3 Lies About Your Career That Need To Go
As of today Rihanna’s hit song “Work” has 904 Million+ views on YouTube -- and I’m at least a solid 100 of those listens. When I first heard “Work” I happened to be at work, blasting the song into my crappy earphones to tune out the inter-office chatter while banging out another email.
I imagine thousands (hell, maybe millions) of people listening to “Work” are at work, using the smooth vocals and catchy synth harmonies to focus, get through the day, and get work done.
I think about work a lot. Not just the wind-em-up, dance party type of work Rihanna’s referencing, but the soul work. The work we’re dedicated to every day of maintaining basic food and shelter and getting paid some sort of money for the activities executed day in and out, either as an entrepreneur/freelancer/creator or as an employee.
I’ve worked in (sketchy) multi level marketing schemes, conservative 500+ employee settings where wearing a color outside of black and shades of grey is pushing the limit, to non-profit and scrappy start-up settings.
Rihanna’s lyrics inspired me to think about a common set of rules (lies) about work that I've observed over the years, that we need to stop believing if we want conventional work settings to get better (and business philosophy also sounds so much better to a sound track).
Lie 1: The Best Way to Reward Someone’s Work is by Having Them Manage Someone/A team
Most companies are structured in a standard hierarchy of teams, middle managers, and upper management. As an employee progresses at a company, they are typically shoved into managerial roles because there’s no other clear way to reward them for their loyalty or efforts. It’s a promotion set on auto pilot, which is a great fit for some personalities, and a piss poor fit for others. Not everyone desires to manage someone else’s career or work, which is totally a-ok.
On top of this auto pilot promotion, conventional work settings typically don’t emphasize a deeper philosophy and attitude around what it means to manage someone, leaving it up to chance and personality when it comes to how people manage their colleagues. Without principles on how to motivate or develop a person’s skills, workers become underdeveloped and managers become stressed, overworked, and stuck.
Alternative -- Find Your Mentors and Release Your Rogue Agents. Good managers are like mentors, uncovering strengths and aligning them with opportunities while challenging their mentee to overcome their weaknesses, ultimately helping the company’s bottom line. Mentorship can be so fulfilling, like watching a toddler graduate from rolling head first into the floor every time they try to walk, to the bow legged, sure footed stomp of a (grown) baby that just knows, walking is their expertise and no one is stopping them.
If you’re a manager who bestows the knighthood of managing on others, discuss mentorship, and identify the individuals who are drawn to it. Start to curate their skills and attitude, and let them be the ones who lead others within the company and manage their workflow. If you’re an employee, think about mentorship and how you feel about supporting and empowering others. If that approach sounds exciting and something you'd have strengths in, pursue becoming a manager.
People who aren’t as intrigued about mentorship I call rogue agents, able to float about the company with various projects and responsibilities. They have plenty of skills that can help a company outside of managing others. They could be intraprenuers, given freedom to dedicate more of their time coming up with new concepts/products/solutions for the company or thought leaders out in the world, attending conferences and events to talk about the company and their work. If you're a manager, work with these people to expand their skills and give them new challenges that helps the company long term, while not forcing them to manage people because you don’t know what else to do with them. If you’d personally prefer to go rogue over mentoring folks, be up front with your goals and what you can bring to the company outside of managing people.
Of course both sets of skills can coexist in one person, but if there's a preference for one side over the other, be honest, it'll be more satisfying for everyone.
Lie 2: New Ideas Are Only Valid if Proven by Past Successes
There’s something about past success that gets people stuck on trying to recreate it over and over and over again, until it’s more played out than Nelly’s Hot in Here.
If I had a nickel for every time over my career someone shot a new idea down in a meeting because we hadn’t done it before, I would have enough nickels to buy a 5 star meal in a fancy restaurant with those soft table cloths that feel like silk.
Innovation by definition is a new method, idea, or product. If you’re trying to squeeze truly innovative ideas out of your brain in the notorious brainstorm setting, those ideas may be out there and risky. You can’t innovate only from a place of old time, smooth jam hits. Relying heavily on past successes to hopefully guarantee future success only cripples new ideas in the process, and gives us average schmaverage (which is what I like to call less than average) results.
Alternative: Remix Your Favorites. You don't have to completely throw out the old. Take your good ol’ faithful joints -- those ideas and process that keep you warm at night (like those degrees if you got them) and rejigger them. Allow yourself the opportunity to say “what if” and think wild, crazy thoughts (thanks again Rhianna) about those older concepts. Creativity is birthed when making unconventional connections between familiar insights, which means the past is helpful as inspiration, but it can’t guarantee or dictate the future and shouldn't be the gold standard.
Lie 3: The Only Goal Worth Pursuing is Profit
The priority and ultimate goal for almost all standard companies is profit.
The phrase “mo money, mo problems” is an understatement when it comes to a goal of profit solely. Pursuing profit isn't bad, if it's grounded in context and values. Many companies try to motivate by profit only, with the ultimate goal of the company to become infinitely, grotesquely bigger with no end. I’ve said this before: money is a tool, it isn’t a prize in and of itself. A pile of money sitting in a living room only has value because of what else it can be replaced with when traded in a transaction. So why on this green earth are so many business goals communicated to employees as just a number? We need a why behind the numbers for this goal to be worthwhile and motivating for most people.
There’s obviously businesses and creators that are exceptions to these lies that are common rules. I commend you, and hope you’re breaking of the status quo continues to light the fire under creators asses to think differently. For a majority, this list references your standard business model operated from the Fortune 500 down to the small mom and pop shop, across industries and profit and non-profit spaces. The first step to recovery is telling the truth, and we got some lies to cast aside to create better, bolder, smarter work environments and companies.