Steven F. Freeman

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Serious Introductions

Serious Introductions

page last modified: 10/26/2013 05:17 PM

* Problem *

It’s good for class members to know their fellow students. This is especially so when the course involves extensive discussion, includes course projects and aspires to some sort of transformation. A good class can become a great class when students are learning not just from their professor, but from all their classmates as well.

But 1st Day of Class Introductions can be vacuous. People just give canned information about themselves and/or don't really listen to others because the information is canned and because they’re thinking about what to say themselves.

* Solution *

Delay introductions for awhile; let people experience their classmates in the course of exercises and case discussions, and then, once we’re ready, introduce ourselves using what Orin Davis calls "Serious Introductions" [1]

This allows each person to highlight relevant interests, talents, and personal motivations.  It also allows each to feel heard and understood.

* Caveats *

If the story itself is does not highlight all three of interests, talents, and personal motivations, take time for each person to demonstrate them so that everyone is able to understand one another, and everyone has demonstrated both good presenting and good active-listening.


* Notes for Teachers/Facilitators *

as a class participant in the project, and also showcases the of everyone involved. 

Listening is especially important for the leader/manager, because it helps each employee to know that (s)he will be heard when (s)he has questions or concerns.  As such, (s)he knows that his/her opinion matters, and thus any personal effort (s)he puts in will be recognized by the manager.

This exercise builds not just honesty and openness, but a shared reality in which people are able to give their best in their work for their own, personal reasons.  The task may be assigned to a given individual regardless of anything said, but now the assignment can be framed and tailored to fit the employee’s interests and motivations.  An assignment given with that kind of specificity, care, and fit can be accepted as a trust and a part of the individual’s personal mission.  As such, the employee is far more willing to self-manage, will be strongly engaged in the project, and will likewise be willing to go the extra mile to complete the task superlatively.


As a personal example, a manager once tried to motivate a coworker of mine to get some extra research done for a white paper over a holiday weekend, which meant scrapping her plans, by telling her that the company paid her a lot of money.  When she did not accept that as a motivator, her boss just insisted that she complete the work.  Needless to say, that was the end of her motivation to do the assignment, and I saw several places in the finished product where her personal touch would have helped immensely.  Her work was still good, the white paper was acceptable, and she did everything she was told to do, but the white paper could have been far better if she had put herself into the work.  Had the manager known her better, he would have been aware that some of her proudest moments have involved helping people, and he could have pointed out that this white paper would contribute to improving quality of life in a third-world country (which it surely will!).  My coworker might not have been willing to put off her holiday plans and put her all into the assignment for money, but she probably would have been willing to do all that to help people in a third-world country.



* First Steps *

Managers and leaders should begin by preparing their own serious introductions and some reflections on their interests, talents, and motivations.  Then, incite others to do likewise.

* Moonshots *

Focus the work of management on a higher purpose

Take the work out of work

Expand the scope of employee autonomy


* Summary *

Instead of just assigning tasks to employees that end up being a grind, get to know employees and give them work that fits with their interests, talents, and motivations.

To get started on preparing a serious introduction, consider the following questions:

You at Your Best

  • What is the moment/event of which you are most proud?
  • What is your greatest achievement to date?
  • What are your top talents?
  • What do you do best?
  • What are you like when you are at your best?
  • If your spouse or best friend were asked to describe you at your best, what would (s)he say?

Your Motivations


  • Why did you choose the line of work you do?
  • Why did you choose the particular employer you work for?
  • How does your work fit in with your overarching life goals?


  • Why did you choose to enroll in your program of study?
  • Why did you enroll in this course?
  • How does this course and your educational program fit in with your overarching life goals?
  • What other subjects have you studied? What other topics interest you?
  • What else might you like to study? What else would you like to know?


  • Any other activities/hobbies in your life of special importance to you?
  • How does work/school relate to/facilitiate these ot other interests?
  • If If you suddenly have four uninterrupted work hours, and a great energy/alertness level, what would you do?

Your Interests

  • What work tasks do you most enjoy doing? 
  • What tasks of any type do you most enjoy doing?
  • What tasks can you get so involved that you wonder where the time went?
  • What tasks are invigorating challenges that you like tackling?  (If “none,” then imagine work tasks/assignments you would like to take on as an invigorating challenge.)
  • If you could design your own job, what would it be?  (If you need to, start with an unrealistic answer, and then work back into reality from there, but DARE TO DREAM!)

Your "Strategic Advantage"

  • what is your personal skill set?
  • what do you do realtively easy, i.e., things you can do more easily that other people [2]
  • who and what do you know that might be of particular value?

See also Finding Your Strategic Advantage , "The Calculus of Grit"

Your Course Project(s)

As you move into a specific project, have everyone consider the following:

  • What would you most like to accomplish?
  • What do you hope to learn?
  • What are you uniquely able to do or contribute?
  • What tasks do you hope to do?
  • How does this project fit into your work?
  • In which ways is this project an invigorating challenge?  If it isn’t yet, how can you make it so?
  • How does this project and task list fit into your motivations, life aims, and career goals?  If it doesn’t, what can you add or change that will make this task more than just an assignment?

* Notes *

Also, people may want to discuss these with friends/spouses/colleagues first.


* References *

[1] Orin Davis, "Turn the Grind into the Grand with 'Serious Introductions'" December 23, 2011

[2] Venkatesh Rao "The Calculus of Grit" August 19, 2011



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