work

The Importance of A vs. The

I want to be A (insert job here) is way different than saying I want to be The (insert same job here).

The rules, standards, compensation and the story of A job are made by someone else. The value of The job or The work one will do is established by the person building it…because it’s specific, it’s unique. And it defines the standard.

Of course, being specific about your work and making a promise about how you do it, comes with a downside. You are on the hook for it…completely accountable. There’s no one else to blame when it doesn’t work. But it’s a risk worth taking if you’re building a legacy of meaningful change.

Why be just another one, when you can be the only one.

We deserve more The and less A. Please choose wisely.

The Profession of Leveling Up

Almost everyone wants to level up. They want to move forward, raise their status, perhaps earn more money and feel successful. But almost everyone treats leveling up as a hobby…something to squeeze in when time permits. And who can blame them. School taught us to dislike learning (which is required to level up)…mainly because it was mandatory and boring.  And in life after school there’s too much that just gets in the way…jobs, significant others, kids, bosses, mortgages, fun, rest and on and on. As a result, forward progress is significantly slowed, unless it’s something compulsory tied to survival.

The first step then to improve forward motion (if that’s what one seeks) is to recategorize and reprioritize leveling up and the requisite learning that goes with it. It must be changed from a hobby into a profession. This requires discipline and probably some entertainment cutting. But it must be done if any real progress is going to be made. Take running a marathon as an example. A non-runner can’t become a marathon runner (one who completes a marathon) without a disciplined and structured approach to the required training. It just won’t happen if it’s haphazard. So a serious quest results in hiring a coach who demands a schedule so that training is turned into a job. And the job gets done. Or no marathon.

Learning, practicing and training…the things needed to level up need a plan, just like a business needs a plan. Goals need to be set, purpose established (who’s it for?, what’s it for?) strategy and tactics developed. And then we need to clock in, every day, just like we do for our job. We need to develop the habit of learning just like the habit of working…because learning is work.  And we need to treat it like our life depends on it…because it probably does…at least for the life we seek.

Privilege of Artful Work

A job is more than a chance to do the work someone else prescribes. It’s an opportunity to show your best self, approach and do work in such a way that it changes someone. We all know when we experience someone in this state, it’s a magical and remarkable experience.

Showing up and meeting the standard is important…it’s work that needs to be done. Performing the work in such a way that it moves someone is a choice. It comes with the risk that it might not work. But it’s also one we all deserve. Choose wisely.

For the Money

I think most people mean to say they’re doing it for some money. For if they are doing it for the most money (or just for the money), it’s almost certain they should be doing something else. So once it’s established that money isn’t the primary objective, there’s room to determine what it’s really for. Worth the exploration, especially when considering alternatives.

With vs. For

Working with someone is far different than for someone. 

With implies a group effort…people coming together with a common goal. Everyone shares in the load and everyone enjoys a share in the ultimate outcome.

For tells a different story…one of authority, power and non-inclusion. It’s a quid pro quo system. The boss makes a plan, the people below carry it out and get paid for their time. 

People enjoy being part of something…it’s what drives humans towards communal activity. It’s the reason we join book clubs, travel together, and volunteer for a common cause. It’s the purpose behind the activity which creates the enrollment. And so the work has deeper meaning than a paycheck transaction. All meaningful cultural change has this system built in. With requires a purpose. Otherwise the work is simply a transaction.

But there’s a benefit to the For system. Freedom from accountability. It’s clean and much more simple. The worker puts forth effort and is rewarded for the effort. And if the plan fails, ultimately there’s someone else to blame. The greater the effort, the greater the reward. Work faster and solve more complicated problems and we’ll pay you more. This feels safe for a lot of people. But it’s not sustainable. People will run on the hamster wheel for awhile, faster and faster. But over time it’s tiring and unchallenging. And their work diminishes…and a replacement is found.

So there’s a trade-off between freedom from accountability and complete unity around a cause. One is completely transactional and requires cogs. The other gives people a chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves and make a difference.

Words matter…a lot. Choose wisely.

Low Wages

…are caused by people, not companies.

Dispensable people (who do just enough) are in higher supply than indispensable ones. And they can be had for less. If you fall into the dispensable category it is very likely you can and will be replaced by another…for less. This happens at all job levels. Most companies are willing to trade higher turnover for a lower price…because they can…lot’s of mediocre people to choose from.

On the other hand, indispensable disrupts the status quo. It creates a different paradigm by being remarkable. This type of work commands a premium because it is in shorter supply and thankfully some companies care enough to seek it out. Over time, as it infiltrates the work category it pushes the production to a higher level (experience, care, quality, quantity, etc.). And this translates into higher compensation on a broader scale and a better experience for the consumer…along with a higher price. And then the cycle begins again.

The choice then (and it is a choice) is to either be in the business of pushing the bar higher…or not. Choose wisely.

Placeholders

Each project or job you choose stands a chance to be the most important work you’ve ever done or to lead you to it. If not, it’s a placeholder. Placeholders are sometimes important for survival. But they should be seen for what they are…placeholders, a stopping point, a distraction. They are not for fulfillment, happiness or generosity…only found in work with a cause with people aligned around the same idea.

Every time you choose, you can choose not to settle. Choose wisely.

Show and Tell

The interesting thing about show and tell is that almost always it’s the show that’s the most interesting part of the act. A compelling visual subject can virtually stand alone...without any supportive words at all. Talking about slimy worms isn’t nearly as effective as letting people see and feel them. The same applies to presentations, art and science projects. And even more so to illustrating your work. Now it’s easier than ever to create a digital trail...a place for people to see you as an individual. Facebook and Instagram aren’t good places for this though...because they aren’t yours. You don’t control the canvas or how people will see it. Alternatively a website is still in your hands, at least for now. 

Anyone interested in showing their work can do this...

  1. But a URL (Your name if it’s still available. Or something unique to you)- $10-$15 annually 
  2. Buy printable business cards (the ones that come on 8X11 perforated sheets are inexpensive and widely available)- $10
  3. Print the URL on the card (nothing else)
  4. Hand out the cards to people (friends, family, co-workers...people who trust you)

Realizing the website is a blank canvas at the beginning, your job is to fill it up...with your interests, projects, hobbies, writings, videos of your dancing, how dogs make you smile and the toughest problem you’ve ever solved. The goal here is twofold...1. To create a place where people gain insight into your core values and your remarkable work; and 2. To practice putting yourself out there. Over time, the presentation will improve and you’ll become more comfortable handing that business card to more people.

Go show more. Perhaps you’ll need to tell less.

Choosing

There’s been a lot of riffing and ranting about Facebook’s recent IPO announcement, particularly how wealthy Zuckerberg and key FB execs will become when the company finally goes public. You hear things like “boy, I wish I would have done that.” My response is, “why didn’t you?”

The first rule of becoming an expert, starting a company, executing a great idea, becoming a billionaire, etc., is to choose to do it. Way too often, however, we simply choose not to.

The second rule is to choose remarkable. Choose a path that departs from average, that ends in a place that people will talk about. Don’t settle.

The third rule is to choose to immerse yourself with people who are aligned with you in your pursuits. Find others who make similar choices...people who act like you do.

The last rule and probably the most important is to not make the wrong choice...don’t choose not to do something. Instead, please go get started.

Hard Work...

is what separates great ideas from meaningful outcomes. It's what stands in the way of producing remarkable products and experiences. Without hard work, ideas go nowhere. And, that's precisely why most suggestion boxes don't work.

It's far easier to have a thought and give it to someone else to work on than to see it through on your own. In fact, we've been taught and conditioned to believe that making great things happen is reserved for the select few in high places. And if you want to contribute, you should stuff your thought in a box or send an email, and then hope yours gets chosen. Of course, that convention is seriously flawed because those people only have so much time...and they have their own great ideas they're already focused on. So, the alternative is to do the work yourself.

The upside to taking initiative is that you're more certain of the outcome. The downside is that you could discover that your idea isn't that good. Either way, you win. If the idea gets used, you get credit and the purpose is fulfilled. If it fails, you've avoided resentment by wasting someone's time.

A lot of people have a lot of seemingly great ideas. Great ideas are not scarce. So, on their own, they're not worth much. But, people who take the initiative to slog through the hard work, get organized, do research, build a case and present to the right audience...those people are very hard to come by and have tremendous value.

The best advice I ever received on this subject...worry less about surrounding yourself with people with great ideas and more about building a team of people who can see them through.

Forgettable Work

July, 1998...that's when I drew my line in the sand. That's when I (and my bosses) decided I wasn't going to do any more work that wasn't meaningful. It was then that I worked my last "job" (managing the hotel pictured above) where I was paid to show up and manage what someone else had concocted. I decided to start doing things that mattered, to help create stories that would outlive me.

Pretty much all the work I had done to that point was forgettable. Fifteen years of progressive hotel management...nice hotels, great locations and of course I met some wonderful people along the way.  But, by most accounts my work was pretty standard. I managed assets, processes and people. I didn't create much, I managed what someone else created. And, by traditional measurements I was successful. I received regular promotions, pay raises and more and more responsibility. With each occurence I was fulfilled...or so I thought. It wasn't until much later that I recognized I wasn't really making much of a difference. It wasn't until my last traditional hotel management assignment that I understood the path I was on...and it wasn't for me.

If you're anything like me (and you might be if you're reading this), your wired to do something other than follow a plan that someone else puts together. You're more likely to dream up your own plan, put together your own team and act it out. You're willing to live or die by it, knowing both the risks and the rewards.

If you're not like this, I encourage you to consider this seemingly risky and obscure path...just for a moment. Consider that when it comes to making a difference, enriching people's lives, giving your children and grandchildren a story to tell, forgettable work is not an option. Only legacy work counts. The other stuff is window dressing that eventually fades away.

Go out and create some legacy work...pretty please with sugar on top.

Awaken Possibilities...the New Grind

As a boss, you have a choice...hire Labor to produce what you want, exactly how you want it. Give them a road map, and mandate they work as hard as they can to get you there...first. For this, you need Labor that values the trade-off between pay and the grind more than the idea of directing the outcome. Generally, you need people that are asleep...at least while at work. If you're lucky, you'll survive and get that 3% margin, enough to hang on for another year.

The other choice is to hire people who care about your idea and are emotionally engaged with the outcome...people that are awake. Your job isn't to direct what these people do everyday, but to keep them awake...energized and ready to take on new possibilities.

Choosing the first path is dangerous. Not just because of diminishing returns associated with increased efficiency, but because the robot labor supply is also shrinking. While you can still find a fairly large group of rule followers willing to trade eight hours of being bored to tears for a paycheck today, this group is dwindling. Labor is figuring it out...they don't have to settle. They can get paid for for something other than working in a box...they can get paid to think...and to lead, even if their tribe is a group of one. In the process, thinking will become more valuable than doing.

As more and more of your competitors choose the latter...what's your choice really?

Awake...the new order, the new charge...the new grind. Best get started.

Happy Labor Day