Work is more than a list of tasks

January 19, 2022 in Consulting

I was recently exploring my views on what separates a junior designer from a senior one. From the responses I received - as well as my own beliefs - most agreed that it’s not as much about years of experience, but instead about decision making skills. This lead me to consider what I genuinely feel differentiates a junior designer from a senior one (and you’ll be able to see that it has nothing to do with years of experience).

For centuries, most jobs were just about completing tasks. Factory work. Finish this thing and then do the next thing (or the same thing!). But as the world - and the economy - is changing so are the jobs needed. These new jobs aren’t “task” jobs; they’re jobs that require initiative. It’s work that you don’t get assigned, but work you choose to take. These kinds of jobs require a different type of teamwork dynamics and an entirely new set of employees.

It would be easy to assume that junior designers tend to - and should - focus on tasks while an initiative focus is reserved for seniors. Yet over the last decade, what I’ve seen doesn’t line up with this “standard”. I’ve worked with numerous seniors that just want task work. Let me clarify, they don’t just want it; they demand it. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it, but until you do, I’ll sit tight. Similarly, I’ve worked with juniors who go hunting for the next thing as soon as they’ve finished their assignments.

“At Apple we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”
Steve Jobs

As a manager, I think this is one of the most crucial things to quickly identify in the people you are leading - who are task workers and who are initiative takers? Each set of people requires different coaching; a junior initiative taker might need help defining what to chase - and occasionally to make sure they are also finishing their actual tasks - where a senior task worker may need coaching on thinking about the work through a new lens. Honestly, it’s my firm belief that most people want to be good at what they do and enjoy their work and I believe that’s achieved through having an actual relationship with the work - not just completing a list of tasks someone else gave you.

"Most organizations do an astonishingly bad job at creating, initiating and dancing with the next thing. And so they struggle and eventually become Yahoo."Seth Godin

A personal update: I’ve decided to leave my full-time role at Product and return to consulting, a setting where I’m able to focus more on (my own) initiatives and flourish. I’m currently open to new projects.

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