The how and not the what

Photo by L. Marie


Michael Bungay Stanier writes in the “Stop the busywork!” manifesto:

But most of us have found that the goal of our current working lives is simply to get through the stuff. To process the inbox, attend the meetings and end up at the end of the week a little further ahead rather than further behind.

The problem is the busywork, and it’s got to stop.

Stanier says our work falls into one of three buckets, not in terms of its quality, but in terms of how it resonates with meaning. What he wants us is to make sure that we put more time and more effort into the third bucket – the Great Work:

Great Work is what you were hoping for when you signed up for this job. It’s meaningful and it’s challenging. It’s about making a difference. It matters to you and it lights you up. It matters at an organizational level too. Great Work is at the heart of blue ocean strategy, of innovation and strategic differentiation, of evolution and change. Great Work sets up an organization for longer-term success.

And I think this part in Stainer manifesto needs clarification, because it is the important part. It does not matter what you do and what are the products of your work in terms of “the what you produce”. The question is whether you make a difference in the way you do it, or “the how you produce it”. And it does not matter of you are the CEO of the company, the sales rep or the janitor. Because a difference can be made by inventing a gadget that will make people lives easier, but it can also be created by treating a customer like a human being and making his day.

And while the what is limited by constraints beyond our control, the how is our choice.

Dave and Wendy Ulrich wrote this week on the blog about “Getting Beyond Engagement to Creating Meaning at Work”:

Even in horrible work settings that are degrading and dangerous, some people thrive. This doesn’t mean they are happy about their circumstances, but it does suggest they manage to find meaning despite them. “Finding meaning” is probably a misnomer, however. Meaning is not a dropped coin we pick up by chance. It is more like fine pottery we craft. People have to create the meaning of their work and their lives, and that process requires skill and practice, not just luck.

And like every craft, we learn it overtime. Some we learn alone, by experimenting and reflecting. Other parts we learn from role models, coaches, peers and teammates.

And I ask you this: as a manager, are you helping people with the learning the craft? Are you helping them create great work? Are you actively talking to them about the purpose of their work?


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2 Responses to “The how and not the what”

  1. michael Says:

    Hey – thanks for the kind words about the book. Delighted you’ve found it useful

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Michael,
    Thanks for commenting. It is an honor to have your comment here on my blog!

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