Monday, November 16, 2009

Work Softly

Here's the premise: work is overrated.

You've heard statements like luck happens to those who are prepared for it, and Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." Which means, if you think about it, "Why aren't you working, Fool?"

But working can be as much curse as blessing. Sure, there's no substitute to working something out, making it work, and working toward a common goal, and making that "ninety-nine percent perspiration" happen. But too much focus is as bad as too little, or worse.

Too much work makes you tired.

It makes you cranky.

It blinds you.

Ask yourself, if you haven't in a while, "Why am I doing this?" It isn't so you can do more of it, not if you call it work. No one, on his death bed, ever voiced regret at not having spent more hours at the office.

You do it because you have a goal. You want to be good and to have fun. Good first, and then fun too. You have to work to achieve a goal, but that goal isn't more of the same achieving, not more work. It's something else, and sometimes working gets in the way.

A few years back someone came up with the idea that we each have two minds, based on differences in how the two halves of the human brain work. One half is good at linear thinking and breaking problems down into bits and then cracking each one of those at a time. The other half is imaginative, less predictable, more artistic, and takes big bites of things.

See, there's one thing though. We need both halves to make a whole. You don't want to be all giggly and unpredictable and surprising all the time, and you don't want to keep your tie cinched up tight all the time either. But a lot of people a lot of the time think that somehow just being extra serious and extra focused and extra grim will be extra successful.

It won't. It will be extra grim.

Which is OK if your name is Grinch.

But maybe it isn't.


Why are you doing this, ultimately?

You know, money isn't at the top of the list. In survey after survey people rank money up there somewhere but not at the top. People want meaning and a sense of community, and of accomplishment and a feeling of being valuable more than they want money. In other words, people want to do good and have fun.

Which is where we are at the moment.

If you want to do something excellent, something valuable, something worthwhile, something good, something that pays off, you have to be kind to yourself and to others, and you have to stay open. You can't do that simply by working harder. Doesn't work, so to speak.

Someone I worked with used to say "Don't work harder, work smarter." That helps. Smart goes a long way. It supplements hard work, and in a lot of cases it replaces it, but in a sense it's more of the same. Being really clever about investing less work in something and getting the same result is pretty much hard work by another name. And also involves less hard work, which is good.

But mostly it's a focused drive toward a predetermined goal along an chosen route. Sometimes you have to relax, and sometimes you have to get goofy too.

Break things up. Leave something to chance. Invite the unexpected.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Disaster can be good for you.

Sometimes disaster is the best thing that can happen to you, and it doesn't have to be bad to be good.

Here's the rule: stay open. You can rephrase this as being humble. That is excellent.

Go somewhere unusual. Talk to someone new. See a movie picked at random. Stop for lunch at the first place you come to. Sleep late. Stay up late. Go to work at two in the morning. Get drunk. Remember your dreams. Pray for a disaster.

Graphic design isn't easy for me. I'm working alone, on a personal project, so I have to do it all. I spent days on design. First I sketched things out on paper. I did a few, and decided what direction I was headed, then did some wireframes on the computer, in black and white and shades of gray. Thought I had it. Was sure of it. All was going well. The only thing I needed was to do more work. Just keep my head down and plug at it.

So the next thing was choosing colors, which is hard for me because I'm "color blind". Sort of. Not exactly, but enough to make things harder. But I got a color scheme.

So, on to creating full page-designs with color. I worked and worked. It was slow. One or two a day. Trudge, trudge.

Getting toward the end, almost done, I suddenly did something differently. Changed the design. Put colors in different places. Created a mess. Had a disaster. Found a different way to do it.


It's better.

Now I have to go back and redo everything I did during the past week and a half. All because I changed one or two little things, saw it all fall over, and decided I'd been going the wrong way after all.

Call it inspiration.

When this happens to you, pay attention. This is the crack between worlds. This is when things really happen. This is your free introductory offer. This is your one percent. Your inspiration.

You still have to do the 99 percent perspiration, but it's good for your skin anyway, so buck up and start grinning, even if it hurts for a while. You have been blessed. Wait for that smile. It will come.

Randomness is good. Inspiration is good. Being good is good.

Partly because it isn't work, but partly because it balances you. You can't live that well with half a brain, and you know what they call someone with half a mind, so party on. You have just been made whole.

The point, the whole point, and nothing but the point is that there is more to life and love and work than one thing. More than the grind. Grinding isn't the whole story, it's only the grinding.

Part of it is having the right idea. Part is working on the right problem. Part is locating the right market, the right customers. Part is looking for where you can do good. And part of it is finding out how you can have fun.

And, in case you were wondering, yes. This works for web development too.

Working hard is overrated
The first-to-market myth

Feed your head: "Laura Buxton, an English girl just shy of ten years old, didn't realize the strange course her life would take after her red balloon was swept away into the sky. It drifted south over England, bearing a small label that said, 'Please send back to Laura Buxton.' What happened next is something you just couldn't make up - well, you could, but you'd be accused of being absolutely, completely, appallingly unrealistic."
Radiolab mp3 file


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