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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Could Ben Franklin find a Home at Your Company? The Challenge of "Renaissance Souls"

by Shel Horowitz

If you're the sort of person who thrives on challenge, gets bored if you do the same thing too long, and really enjoy being a business owner because everything's different, you're not alone.

And if you're the sort of person who likes things that fall into neat, clear categories, who wants to get really good at something and practice it to perfection, and who isn't sure how to manage those who have to have a constantly changing environment, listen up.

Margaret Lobenstine, known to many FBCers for her facilitation of the Older/Younger Generation discussion groups, came to the Family Business Center's April 9 meeting, at the Log Cabin, to talk about "Renaissance Souls"; those are the folks who go crazy without change in their lives-including their work lives.

Too often, says Lobenstine, society is set up only to acknowledge and reward the Mozarts of this world: those who find a passion early and stay with it for their entire lives. And as Mozart proves, that is one path to greatness.

But consider another exemplar: Ben Franklin: a man with vast accomplishments and successes as a statesman, diplomat, Postmaster General, scientist, inventor, among various other careers. "Mozarts come with a resume that makes perfect sense; they move up the career ladder, They do more of the same thing, but with more responsibility. We're not as familiar with the Franklin side. They are called dilletantes, dabblers." Yet the world would be a far poorer place without them.

Lobenstine, who is working on a book about Renaissance Souls, got interested in part because she herself fits the pattern. She gave up a very successful life as an innkeeper to become a coach and counselor specializing in career and life transition. And now she's moving into leading workshops and speaking about Renaissance Souls.

Why should businesses pay attention to Renaissance Souls? Lobenstine identifies three crucial reasons.

First of all, "the 21st Century requires people who thrive on change." Even in the ordered career of engineering, she cites Phil Weilerstein, director of the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, who says that future engineers will not be sitting at a cubicle all day, designing one airplane part. They'll be working in teams, learning to develop and sell their ideas, and to adapt to a job description that changes every few years.

Second, "round pegs in round holes lead to much-needed productivity." Give the Renaissance Souls in your company the opportunity to stay productive; make sure they feel they can spend every day doing what they feel they do best. Your employees will intuitively know where they excel and what they enjoy.

And third, let Renaissance Souls "do their thing." Lobenstine noted that Daniel Goleman, author of a series of books on Emotional Intelligence, found that job-related stress, as expressed in medical problems, increases when challenges disappear. "People who feel...their work is repetitive and boring, have a higher risk of heart disease."

Goleman cited a specific example of an employee with heart problems. He wore a portable heart monitor. While he was attending a boring meeting, his heart rate started climbing into the danger zone.

Other research, meanwhile- for instance, Maddi and Kobnasa's "The Hardy Executive: Health Under Stress" -found health benefits and lower stress levels among those who found work "strenuous but exciting" and saw change as a chance to develop.

To close, one more look at our 18th-century genius pair: "When a Mozart type has a successful business, they want more of the same." For instance, a restaurant owner may start franchising. "The one more like Franklin says, 'I figured it out, I understand it, I'm bored - and I'm out of here if you can't challenge me.' What intrigues them is the design, the problem solving."

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