MOJO or Nojo: Where Are You Living?

The Journal for Quality & Participation, Marshall Goldsmith

January 4, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

A decade ago when we entered the 21st century, many leaders were preparing for and/or experiencing already the rapid rate of global change. Today, challenges such as technology and globalization, though significant and complex, are not the “unknown.” Leaders, organizations, and their teams are discovering ways to adapt to the quickening pace of global business, the ups and downs, and even the recent global economic crisis.

With the frenetic pace that we aspire to maintain, most of us are not fully aware of where we “live” emotionally, especially as it relates to the meaning and happiness we derive from our work. If we’re somewhat self-aware and have a moment to spare, we might question our “location” or as I term it, our MOJO, but most of us just don’t make the time. We think it will take too much effort—but this isn’t true. We can simply and easily analyze and improve our MOJO.
Defining MOJO

My mentor and friend Paul Hersey is a pioneer in the field of leadership development as well as a wonderful teacher. Many years ago, he taught me the value of using operational definitions. For example, when Hersey taught classes he explained what he meant when he used the words “leadership” or “management.” He made no claims that his definitions were better than anyone else’s; he merely noted that, for the purposes of his class, his definitions captured what he meant when he used these words.

MOJO is a word that can have many different meanings, so I’ll follow Hersey’s example and give you my operational definition of MOJO: that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside. As I ponder this definition, I realize that Hersey is a professor who demonstrates incredible MOJO every time he teaches!

When I think about the truly successful people who I have met in my life—the people who are succeeding at both what they do and how they feel about themselves—I realize they all have MOJO. We see people with MOJO in every occupation and at every level of an organization. I was recently working at a healthcare organization in the Midwest.
I watched as the CEO gave awards to employees who best demonstrated the organization’s values. I was amazed at the great attitude—the MOJO—these award-winners displayed in such diverse occupations as cafeteria workers, technicians, nurses, and administrators. These people were all demonstrating MOJO.

While I enjoyed observing these exuberant and motivated people get their awards, I thought about the thousands of people in similar jobs around the world who don’t demonstrate MOJO, the people with a negative spirit toward what they were doing. That, too, starts from the inside and is apparent on the outside.
When There’s No MOJO

In defining a term, it is often useful to think about its opposite. Mark Reiter (my agent, fellow writer, and friend) and I struggled to come up with a word that describes the opposite of MOJO. We finally decided that Nojo was the word for which we were searching. I love it! Even its sound communicates its meaning. Table 1 lists the attributes of MOJO and Nojo. You can observe MOJO and Nojo in the people around you. When you get the chance, watch two different employees doing exactly the same job at the same time. One could be the embodiment of MOJO while the other is the poster child for Nojo.

Consider the case of flight attendants. For 32 years, my work has taken me around the world. On American Airlines alone, I just passed the dubious milestone of more than 10 million frequent flyer miles! All this flying provided me the chance to interact with thousands of flight attendants. Most are dedicated, professional, and service oriented. They demonstrate MOJO. A few are grumpy and act like they would rather be anywhere else than on the plane. They demonstrate Nojo. I’ve seen two groups of attendants doing exactly the same activity, at the same time, for the same company, probably at around the same salary, yet the messages that each is sending to the world about his/her experience is completely different.
How’s Your MOJO?

How can you recognize MOJO or Nojo in yourself and in others? Start by evaluating yourself and the people you meet on their MOJO or Nojo qualities, using the attributes in Table 1. Ask yourself contemplative questions such as, “What are you learning?” and “How can you either change yourself or your activities to empty the Nojo in your life and fill it with MOJO?”

Terri Funk Graham, a chief marketing officer and fellow San Diegan, pointed out that consumer brands can either increase our MOJO or fill us with MOJO! Think of some of the brands that you know. Which make you feel more MOJO? Which, without intending to, are increasing your quotient of Nojo?
Where Are You Living?

Now that you understand your current MOJO, you may want to increase it. Doing that isn’t too difficult. A fulfilling life—full of MOJO both personally and professionally—is a balance between short-term satisfaction and long-term benefit. Where are you spending your time? Are you living for short-term satisfaction or for long-term benefit? Both have value, and both have a downside. It can be disappointing to live our lives with no meaning or pleasure in the here and now, just as it can be unfulfilling to live only for today.

Questions such as, “Does this activity make me happy?” or “Do I find meaning in the activity itself?” can help us gauge the degree of short-term satisfaction that we get from any activity. Additional questions including, “Are the results achieved from this activity worth my effort?” or “Is the successful completion of this activity going to have a long-term positive impact on my life?” can help us gauge our expectations for potential long-term benefit from any activity.

