Good Work!

What’s the connection between our work and leading a good life?

Howard Gardner and I (we’ve known each other since our grad school days) had the chance to explore this question when we got together near Cambridge for a taped conversation (you can listen in on Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values, available from We explored the implications of Howard’s recent research, done with William Damon at Stanford and Mike Csikszentmihalyi, famous for his studies of “flow.” The team has been studying the ways in which people are able to combine excellence in their job with expressing their values – what they call “good work” (see their website,

This concept has helped me think through the relationship between emotional/social intelligence and people’s values. As mounting research suggests, this aspect of intelligence can contribute greatly to making someone an outstanding performer at work – for leaders, social intelligence strengths are especially crucial to success. But that says nothing about the values a person brings to their job.

The research on good work makes clear that there are a sub-set of people (hopefully large), who combine excellence at work with positive values.  When I asked Howard what he meant by “good” here, he said: “When we speak about ‘good’ work we speak about work that is excellent in quality, technically first rate; work that is engaging, personally meaningful, something that you really believe in and want to do;  and work that is ethical, work that constantly thinks about its implications for others, for the broader community. We talk about it as being responsible or ethical.  Think of them as an intertwined triple helix of three e’s:  excellence, engagement, and ethics.”

A high level of emotional and social intelligence, it seems to me, would provide the excellence and engagement in this equation – and, hopefully, set the stage for the third ingredient in good work, ethics.

3 thoughts on “Good Work!

  1. funny you should write this i have been reflection on “Good life” = good work. While at the same time wondering how ethics fit in with good work – the addition of emotional intellegence allows for another component.
    Perhaps the emotional intellengence and good work can fall into what Kant called duty – that depends upon the catagorical imperative for choices. Based upon reflection and understanding one shoule act in a way that if all others acted that way would reflect upon the good will and create positive ethiics (I am summizing here) emotional intellegent (in my view) aligns with the view of if we all act in an emotionally intellegent way the good work will increase as well as engagement and dedication to our work.

  2. I agree entirely with this post. My team and I have applied the triple helix over the past five years, somewhat intentionally, but we called it “metacenteredness” (basically the same thing but having the word allowed us to anchor to the intention on a personal and team level.) The application of the tripple helix facilitated not just extraordinary quality in the product, but also an increase in interpersonal cohesiveness, resilience in staying attuned to the vision (irrespective of the challenges we were confronted with on a personal and professional level), an increase in camaraderie, and a marked increase in the experience of flow which carried across to our personal lives as well.

    Thanks for the post Daniel.

  3. Forgive me for my poor english.
    Quoting from mr.Russell:to some extent,we should admit that we are responsible to work, but it is merely limited to by this.
    To me,family,love and friendship are the foundation of my life,then i can free my future,including doing favor to surrounding people,my country,and all the human beings.
    just personal opinion for you.

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