Rao's basic premise is that we create our own reality, not in some magical sense, but through a continuous stream of thoughts and reactions that we incorporate into perpetual internal narratives. Like Senge, Rao asserts that we are captives of mental models of which we are unaware, and that there is much freedom to be gained by becoming conscious of our mental strictures. As the creators and managers of our own mental states, we can perceive new opportunities and gain new energy to pursue them. Also like Senge, Rao urges us to focus on what we share with those around us and to seek meaningful rather than competitive interactions. For both Senge and Rao, the value of a vision is the work it inspires us to do, not in whether the end state is realized. While not explicitly advocating systems thinking, Rao enjoins us to see ourselves as part of a greater whole, and look for opportunities to serve the common good rather than just our own direct interests.
There is, certainly, a fine line between systematically striving for personal fulfillment and self-interested, Machiavellian conduct. In a chapter entitled "Standing on Slippery Rocks", Rao instructs readers to progressively sharpen their consciousness of the impacts of their actions. Rao also asks us to trust that the world is a fundamentally benevolent place that is gradually making moral progress, even in the face of contemporary setbacks.
"Happiness at Work" is largely an artful repackaging of ideas from Zen Buddhism and elsewhere. Many of the ideas will be familiar to those exposed to the human potential movement. But understanding is not the same as disciplined practice, so the true value of the book arises from doing the exercises and applying the results. In return, Rao promises a changed life, replete with energy, anticipation, commitment, fulfillment and joy--although this life may not be what the reader has planned.
Can this work? I read the book cover-to-cover this weekend, and did abbreviated versions of a few of the exercises. Even though I have been exposed to much of the material before, I do feel clearer and more excited about what is ahead of me, and I think I am communicating more effectively about some difficult issues. I plan to go through the book again, and do all of the exercises. Stay tuned...