A couple of recent items I’ve read got me to thinking about my job. My responsibilities here have to do with strategy, business development, marketing and product management. All of these are pretty well defined areas that probably conjure up a familiar image with anyone who works in a medium to large sized business (sometime perhaps I’ll talk about what a thankless task “strategy” can be). But these responsibilities and my title don’t really describe what I am supposed to do, what my real job is. And like my previous entry about the dangers of mis-identifying what business we are in, not recognising what your job is can be, I suspect, just as damaging or perhaps more.
The indie breakfast club blog has a recent entry called How Good is the Conversation In Your Company? In it, Oliver Sweatman talks about a conversation he had with one of his mentors who said this:
“Companies are a string of conversations.”
I think there is a lot of wisdom packed into these six words and it made me think about how important ideas, knowledge and especially communications are to my job and those of my colleagues. This morning’s New York Times has a piece called “Time Wasted? Perhaps It’s Well Spent” that sheds further light on this. In it, the author covers some very interesting statistics about how little of the time we spend at our office is really considered work.
American workers, on average, spend 45 hours a week at work, but describe 16 of those hours as “unproductive,” according to a study by Microsoft. America Online and Salary.com, in turn, determined that workers actually work a total of three days a week, wasting the other two. And Steve Pavlina, whose Web site (stevepavlina.com) describes him as a “personal development expert” and who keeps incremental logs of how he spends each working day, urging others to do the same, finds that we actually work only about 1.5 hours a day. “The average full-time worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00 a.m.,” he writes, “and begins to wind down around 3:30 p.m.”
This massive amount of “unproductive time” at the office was almost as interesting to me as the statistic that 18% of Americans read email while on the toilet.
The article goes on to quote a productivity expert who told the freelance writer of the article:
“We are in a knowledge-worker world,” he says. “If you were building me a building, I could measure the number of bricks. If you were loading a truck, I could measure the number of boxes. But I can’t simply count your words. That doesn’t measure quality.”
This has the ring of truth to me as I apply it to my own work. But if quality counts and the number of hours we are working doesn’t (because most of the time we are just goofing off) what does count? I think the first thing to do is to recognise, as the quote above suggests, that we are Knowledge Workers. This means that our job is to take in data, information and stimulus, to process those inputs, organise them in a better way, use them to create new ideas and then communicate those ideas through structured conversation to our bosses, colleagues, customers, suppliers, staff, friends and relatives. The diversity of ideas, intermingling and eventually being turned into action is the very definition of productive work.
Taking the inputs, assembling the ideas and thoughts is all well and good, but the key to making me a successful knowledge worker is communications, the string of conversations I stimulate. Remember that a conversation is two way, it goes back and forth like a ball in a tennis match. But unlike the ball, as the idea(s) in the conversation go back and forth, something is added to them and something is left behind with each participant to be used again later. The amazing creative process that drives all our human achievement occurs as we carry on our strings of conversation. In my job as Knowledge Worker, I must see to it that these conversations happen as often and as energetically as I can.