Jeff the canoe guy

Jeff the canoe guy

What we do is who we are

The last few weeks I have spend a lot of time thinking about the way we work. What is it exactly that we truly do? Why do we continue to do things that don’t really add any additional value? And importantly, does our work define who we really are?

I have a true admiration for craftsmanship. I find it incredibly soughing to watch someone create something from scratch. There is something magical about watching someone who knows a trade so well. That is probably the reason why I love to watch sports that require a combination of skills and attention far beyond just sheer physical strength. I can seriously watch Ronny O’Sullivan play snooker for hours on end or watch Roger Federer give us one more tennis masterclass.

Neverthink “Making Stuff”

A few weeks back, I stumbled across an iOS-App called “Neverthink”. The app itself is nothing more than a curated collection of YouTube videos. All videos are sorted by channels, such as “LOL” (funny), “AWW” (super cute stuff) or “Make Something” (my absolute fav).This last channel, “Making Stuff”, is just fantastic. Amongst other things, I watched a guy build a canoe out of some old pieces of wood, and a woman paint her entire house with the most incredible drawings.

These videos were utterly inspiring, relaxing and really interesting. Foremost, they got me thinking about the value that we create in life. There are so many beautiful things that we can do with our time, that fullfil us and create value on so many different levels. But we tend to focus so much of our attention on just taking care of tasks at work that don’t really create value, improve something and really make us proud.

In many ways it is what we do that defines who we are

I am sure that the guy who build the canoe has some other profession that he does to earn himself a living, but most of his friends will just refer to him as “Jeff, the guy who build the canoe”. And there is something honorable in that, something magical. By using his own bare two hands, Jeff has made a name for himself – created something from scratch and made a lot of people happy along the way. And I loved watching it.

Do we add any value with that what we do?

Let me make a bold statement: I believe that anything that is not creative, or at least a task that promotes change, is something we should not waste a single more minute on.

It might be a bit naive, but at this point in time, I feel like everything that we create can be standardized. We have become accustomed to working on tasks instead of processes, that we tend to stop to think about why we are doing something. One of my relatives works at a large corporation, with more than 10.000 people in Human Resources to precise. Most of the things she does are not exactlyrocket science; file this, jot down that, take his or her credentials, run this through so-and-so. None of her “chores” actually add any real value, they just <need to be done>.

When I asked her why she does all of these tasks, her answer was: “Because they just need to be done and they have always been done that way”. Does she add value? Now she knows exactly that these tasks don’t really add any value, but someone basically needs to do them. So within a greater context, of course she adds value with her work. Her boss told her, that he used to do these things as well. It is as simple as that, he has managed to pass on his <great> legacy.

Now I don’t want to say that her boss is not a good manager, because there is far more to being a manager than managing change or making improvements. However, the fact that he has simply passed on his chores, without creating room for optimization and improvement does not make any sense to me. None of the tasks that my relative does at work are in any way creative – nor do they involve an element of change or perspective. I think it is not more than normal that a new generation of workers will join us soon (god help us all, the millennials are coming…), who finally start to question why we do that what we do. Millennials will bring in a whole new dimension to our ways of working and naturally promote change within organizations.

If a manager promotes change and optimization from within the organization, he (or she) could get a whole lot more done in the future. In my opinion, creating possibilities for change within organizations is a mindset thing first, but also something that needs to be taught.

Many things can define who we are – and want to be

This made we wonder, is it important to that we create value at work all the time? Is our work the only possible place through which we can define who we are?

Jeff’s video really got to me for some reason. I love the fact that Jeff really knows what he wants to do. And the great thing is, by doing so, he became something he wasn’t before. Maybe he was just Jeff the next door neighbor – an accountant for all we care – but he became “Jeff the canoe-guy”. I personally believe that there is more to it than that.

I know that I love my job, I love to tell others about it and show them how they can make their lives easier by using new digital tools. The more we make use of the tools that are at our disposal, the more time we can spend on being creative – making something new – and moving forward. And I hope that one day, we will be able to focus even less attention on simple chores, such as filing notes and writing protocols.

I really hope, that one day, we will all be able to become a little bit more like Jeff. Rid ourselves of all those pesty tasks and chores that we tend to call “work”. And focus our attention on things that add value in our lives, things that make us happy. Therefore I urge everyone around me to challenge each and every thing that they do. And to ask themselves, why am I doing this right now – does this task really add value or merely add to my own short term wealth?

If you too want to become inspired by guys like Jeff, just go the app store and download Neverthink, choose the Making Stuff channel, sit back and relax. I, for one, will probably spend most of my sunday night on it. 😉

Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone, Remco