body language as they appear to connect with a frisson of excitement and purpose.

On further exploration, the energy of adventure appears to come from an alignment with true purpose.  Something we really aspire to achieve, we know it’s possible and attainable but it will involve a stretch to reach out and grasp it. It might be felt when embarking on a new relationship, business venture or project, where we don’t know what the outcome will be but we’re excited for the future.

How does adventure connect with leadership?

It has been said that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are leadership authors; in the same way adventure is unique to the individual. Adventure is felt as a vibrant emotion, as is leadership. Like leadership, you know when you are experiencing adventure but it’s very hard to pin it down.

‘I think adventure in its purest form has many parallels to the challenges of leadership in particular. I also sense that those who get the most out of leadership challenges are those who embrace the experience fully as an adventure in its own right…’

It is often said that we now live in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA world) respondents suggested that adventure experiences are transferrable.

Having experienced stepping forwards with courage we develop the inner confidence and resources to repeat this time and again. Respondents also suggested that these are the essential traits required to be successful in a VUCA environment (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) An environment that requires innovation, courage and informed risk taking.  In addition to innovation, adventure was associated with development and growth. Adventure as a verb has inherent movement, as we move towards achieving our personal challenges, we experience development and growth.

‘Also work can be an adventure in achievement, feeling like you are making a difference in your work, being innovative. So for me work can be an opportunity to face challenges, achieve new things, be inspired and be on a journey of adventure’

For all its passion and promise, excitement and reward, we often hesitate to step into the adventure of life, choosing safety instead.  Like leadership, adventure takes courage; courage that can be supported or stifled by those around us.

  1. How do we create a sense of adventure at work?
  2. Examine your own beliefs – it will only be possible if you think it’s possible. For managers in particular, explore how you can increase autonomy for others within their role.Personal Support is a crucial factor that allows people to find the courage to grow.
  3. Adventure at work is a relatively new paradigm. Have the courage to start the conversation. Simply ask how could work be experienced as a positive adventure and enjoy some great dialogue.