The Blasphemy of GREAT WORK
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you are no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. ~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Don’t get me wrong, I think great work is, well…great. I appreciated how my social media buddy and former Slacker Manager blog partner, Phil Gerbyshak, wrote a book on Make it Great. It is inspiring to see companies win Great Places to Work awards. Michael Bungay Stainer, a man whose work I admire and who joined me for a beer and conversation in Toronto, is devoted to helping “people, teams and organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work.” Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t offers us a blueprint to move from good to great. As I was writing this I just received a review copy of a new book, Great Days at Work by Suzanne Hazelton. I have only looked at the cover so far but it looks great.
So this all seems great, but…
Call me vanilla, or meat and potatoes if you must, but I am fatiguing on great while getting increasingly enamored with good people doing good work in good organizations.
Good work isn’t nirvana and it isn’t perfect but it seems honest and attainable. To me, it is less about ideal and more about real. It removes a sense of unattainable striving and accepts the difficulties and challenges inherent in completing tasks and working with so many different people. Good work is sustainable while great work is only touched for short periods of time.
Good work is not hype or hyperbole. It is a fusion of gumption, and determination. It is a bit like running into a stiff headwind. You may not be making a great time but you persevere and you finish and you know you “did good.”
Good work embraces both bad and good days but in good work the good days outnumber the bad days by 3 to 1. Maybe Monday should just be taken out of the weekly work mix and be considered as a starter day for the week. I know this is a blasphemy for all the prophets of Make Monday Great but I am a bit of a late Tuesday morning around 10:30 a.m. type of guy. I find it liberating to let myself have one bad day of work each week.
In good work, it is okay to fumble fall and fail. You work to recover the fumble, pick yourself up after the fall, and try not to fail in the same way again. I like the Japanese proverb: Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
Good work weaves together grit with sh*t yet at the end of the day work doesn’t stink and you know you did a good job.
In good work you can’t wait to see some people and other people just weigh on you.
As you do good work you will find your engagement fluctuates ten times a day but overall averages at a solid 7.5 out of 10.
Good work fulfills a purpose without the necessity of missionary zeal or a corporate song. Good work is not mean — rather, veins of meaning streak through the day offering us a genuine why to work.
When I do good work, I don’t need to reach for the moon. I just need to reach out and help a coworker.
I don’t need to be a frosted flake Tony the Tiger of work going around growling, “GGRRRRREAT!” Kellogg’s once sent Tony to our home for a free breakfast with my children and a bunch of the neighborhood children. It was a warm summer day and they guy wearing the tiger suit kept overheating because the fan in his tiger head was not working. The lesson here: be careful about always being great because you might overheat your brain.
I know good does not sell while great gives us hope, inspiration, and a high standard. But this hope, inspiration, and high standard may be sowing the seeds of discouragement and disengagement.
To slightly modify M. Scott Peck’s beginning line in The Road Less Traveled, work is difficult. I am reminded of a line Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said in response to the psychological movement of many years ago called, I’m OK, You’re OK. She said, “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that is OK.” I think good work is OK.
At this stage of my career, good is good enough. I don’t need to take Jim Collins’ leap. Good feels human. Good feels attainable. Good feels significant. Good feels real. And that’s good for me. I hope you have a good day at work today.
David Zinger is an expert global employee engagement speaker and consultant who uses the pyramid of employee engagement to help leaders, managers, and organizations create good engagement.