Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce
Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.
But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.
This is foolishness.
Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.
Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.
An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
- hard work
- helping others as best we can
We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.
Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
Nothing grows to infinity. Certainly no project or business or idea.
And saying, “as many as possible,” implies a series of trade-offs that you’re probably not actually interested in making.
One of the most important decisions we make is almost always made without thought, without discussion:
“How big do you want this to be?”
It’s a question that always gets in the way of,
“How good do you want this to be?”
To get bigger, the small business that’s based on the insight, energy and passion of a few people might have to dumb down. It has to standardize, itemize and rationalize, so that it can hire people who care a little less, know a little less and work a little less, because, after all, they just work here.
What if getting bigger isn’t the point? What if you merely got better?
Which means that in order to get bigger, the small businessperson sacrifices the very thing that brought in business in the first place.
Acknowledge your special sauce and hire people only when they help you do what you do best and uniquely. Don’t worry about replicating yourself, focus instead on leveraging yourself.
Scaling dehumanizes our efforts and ceases to make the difference that we seek to make in the world. Personalization makes things more human and helps form the trust. And, scaling is a hindrance to that.
“The biggest mistake most marketers make is “Not being human.” The problem is this: we’ve scaled the number of contacts, of patients, of Christmas card recipients, of Twitter followers, of email correspondents, of investors, of backers, of Kickstarter supporters, of readers, of correspondents, of co-workers, of… we’ve scaled it all.
And the one thing we can’t do is scale our ability to take time.
Companies worth billions in transportation without owning a single vehicle, and hospitality juggernauts that own no real estate. These companies thrive because they streamline one-to-one connections between customer and supplier.
Treat different people differently. You decided to get bigger, but you won’t be able to treat everyone the way you used to. That was your decision, and it’s one of the costs of bigger.
Treating different people differently is the only way you’ve got to be able to take your time with the few, because, alas, you can no longer take your time with everyone. And if you can’t live with that, get smaller!”
In a world of zero marginal cost, being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business. You don’t get trusted if you’re constantly measuring and tweaking and manipulating so that someone will buy from you. most of the time when organizations start to measure stuff, they then seek to industrialize it, to poke it into a piece of software, to hire ever cheaper people to do it.
“I want Barnes and Noble to reorganize the store based on my needs for my visit – that’s what Amazon does.”– Seth Godin
The question we must ask is “If the number is hidden from the universe, would we still want to make it go up?”
I want to hold up the quieter virtues of humility and self-awareness and hard work and passing on credit. It’s easy to get credit for stuff; it’s harder to actually earn it.
By not insisting on taking the credit you can avoid being lumped in with those insecure people who demand or struggle for attention. You can gain respect because if doing something mildly important seems so casual to you maybe you spend time doing much more important things.Push for an idea. If it fails, take the blame. If it succeeds, give the credit to the boss. “What people in the traditional economy have been trained to do is not go out on limbs, not give other people credit and make sure someone else always gets the blame,” says Godin. “What I’m arguing is all three are wrong.”
It may seem like a poor career choice to always accept blame and take no credit, but Godin says it actually leads to further opportunities. “When people are busy giving away credit, the people who receive the credit know where it came from, so they come back for more,” he says. “That’s how you become known as the person who does interesting projects. And the alternative is to be the person that no one notices—and that’s the first person who gets laid off.”
Real leaders don’t care [about receiving credit]. If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit…There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. – Seth Godin
Seth Godin, in his book, Linchpin, talks about the safety zone and comfort zone. More often than not we tend to mistake the comfort zone for the safety zone. It used to true, however, that doesn’t mean it will always be true.
This makes a great case for why emotional labor is what we are being paid for in today’s workplace. Even though emotional labor makes us feel uncomfortable, it’s the safest way to still have a paid job and make a difference.
All creatures need a shortcut because we don’t have time to reevaluate the safety of everything. So, in order to succeed, particularly for human beings, we need to build a comfort zone that matches the safety zone.Now, things that we feel comfortable aren’t safe anymore as they are going to make us unemployed. Whereas the things that are going to make us feel uncomfortable are actually safe. So, the safest thing we can do is to take a risk or whatever that feels like a risk and the riskiest thing we can do is to play it safe.Now, we get paid for emotional labor. If what you did today wasn’t hard then you probably didn’t create enough value because you probably didn’t expose yourself to enough risk and fear. If you have a job where someone is telling you exactly what to do they can find someone cheaper than you to do it.If you are standing still and the world is moving, you are actually losing ground.
