Daily Archives: 08/10/2011

Types of Job That Will Destroy You: The Cromulationist

Any of you could wind up in one of these jobs, at any moment, without realizing it. The shitty jobs I’m about to describe aren’t specific positions or industries — they’re situations. Some of you — hell, maybe even most of you — are already in one of them.

The thing is, when people try to think up the worst job possible, most of them go right to shit. As in, “It could be worse, you could be shoveling shit somewhere!” or “At least we’re not working in a sewer! In shit!” But that type of job isn’t as bad as you think — you actually get used to the smell of poop, the same as you acclimate to a job where you work in brutal heat or bitter cold.

But these jobs below? They’re the ones you never get used to, where the longer you do it, the more it eats away at you. So let’s take a moment to say a prayer for ..

#2. The Assistant Cromulationist

Also Known As:

The highly technical job that is impossible to explain to those both inside and out of the workplace.

If you used to watch Friends, you remember the running joke about how nobody knew what exactly Chandler did for a living. He was always exasperated by this (“I told you, it’s statistical analysis and data reconfiguration!”).

Like the Laughingstock, the person with this type of job physically cringes at the thought of having to answer the “So what do you do?” question, and eventually invents a fake job title or a ridiculously dumbed down version (“I work on computers”) for conversation purposes. And if awkward conversation was the only problem, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. The real problem is when none of their co-workers understand their job either.

“I … well … I put stuff in water.”

For Example …

We have a disproportionately computer literate audience, and I know a lot of you aspire to work in the field. Well, some of you are going to wind up as the one-man computer tech support team in an office full of old timers who still regard computers as a suspicious, yet necessary form of black magic. Maybe you’ll be the guy who maintains the online orders, in a department where everybody else hits the road and sells the old-fashioned way.

This is any job where the other employees’ task is labor intensive or requires “real world” work, and you’re just sitting there “playing on your computer.” That’s the key; because they don’t understand what you do, and because you aren’t capable of explaining it so that they’d understand, they tend to assume you’re just jerking off all day.

Even if they’re right.

So, they start treating you like dead weight. When profits are tight and it comes time to cut staff, everyone will point the finger at you. If lovable old Frank in Sales gets the ax instead, everyone will resent you even more (“They fire a hard-working veteran like ol’ Frank, but they keep Dave just because he can use the fancy computer machine?!? He don’t even wear a tie to work!”)

And that’s assuming that the people doing the firing also aren’t confused about your value to the company. If your job is, for instance, to prevent a problem that the average person isn’t even aware of, then good luck explaining that to the guy who has to make layoff decisions based on how much profit you’re bringing in. Think of the frustrated employees in Office Space trying to justify what they do to “the Two Bobs” (the two downsizing consultants, who both happened to be named Bob).

And most companies employ a couple of them.

Then again, being a Bob (wait for my next post)  isn’t exactly a sweet gig …

Why You Can’t Buy Creativity

“The work had better be good, I’m paying them enough.” Over the years I’ve heard this statement – or versions of it – from many different managers charged with getting creative work out of their teams.”

From a conventional management perspective, it probably sounds like common sense. But to anyone who understands the nature of creativity and what motivates creative people, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Rewarding people for hard work is a great thing to do, but it’s no guarantee of loyalty – and certainly no guarantee of creativity. And using rewards as an incentive – or even a threat – has been proven not to work when it comes to complex, challenging, creative work.

When you’re focused on a reward, you’re not focused on the work itself. And as any creative will tell you, doing outstanding creative work – whether solving a technical problem or creating a work of art – requires 100% focus on the task in hand, to the point of obsession. You have to love what you do.

Of course companies need to pay people well. If they don’t, compensation becomes a bone of contention, and a distraction from their work. But if you really want outstanding creative performance, you need people to focus on intrinsic motivations – factors inherent in the work itself. Things like challenge, interest, learning, meaning, freedom, and creative flow. They are what really motivates creative people – and the research demonstrates a strong link between levels of intrinsic motivation and creativity.

“If you really want outstanding creative performance, you need people to focus on intrinsic motivations – factors inherent in the work itself.”

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida discusses the results of an Information Week survey of 20,000 IT workers, who were asked “What matters most to you about your job?”. Florida points out that not only did money (an extrinsic motivation) rank only fourth, behind three different types of intrinsic motivation, but that “nine of the ten highly valued job factors are intrinsic”. And remember, it was a survey of IT workers, who might be expected to take a more hard-nosed approach to motivation than more artistic types.

You Can’t Buy Creativity – You Have to Inspire It

Money buys you people’s time. It should also guarantee you basic professional competence. But you don’t get outstanding creativity by simply offering more money. You get mercenaries.

If you want real creativity – the magic ingredient X that sets the product apart – you need to inspire it, by showing them what makes the work fascinating, challenging, meaningful, and fun. And you need to give them freedom to do it their way, rather than micro-managing every step.

How to Keep Your Creative Spark Alight

If you’re a creative, you probably experience a tension between following your own creative inclinations vs giving the market (your boss, clients, or customers) what it wants. Spend too much time on your own pet projects and you risk disappointing the VIPs in your working life. But if you spend too much time on well-paid work that doesn’t inspire you, your creativity will fade away.

So it’s vital to strike a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in the work you take on. Sometimes you need to take on a less glamorous project or job to pay the bills – if so, make time for more interesting creative pursuits, in the evenings and weekends if need be. This will keep your creative spark alive and make you less resentful of the grunt work.

And challenge yourself to take a creative approach to any job you take on, no matter how unpromising the brief. It could be as mundane as packaging elastic bands, but if you keep coming up with original and valuable solutions, you’ll earn a reputation for priceless creativity.

What Motivates You and Your Team?

Think about the best piece of creative work you ever did – what motivated you to do it?

Any tips on motivating and inspiring creative employees?


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