Different kinds of work
I grew up in a culture in which the willingness and ability to do hard work (the kind that makes your body hurt) was the way to get ahead. At the same time, education was a number one priority in my family–but we were constantly reminded not to get too book smart and to get our chores done. There came a time in my life when the amount of education that I had meant I did not have to truly break my back at work. However, brute over brains philosophy did not die easily. “I may not be smarter, but I can work harder” has been a mantra I’ve carried before. Even though I have not ever made a living doing back work, in calculating my contribution (both monetary and otherwise) to the household, I always highly value the physical work that I do and by the way, its tangible and easily measurable. I’ve figured out that I can get (and have already gotten) ahead in this world using my brains instead of brawn, but the tangible and measurable part is still a part of the struggle.
This brings me to a neat little book by Jones Loflin called “Getting the Blue Ribbon“. Very briefly, the main character, John, learns a great deal about doing intentional work in his personal and professional life to get outstanding results, from his sister, Tara, who runs a highly successful apple orchard.
This is the parallel. I learned my work ethics and strategies of success from doing hands-on, physical, tangible, easily measured work. (The bucket is empty, now it is full.) But I live and work in mental, intangible, not easily measured world. Through his metaphor, what Jones Loflin is doing for me is to translate the principles of the tangible world of working with stuff to the intangible world of working with people.
The parallel continues if we examine the specific move of an individual contributor to a people manager. This fairly succinct career transition constitutes moving from tangible and measurable work to the less well defined and difficult to measure world of people and project management. Translating the principles of success in our technical world to success in the management world is the challenge.