I am a big fan of Debbie Millman’s podcasts. They are not only thought-provoking but are also, therapeutic.
In this article, Debbie Millman emphasizes an important point on careers and vocations. She says that,
Any time you are doing work that fulfills your soul, it has the opportunity to become much more universal—because chances are there are other people out in the world who it will fulfill, as well.
I think that word “should” in our internal narratives is very toxic—this notion of, “what should I be doing?” and it’s always pegged to some sort of expectation, whether it’s self-imposed or external or a combination of the two. It’s hard to balance those expectations of what you should be doing with what you want to be doing. I feel very fortunate in that to a large extent what I do is exactly what I want to be doing for myself, and I still write for an audience of one. I read things that stimulate me and inspire me and help me figure out how to live and then I write about them. The fact that there are other people who enjoy it is nice, but it’s just a byproduct.
Debbie also recommends visualizing an ideal day for creating an ideal life.
“Write an essay about the life you’d like to have five or 10 years from now,” she says. “Write it with as much detail as you can muster. What does your day look like? Where do you go? How do you get there? What does one perfect day in that life look like? Write it down, savor it, save it, reread it every year, and I will guarantee that the life you envision is one that you’ll get closer to.”
While the world and the workplace are adapting and innovating at a lightning pace, the higher education system is not able to keep up. The current higher education system is one-size-fits-all, slow, and expensive. As a result, it puts pressure on companies to provide on-the-job training, increasing the cost to the company, while many employers no longer need any employees with higher degrees.
What we need is a customized education program that caters to individual needs based on competencies and interests. Just like how we have Software as a Service, it’s time we had higher Education as a Service.
Education as a Service should unbundle degree programs and curriculum. It cannot be the same for everyone; every student has different needs. Students should assess their current competencies, the skills required to get the job of their choice and work with the higher education organization on the resulting gap. All students should be able to earn credits quickly for existing knowledge and engage in deeper learning with new information valued in today’s corporate workplace. The class times become variable, set at a student’s pace to master the required skills. If done right, the student is a “customer for life” and continues to learn new competencies as their workforce evolves and demands it.
The content offered should regularly be updated, just like Software as a Service offerings, with a real-time connection with the corporate world and a perspective to train people to be successful in the face of uncertain situations. The offerings should teach agility and prepare the students for the constant changes they will face in the workforce. The offerings should also pair related content, like social skills and other soft skills to provide an education that is relevant today and will be of interest in dealing with unforeseen events in the future.
So, how is this different from the already existing traditional e-learning MOOC courses?
When learning is consumed in a completely self-driven and self-paced fashion, the retention and overall success rate are low. This is shown with the low completion rates for MOOC courses.
Success rates and retention improve when there is a social and collaborative component aligned to the student. This can be as simple as chatting with other students in a forum or other peer to peer learning techniques, or it can be via complementary live webcasts or virtual one-on-one office hours with an instructor.
Education as a Service needs to take the concept of MOOC and extend it into higher education by providing the content along with the social and collaborative aspects for increasing retention and success.
All these while I have been religiously blogging regularly without even knowing the official terminology of the entire process. Only recently, I came to know that it’s called Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system.
A daily blog driven by your curiosity can do wonders in the connection economy. In a connected and social world, mere knowledge is not valuable. What is valuable is whether we can make sense of the knowledge. That’s what PKM enables.
Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in their daily activities (Grundspenkis 2007) and the way in which these processes support work activities (Wright 2005).
Instead of digesting any random information that comes our way, we deliberately seek out information and knowledge about things that are naturally driven by our curiosity through the process of gathering. Once we gather the necessary information, we make sense of it by curating and then, share it with others in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, ebooks, and presentation slides. Using our inbuilt ‘crap detectors,’ we carefully eliminate information that we are not curious about.
What an opportunity the internet has provided us. We are all writers, authors, teachers, and artists in our right now. We didn’t have this luxury in the industrial era, though. Only a privileged few had access to information, and they carefully curated ‘just enough information to survive’ and fed us in the form of textbooks and syllabus in schools so that we can be obedient factory workers. They shunned our natural human curiosity and made us all into obedient trained assembly line workers. But, not anymore.
Now, we have the privilege to become thought leaders and influencers in the world we seek to serve. We can thrive the way we are meant to succeed in this world using the tools that are available to us. Let’s not use them to watch more cat videos.