The graph in Figure 1 shows five different modes of behavior and how they can characterize our relationship to any activity—either at work or at home.

• Stimulating is for activities that score high in short-term satisfaction but low in long-term benefit. An example of a “stimulating” activity may be the use of drugs or alcohol. While the activity may provide short-term satisfaction, it may be dysfunctional in regard to long-term benefit. At work, gossiping with co-workers may be fun for a while, but it is probably not career or business enhancing. A life spent solely on stimulating activities could provide a lot of short-term pleasure but still be headed nowhere.

• Sacrificing is for activities that score low in short-term satisfaction but high in long-term benefit. An example of sacrificing could involve dedicating your life to work that you hate because you feel like you “have to” to achieve a larger goal. A more common example might be working out (when you don’t feel like it) to improve your long-term health. At work, sacrificing might cause you to spend extra hours on a project to help enhance your career prospects. A life spent solely on sacrificing activities would be the life of a martyr—lots of achievement, but not much joy.

• Surviving is for activities that score low on shortterm satisfaction and low on long-term benefit. These are activities that don’t cause much joy or satisfaction and do not contribute to long-term benefit in your life. These are typically activities that we are doing because we feel that we have to do them just to cope. Charles Dickens frequently described the lives of people who were almost constantly in the surviving box. These poor people had countless hours of hard work, not much joy, and not much to show for all their efforts. A life spent solely on surviving activities would be a hard one indeed.

• Sustaining is for activities that produce moderate amounts of short-term satisfaction and lead to moderate long-term benefits. For many professionals, the daily answering of e-mails is a sustaining activity. It is moderately interesting (not thrilling) and usually produces moderate long-term but hardly life-changing benefit. At home, some may view the day-to-day routine of shopping, cooking, and cleaning as sustaining. A life spent solely on sustaining activities would be an acceptable one—not great, yet not too bad.

• Succeeding is a term for activities that score high on short-term satisfaction and high on longterm benefit. These activities are the ones that we love to do and provide great benefit from completion. At work, people who spend a lot of time in the succeeding box love what they are doing and believe that it is producing long-term benefit at the same time. At home, a parent may spend hours with his/her child. It is time that the parent greatly enjoys while valuing the long-term benefit that will come to the child. A life spent on succeeding activities is a life that is filled with both joy and accomplishment.

The perception of both short-term satisfaction and long-term benefit is dependent on the individual engaged in the activity. Consider an immigrant who leaves a poor country and comes to the United States where she works 18 hours a day at two minimum-wage jobs. She may have a great attitude toward her work and save every possible cent for her children’s education. She may define her life as largely spent in the succeeding category—filled with short-term happiness and long-term benefit.

At the other end of the professional scale, a CEO could feel resentful and grumpy about her work (and feel trapped) because a drop in stock value means that she will have to work another couple of years to have the $10 million she told herself she needed to retire. She might see herself in the surviving category. Another CEO in a similar situation could feel happy and fulfilled at the prospect of leading a major organization through challenging times and see herself in the succeeding category.

The point is, two people could engage in the same activity but have completely different perceptions of what this activity means to them. This is the case because no one can define what shortterm satisfaction or long-term benefit means for you but you.

My suggestion for you is simple. Spend a week tracking how you spend your time. At the end of the week calculate how many hours you spent on stimulating, sacrificing, surviving, sustaining, or succeeding. Then ask yourself what changes you can make to help create a life that is both more satisfying in the short term and more rewarding in the long term.

Although the activities that take up our time can serve as one factor in determining our happiness and achievement, our attitude toward these activities can function as an equally important factor in determining the ultimate quality of our lives. If we cannot change our activities, we can at least try to change our attitude toward them.
The MOJO Survey

My daughter, Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and I developed the MOJO Survey to help us understand how respondents experience meaning and happiness at work and home. To complete this survey, go to MOJO survey participants were asked to describe elements of work and home life that scored high or low in meaning and happiness. Thousands of respondents have completed the survey already. We also asked participants to report on how much time they were spending in various categories. We then compared our results with their overall satisfaction with life at work and outside of work.

Our research from the MOJO Survey provided a clear message. People who find happiness and meaning at work tend to be the same people who find happiness and meaning at home! In other words, our MOJO is coming from inside—as much as it is from what we are doing. Details of this research are included in my new book, MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back When You Need It.

By increasing our understanding of MOJO—how we get it, how we keep it, and how we get it back if we lose it—we increase our actual MOJO. We can let go of what does not create happiness and meaning in our lives, and strive for what really matters to us—in other words, we can live a life full of MOJO, meaning, and purpose!
More Online

To learn more about MOJO, how it affects the new world of work, and why it’s more important than ever before, watch Marshall Goldsmith’s webinar at