When it comes to work – how we view it; how we do it – there are some important points to make on what is actually worthwhile, and what isn’t.
The confusing thing is that we are, overall, sometimes convinced – deliberately led to believe or otherwise infer – that the latter is the former; that activities that add no value whatsoever are, in fact, the value-add tasks that we should be doing. And then we end up dedicating our energies to these and overlooking the world beyond them, in which the real value can be made.
Here’s the difference between value-add work and work that isn’t – a very brief, probably over-simplified scale of adding value in our work, from the lowest point on the scale to the highest.
Level I: the taking and putting of things in places.
Documentation. Organization. Collection. Categorization. Administrative tasks. “Let us put this book on this shelf;” or, more commonly: “let’s save this document to this folder.” “Let us take this thing and put it somewhere, presumably for future use. Not today.” The storing and securing and stowing away of things rather than an immediate, let alone worthwhile, application of them. It’s embarrassing, really, how many people fill up their entire days – months, years, lives – busying themselves with tasks such as these, with little more to show for it at the end than a curio cabinet of trinkets found. With little consideration for their actual use.
Level II: the over-simplifying and summarizing of things.
This one we learn in school, so I understand, partly, why so many of us cling to it in practice, in our day to day adult lives. This is the regurgitation of things heard. The simplification of things into bite-size pieces; the TL;DR of other’s thoughts so as to avoid the act of chewing on them, in their entirety, for oneself. The reduction of other’s viewpoints to easily-accessible, malleable things; the sometimes frantic, anxious compulsion to “just get to it already;” to have some rule, some drilled-down thing, that can be (see previous) tucked away. For future use.
Level III: the blind, mindless application of things.
The taking of a new process or policy or practice and applying it, without question, probably because someone “higher” in the corporate (or social) hierarchy suggested it. The binge-eating and then force-feeding of a concept because you read it in a book or your boss wants you to do it. The eager acceptance of a thing as handed and the anxious application. “That’s just the way it’s done,” we say. Or “it is what it is.” “We’ve always done it this way,” or “do as told.” There’s no reason and, so far as we care to comprehend, there’s no real reason for a reason – suggestion alone is reason enough to carry on.
Level IV: the analytical dispute of things.
Critical thinking. Sure, critique even. You’re not sure why, but something doesn’t sit quite right. You can scrutinize, dissect, find the holes in logic. You haven’t quite worked out what should replace these things, so you don’t. All you know is that you think or may even be convinced that, as they stand, they don’t work.
Level V: the analytical application of things.
Note: analytical. This is not the blind, mindless application, as previously noted. You work through the angles and you figure out which pieces make sense, and then you use them. Pick and choose intelligently, make sense of things, and get things done. (Nordstrom’s customer service is famously summarized in this way, offering their employees one single rule: “Use good judgment in all situations.”) Use your brain.
Level VI: the origination of things.
No, not documentation. Not the capturing of things in a different place and then trying to pawn it off as a new thing. No, “origination” like actual originality. Ideation. Creation. Creativity. The real and substantial putting of something new out into the universe. The taking of risks. The doing of novel and useful.
And no, this new thing is not always good. In fact, more often than not, it’s rather not good. And a good new thing is certainly of higher value than a not-good new thing. Obviously.
Point here is: creativity trumps simple critique. And both of these trump simple cumulation.