Ordinary Magic

Over the past two years, we six members of The Atlantic Systems Guild have been working on our second book together.  This one is about workplace culture. It deals with why some organizations are familial, nurturing, and mutually supportive, while others are angry and competitive.  People in all kinds of enterprise understand that culture — though they may have trouble getting a grip on exactly what that word means — is enormously important.  Our new work sets out to provide some guidance on preserving what’s good in your workplace culture and improving what’s not so good.

Part way through the drafting, I happened to come across a book by Dr. Ann Masden, Regents Professor of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.  The book[1] is about “resilience” in the very young.  It explores why some children come through enormous stress of grinding poverty or disruption for example, and manage to achieve all their promise and more, while others don’t.  She comes to the rather surprising conclusion that successfully rising out of stress is not so much a result of extraordinary talent and ability, rather it is the product of:

“commonplace adaptive systems for human development such as close relationships with competent and caring adults; committed families; effective schools and communities; opportunities to succeed; and beliefs in the self, nurtured by positive interactions with the world.”

These are the factors that Masden labels “ordinary magic.”

I have no children and no acquaintance with poverty, but the phrase “ordinary magic” has stuck in my mind for its applicability to the healthy workplace cultures we’ve observed and are now describing in our upcoming book.  The best cultures we’ve seen haven’t relied on notable culture skills or talent.  What they’ve resulted from is a set of rather un-extraordinary human interaction modes that make everybody feel pretty good, cooperate effectively, and value each other and their joint work.  These are the “ordinary magic” that sometimes evolves in the workplace, to everyone’s advantage.  And sometimes it doesn’t.

We’d love to hear your stories about cultures, good and bad, that you’ve encountered, either in your present work or in your past.  Have you been fortunate enough to see the ordinary magic in action, and to what do you attribute it?  Or have you seen its opposite?  And if so, what do you suppose was its cause? Let us hear from you:


[1] Masden, Ann S.  Ordinary Magic: Resilience in Development, Guilford Press, 2014.


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