(Ed. note: This is a guest post from Dan Crosby who is a friend of a friend of mine. You may know her too – Trish McFarlane, who is one of the stars of HREvolution. Tickets for the 2011 HREvolution are now on sale.)
I know, I know, forgive the easy pun. I’ve got two important questions for you that will be highly predictive of how happy and successful you are at work. The first question is, “Do you want to be the best in the world at what you do?” Be honest with yourself, some people see work as a means to an end and there’s nothing wrong with that. If your idea of the good life is working a predictable 9 to 5, taking sixty minute lunch breaks, and rushing home to watch “Dancing With the Stars”, you can stop reading now and head back over to TMZ.com. I’ll wait for you to leave…thanks for reading this far, I know how much it hurts your brain!
So, if you’re still reading, I’ll assume you have some desire to be great at what you do, perhaps even the best in the world. If so, my second question for you is, “Do you find your work meaningful?” If you answered “yes” to Question 1 and “no” to Question 2, please walk into your bosses’ office, hand in your resignation, find a small cardboard box, and begin packing your personal effects. Why is that you ask? Because, if you do not find your work meaningful, you will never be the best in the world at what you do.
THE POWER OF “WHY”
I’m of the mind that the “why” of our work is at least as important as the “how.” More specifically, I believe that the “why” is instrumental in driving the “how.” There are myriad reasons this is the case, and I’ll talk about the power of meaning in the workplace over a series of posts. The first reason that I think having a purpose to your work is so imperative is that it catalyzes the effort necessary to be great.
BLOOD, SWEAT, AND MEANING
Malcolm Gladwell has my dream job. Namely, pursuing his varied intellectual interests, writing about them, having awesome hair, and making a gazillion dollars. His most recent work, “Outliers” touches on those folks who hang out on the far right extreme of the bell curve measuring success. Gladwell’s question is, “Why do some people succeed while others never really reach their true potential?” SPOILER ALERT: Gladwell arrives at two remarkably unsexy conclusions: 1.) greatness requires hard work and 2.) even if you work hard, you still need to get lucky. It is the first conclusion, the necessity of hard work, that is so inextricably tied to meaning.
One of the most often-quoted findings of “Outliers” is what is referred to as the “10,000 hour rule.” Americans love a story of effortless, preternatural talent. We like to imagine our business heroes as geniuses, miles above the rest of us, that have million dollar ideas with the same regularity that we other Philistines eat at McDonalds. Gladwell’s book puts this enticing, if fallacious notion to bed once and for all. What he found to be true, of everyone from Bill Gates, to the Beatles, to violin virtuosos, was that all of them had put in at least 10,000 hours of hard work at honing their craft. And guess what was necessary to put in those long hours? A deeply felt sense that the work they were doing was meaningful and bigger than them or the task itself.
There are no magic shortcuts to the top. Despite our fondest dreams to the contrary, success has been, and always will be deeply rooted in the bedrock of hard work. There is however, some magic in the way that doing work that we find personally meaningful can make 10,000 hours seem like the blink of an eye. So, I ask you again, “Do you want to be great?” If so, you’d better know why your work matters to you, or you’d better start looking.
Dr. Daniel Crosby is a President of Crosby Performance Consulting (http://www.doctordanielcrosby.com/consulting/index.html), a corporate psychology firm specializing in talent assessment, leadership development, training, and consulting around issues of persuasion and influence. Daniel likes old houses, the St. Louis Cardinals, hanging out with his family, and obsessing about how to make work life more meaningful. Stay tuned for more in the “Generation Why” series coming soon! You can follow Dr. Crosby and CPC on Twitter @crosbypsych.
- The One Thousand Hour Rule (yongfook.com)
- Summary and Review of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (bookstove.com)
- Can You Get Genius Results With Just Hard Work? (online.wsj.com)