"We’re not meant to run at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. Science tells us we’re at our best when we move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy — a reality that companies must embrace to fuel sustainable engagement and high performance." - Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project

Tony Schwartz, founder and CEO of The Energy Project and best-selling author of The Way We're Working Isn't Working, recently delivered a thought-provoking talk to a room nearly half-full of CEOs at the first ever HIVE (Housing Innovation Vision & Economics) event in Los Angeles.

As a frequent speaker, Tony has also trained and coached CEOs and senior leaders at organizations including Apple, Google, Facebook, and the LAPD - all understandably high stress and high demand environments.

What he teaches these top performing companies & government organizations operating under unpredictable conditions can be worked into any type of work environment to promote and produce the highest performance possible from each and every team member.

The core of Tony's theory revolves around the idea that human beings do not produce work the same way that a computer can. Yet, its the norm for many businesses to expect their employees to work like computers do, which ideally would produce the best results, but typically ends in a burn out.  Computers work like machines - in a constant, round-the-clock manner. But, humans work more naturally and rhythmically needing to constantly balance the spending and renewal of energy.


Computer Output vs. Human Output

In his talk, he dives into how with a rhythmic structure to energy management, we can work to manage our energy in a more fruitful manner. To help break this down, he focuses on the 4 main pillars of human energy needed to avoid burnout.


Tony warned if the word "spiritual" freaks you out, then think of it as your purpose, the reason you do what you do. So, if we can somehow keep these 4 pillars of energy solid, we are more likely to perform in our highest and best capacity possible. When one or more of these pillars begins to get weak, we as a whole structure, begin to weaken. The quality of our output gets diluted, and we get dangerously close to entering the burnout zone. We've all probably felt it before, and it's the last place we want to be.

The Performance Zone - When our energy is strong in all four pillars of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual we usually have high, positive workplace energy and we are in the "performance zone". This zone is the ideal zone for any CEO and any employee and where we typically produce our best work. We are upbeat, confident, and optimistic.

The Renewal Zone - When our energy is lower yet positive, we are in the "renewal zone" where we can let our minds wander out into big picture thinking, and forward-thinking daydreaming. In this zone, we are tranquil and mellow. Tony joked that in the United States this zone is basically illegal. He asks how often any working citizen feels like they are in this zone at work, and not surprisingly, few raised their hands.

The Survival Zone - When our energy is high yet negative, we are in the "survival zone". Here we have the inability to see the big picture and proactively problem solve because we are so wrapped up in negative thinking that we see absolutely no way out. We are impatient, anxious, and self critical. Though this energy is a negative energy, most companies would rather have their employees here than in the "renewal zone" because in this zone, things are still getting done and results are still being churned out because energy is high. However, it's the gateway zone to the "burnout zone" where no company ever wants to see their employees land.

The Burnout Zone - When our energy is both low and negative, we are in the "burnout zone". We are exhausted, spent, depressed, and see no hope for forward movement. This zone comes typically when their CEO leads by fear tactics, and as a bi-product, employees have spent far too much time in the survival zone, that they eventually fall into the burnout zone.

Tony boldly suggests that in order to keep employees working in "Performance Zone", we should be sprinters rather than marathoners - quite the opposite of what we typically hear.

Tony explains that when we run a marathon, we are not operating at full capacity because our end goal is not in sight. We are saving our energy to be able to complete the race - slow and steady. While this is rule of thumb is practical in a physical marathon, when it comes to productivity at work, it may not be.

Tony suggest that employees become "sprinters" giving 100% of our energy for small bits of time with a goal in sight. Once we finish one sprint or goal, we renew ourselves and prepare for the next sprint, where we can also give 100% of our energy. With this theory of rhythmic energy output and renewal, there is always 100% effort given to any given project or goal.

Tony finished by asking those in the audience who ran their own business to think of the title CEO as (Chief Energy Officer).

For a visual summary of this theory check out the video below: