Why do you work?

Is it for the money? If money were no object would you not work at all?

Is it for the promotion? If you don’t have a raise, a better designation and more people to manage, would you not enjoy your work?

Is it for the praise and the recognition? If people didn’t appreciate your work, would it give you no joy?

Is it for the appraisal? If you were not given targets and a rating, would you not have contributed anyway?

Is it for the competition? Are you motivated and driven to only outperform your peers?

Or do you work for the opportunity to show up, to be creative, to make a difference, to overcome challenges and to realize your own potential?

Why do you work? Is it because of external rewards or punishments? Or an internal drive for fulfillment?

Do you work because you have to, or because you get to?

Manufacturing work

All work can be divided into creation and coordination.

Creation is the process of directly transforming matter to make it something more useful or valuable. Examples include mining, manufacturing, painting, cooking and even computer programming. Some creators can thrive without coordinators, but coordinators cannot exist in the absence of creators.

Coordination also comes in different forms. To manage is to instruct creators. Management is self perpetuating, since some managers instruct other managers. When two managers provide conflicting instructions for the same task, you have company politics.

Creation is easier to measure than coordination. The value that coordination creates is often opaque and can hide behind complexity. As a company grows, its coordination workforce can increase out of proportion to its needs. And while material waste created by creators is visible, the waste generated by coordinators is invisible.

Running a business well is the art of keeping coordination to a bare minimum.

Inspiration: Bertrand Russel

Instant interruption

I once had a manager who apologized if he didn’t respond to an instant message within 15 minutes.

While this might seem polite and courteous, it indicated that the manager thought of a 15-minute response to an instant message to be too slow. As his team, we proceeded to respond to his messages the moment they arrived.

Focused work requires long periods of no interruption – periods that are incompatible with responding to every instant message within 15 minutes. The expectation that instant messages need to receive an instant reply destroys the focus necessary for deep work.

Perhaps we need to stop calling it ‘instant messaging’.

The ingredients for job satisfaction

When ambitious people are dissatisfied with their jobs, they usually assume that the problem is one or more of the following:

  • They aren’t paid enough
  • Their boss is incompetent, or doesn’t drive them hard enough
  • They don’t have colleagues who compete and challenge them to improve

However, the actual problem is usually that their work context doesn’t offer them the following:

  • Autonomy: the freedom to work on their own terms
  • Mastery: the means to master a craft
  • Purpose: the answer to ‘why’ they are doing what they are doing

Past a point, job satisfaction is the result of intrinsic motivation – not extrinsic factors (such as compensation). We have enough research to validate this. Yet, as we move from job to job to quench our dissatisfaction, we look for the wrong things.

Most management theory assumes that people are inherently lazy, and will work only for the right incentives and penalties. But we all know how people derive innate joy from doing creative, innovative and meaningful work. As managers, we merely need to get out of their way.

Inspiration: Daniel Pink

To work hard

Who is a hard worker?

Is it somebody who ‘puts in the hours’, or ‘burns the midnight oil’?

Is it that person who has worked themselves into exhaustion, but continues working? Is it that person who fights sleep, and yet, continues to plod away? Is it that person who struggles to stay focused, but make decisions anyway? Is it that person who is too tired to detect their own mistakes?

Or instead, is a hard worker that person who is well rested and refreshed? Is it they who can sustain their focus for a long period and then make a well considered decision?

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, ‘Those who work much do not work hard’. Alas, our culture has long confused busy work with hard work.