Project Practitioners > The Pleasure at Being the Cause

The Pleasure at Being the Cause

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


“As early as 1901, the German psychologist Karl Groos discovered that infants express extraordinary happiness when they first figure out they can cause predictable effects in the world, pretty much regardless of what that effect is or whether it could be construed as having any benefit to them. Let’s say they discover that they can move a pencil by randomly moving their arms. Then they realize they can achieve the same effect by moving in the same pattern again. Expression of utter joy ensue. Groos coined the phrase ‘the pleasure at being the cause,’ suggesting that it is the basis for play, which he saw as the exercise of powers simply for the sake of exercising them.” – David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory


I started a new job a few weeks ago. The learning process starts all over again. There are no familiar routines in a new position. They must be established. I relate this to the infant figuring out how their body works. Moving your arm equals moving the pencil.

In the new organization, I must find those actions that lead to predictable results. Early on, my computer screen was shared with my boss. He would verify all of my emails being sent and listen to every phone conversation to see how I handled problems and communicated with owners. While this process seems like babysitting, it lays the foundation for predictable effects.

Because he has success using a few key trigger words to spark the attention of owners, he wants me to implement similar tactics. Again, this idea of being the cause of the reaction you want. A big influencer that speeds up the process of response is using our leverage of size.

The portfolio of projects we have control over gives us the ability to pressure some vendors into making exceptions for us. Our organization supplies them with so much work that we should be their priority. When they say they are a week out, we can gently remind them of how much work we provide and magically they have time the next day.

The projects are rarely this pressing, and that technique is barely used, but it is a tool in the toolbox that leads to predictable results.

Learning these tactics and how they do work becomes assimilation of the environment. If I went to a new place with old habits, a clash could occur. Instead, coming in with a fresh mindset for learning helps to catch on to these tricks and helps me when I become autonomous.

Here are three ways to help yourself assimilate to a new organization or situation to make yourself learn their actions that lead to predictable results:


  1. Observe

Observation includes their language, nonverbal communication, and culture. A new organization can be viewed similarly to a new country. If you travel abroad, you try to learn some common phrases and take in some of the culture before arriving. This research helps you adapt sooner and enjoy your stay.

A similar approach can be said about your new organization. Culture is important in how they do business. Are office politics necessary to survive? What is the dynamic between management and labor? Do they perform the work in-house or do they subcontract most of it?

Your actions that led to predictable results in your old organization may fall flat in this new environment. Learn the language of the organization. When I first started out in construction, gas and fuel had different meanings. Gas was unleaded, and fuel was diesel. Confusing the two would lead to unnecessary mechanical issues.


  1. Keep Your Head Up

Whenever a day of laboring was going to be brutal, our crew used the motto ‘keep your head up.’ This simple reminder was our way of keeping a positive attitude when all was lost. High humidity and temperatures lead to short fuses. ‘Keep your head up’ always seemed to crack a smile and make the day a little less bad.

Having the right attitude makes you susceptible to learning. Your old ways may work, and you can contribute those at a later time. Your initial start should be all about learning their ways to produce those predictable results.

No one likes a know-it-all. You may have knowledge this new organization does not. Hold off on it. Take their knowledge in first then apply your skills to it to get the most out of it. Compound your skills with their techniques to realize the best results.

If you came in with your head down and focused on getting work done, you may be doing more harm than good. Eventually, you will get to that stage of performing, but for now, assimilate yourself into their style, take bits and pieces, and apply to your skills.


  1. Remember: This Is Fun

 Learning curves can be daunting. You were so comfortable at your last place, and now that routine is thrown into a tizzy. Rather than stress and become a ball of nerves, recognize they hired you for a reason, and you provide the skills to make the most of this position.

While I continue to fight the battle of nerves, at times, I remind myself how fun learning can be and embrace the chaos. This babysitting process is not meant for the long haul. It is meant to get you on track then set you free.

Picking up new skills has created the infantile joy Groos speaks about in the excerpt. Seeing how the operation comes together and how useful I can be makes going to work less miserable. Every day there is an improvement in making the learning curve a little less intimidating. Eventually, the job becomes routine, and all of this nervousness turns to old hat.



The idea behind this assimilation is to become the infant learning how to produce predictable results. It is not to become a robot of the organization and go about the day on autopilot.

Look around and observe how the organization is structured and the relationship dynamics. Some of these may stick out like a sore thumb while others may take a conversation to develop an idea of how things work. Find the nuances that make people tick, and your job becomes easier.

If you have the right attitude, this learning curve and development is not such a struggle. Injecting your old ways should wait until you have the new ways configured. Compounding your skills with new techniques is what the organization is looking for.

Have fun with this process. I need to remind myself of this a lot. I get too much into my head then the nerves kick in, and it is usually all for naught. The people are nice. The office space is beautiful. I need to enjoy the now rather than think about what they might be thinking of me. Producing and getting those predictable results is the key.

Become the infant that gets pleasure from being the cause.

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