The Power of Wonder at Work


For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing about astronaut Jim Lovell’s astounding courage and ability to overcome failure. These are exceptional qualities indeed, but I think the real reason he’s my hero is his capacity for wonder.

In the sixties, winning the space race was very serious business critical to not only national moral, but also national security. It was a dangerous business too as most of what NASA was attempting had never been attempted before. Imagine being one of the first people to enter outer space, venture out for a spacewalk, leave earth’s orbit or see the back side of the moon. All of the astronauts in the Apollo program were well aware of the importance and danger of what they were doing and were rather stoically focused on completing their tasks and getting home safely. Jim was the same, but he also did something no one else did. He looked out the window and contemplated what he saw.

“I put my thumb up to the window and completely hid the earth. Just think, over five billion people, everything I ever knew was behind my thumb. As I observed the Earth, I realized my home is a small planet, one of nine in the Solar System. It is just a mere speck in our Milky Way galaxy and lost to oblivion in the universe.

“I began to question my own existence. How do I fit in to what I see? Then I remembered a saying I often heard: “I hope I go to heaven when I die.” I suddenly realized that I went to heaven when I was born! I arrived on a planet with the proper mass to have the gravity to contain water and an atmosphere, the essentials for life. I arrived on a planet orbiting a start at just the right distance to absorb that star’s energy – energy that caused lie to evolve in the beginning.

“In my mind, the answer was clear. God gave mankind a stage upon which to perform. How the play ends is up to us.”

How can you not love a man who at a time when he would be most entitled to a massive ego trip instead, finds himself in a state of profound gratitude?

Not many of us get to experience wonder on that scale. And most of us don’t think of the office as a wonder-filled place. But wonder is most definitely all around us, if we only know how to look for it.

I worked in the newspaper industry for the first 13 years of my career, and in my first week, I along with three or four other newbies was given an overnight tour of what was known as “The Daily Miracle”. That is, the herculean effort it took to put out a newspaper every day. We started in the advertising department, watching the last-minute ads being placed, and then proceeded to the newsroom to watch a small group of editors close the front page. Then we watched as a technician loaded that front page into a fax machine the size of a Volkswagen to send it digitally to our press center. Then we got in our cars and drove 50Km to that press center, where we watched the papers flying off the presses, sent through bundlers and placed on trucks. Back in our cars, we then we followed one of the trucks to a distribution point where a line of carrier cars, some with sleeping babies in the back seat, awaited load up so they could hand deliver newspapers to hundreds of thousands of homes. It took about 2,000 people to make the daily miracle happen. It was awe-inspiring. And I was honored to be a part of it.

I was in awe once again years later when as a start-up co-founder, I watched as in a single afternoon, my team figured out how to make e-commerce possible for small independent retailers who didn’t want to commit to time-consuming set-up, ongoing inventory control or the headaches of drop shipping (to this day, I think our solution was better than Shopify’s).

And I’m in constant awe these days as I watch my clients bravely transform their lives, their relationships and their careers. Each and every one of them is a wonder to me.

Why is wonder so powerful? Because it sparks creativity, connection and greater well-being to those who experience it. It makes work more fun. It generates energy and passion. It makes the work we do better. And when we fail, it makes it easier to get back up again.

How about you?

How often do you experience wonder and awe at work?

Not sure? How about this?

Have you ever been in a really good meeting? I’m not being facetious. I mean the kind of meeting where everyone connected to a purpose greater than themselves; when everyone is on their game, and each person brings their experience and knowledge to the table and then a magical shift happens, and an amazingly creative solution is derived?

No? Hmm… how about this?

Next time you’re in a meeting, watch for the wonder. Think about the things your organization does for your customers. How you make their days better, or easier, or even more profitable. Think about how your colleagues, connected by a common goal, work together to make it all happen.

Even the most mundane meetings have their moments of wonder. If you watch carefully, you’ll see astounding acts of kindness. Acts of courage. Acts of collaboration. Acts of creativity. It’s all there! You just have to pay attention.

Isn’t that a wonder?

(And if it’s not, could it be time for a career rethink?)

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