Module 1: Level Up Your Thinking
Lesson 1: You're Not a Cog
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of work, it can make work feel meaningless. Like we’re helping grind the gears of some machine that we don’t understand. The work we do sometimes doesn’t even make sense. Oftentimes we go seek education and certifications - only to get stuck doing daily work that's still at an elementary level.
I interviewed for a position once that required the ability to do advanced scripting for databases in SQL. I spent an hour the night before reviewing databases, complicated table joins, and so on. When I got there and took the assessment for the position - the questions were all things someone with no experience could answer with barely 30 minutes of Googling.
The insight I took from this was that they weren't interested in my skills - they needed a particular skill to plug into a particular spot and that was it.
This is where our daily life reflects a Dilbert cartoon – doing nonsensical things to help drive someone else’s profit margins. And once we go down that path, we become acommodity.
This is the worst consequence – you become replaceable. You’re sometimes nothing more than a warm body. We’ve all heard the stories of outsourcing but this is the essence – someone else will always be able to do what you do better and faster.
Once you progress in your career, and your salary goes up, you become susceptible to lay offs because it makes more sense for the company to pay 20k less per year for someone with 80-90% of the same skills you have. Instead of adding value, you’re losing value.
What's the solution?
You have to get out of the trenches and see what the bigger picture looks like. Ok great, how do we tangibly do that?
David Foster Wallace tells a great story about two fish are swimming when a big fish goes by and says, " How’s the water?" The two fish continue on and one turns to the other and says, "What's water?" He explains that the most obvious and important realities are often the hardest to see and talk about. In the day to day trenches of adult existence – banal platitudes can have life or death importance.
This is why people can downplay the importance of their work in one breath and then fight to hold on to it the next.
Getting out of the trenches and looking at the big picture is difficult. The deeper you are in the daily grind, the harder it can be.
The first step is to figure out the overall mission and vision of your company. Then of your specific business unit or team. Often times these will be different. The strategic objectives of the overall company – especially in a large corporation – may differ from your team’s goals for the year.
1) Talk to your manager.
Utilize scheduled 1 on 1’s, or approach your manager casually and see what the team’s goals are. What metrics are they being judged on. What does winning look like for the whole team? Find out what they're measuring because this is what they are being judged on.
Align yourself to those goals, find a way that your day to day job contributes to it, and see what is within your arena that you can contribute.
2) Find the vulnerabilities of the team and see how you can help.
For example, are there team goals in addition to your individual goals that you can impact?
These tweaks start to showcase you as a top performer. These actions are what you can point to when it comes to showcasing things like “taking initiative” and “following through.”
As you start seeing the bigger picture, your actions no longer are those of a cog, but someone who was able to rise out of that and align with a larger vision.
This is the first step to becoming indispensible and a top performer.
You go from losing value, to adding value.
'This is Water' by David Foster Wallace
Download the email script in this module. Paste the email you send your manager in the comments, and let us know what response you get from him/her.