A culture of action.

Every year I make the same two New Year’s resolutions: 1) Quit Starbucks pastries and 2) Do work.

The pastries thing was tough at first. This is Seattle after all, with the sweet seduction of Starbucks around every corner. But, after reading the nutritional content of Starbucks’ treats, it got easy real fast. Truth be told, I’ve had a few breakfast sandwiches in 911 hangover situations, but those aren’t technically pastries anyway.

My second resolution, do work, gets harder every year as I ooze into the backdrop of operational management. Eek! I’m scaring myself just thinking about it! I started out at a tiny design firm, 10 people tops. We had fun every day, meetings happened impromptu, so did lunches and birthdays. The music was l.o.u.d. We all left at 4 pm for happy hour after a 10 am start. We worked the shows in NYC, London, and Paris, shared hotel rooms, smoked cigarettes in the exhibition halls and stayed out all night. ‘Work hard, play hard” wasn’t a buzzphrase, it was our studio’s doctrine, and we lived it 24/7 together. Oddly, this was one of my most productive jobs.

Now I work 60 hours a week, I don’t smoke, I never leave at 4pm, and I very rarely stay out all night, certainly not when I’m working. I’m too busy. I’m older, decidedly wiser, and I actually love what I do and the people I work with. So, why don’t I feel as productive?

Granted I get a lot done, getting !@#$ done is part of my identity, but Teague is a big firm, with lots of studios, and lots of people in those studios working collaboratively. On the business side of this business, nothing happens impromptu. Creatively, we’ve functioned as a well-oiled machine for 86 years. Operationally however, like most businesses, it’s sometimes a bit of a slog. That said a lot of people love the meetings, the reporting, the training, and the processes. They love the forms, the structure, and even the bureaucracy. There are times I love it as well, it speaks to my mania, it feeds my OCD tendencies unlike anything else, but that question, “why don’t I feel as productive?” comes creeping into my mind every time I draft a meeting agenda, accept a meeting request, complete a travel form, attend a training session…that question in fact, has taken up residence in my frontal lobe for the last 6 months. I go to sleep, and there it is, white noise as I crawl deeper between the sheets to avoid it. I wake up, and there it is again, staring back at me from the depths of my coffee cup. It’s part of me now, like a bullet that can’t be removed after a horrific shooting accident for fear of death.

Because like I said, getting !@#$ done is part of my identity, beyond the ooze, that’s what I’m always thinking about it. And I get why you do less ‘work’ once you start to manage, because the work you’re doing is the management bit. But somewhere down the line, I think work fell out of favor for management and leadership. These days everyone wants to be a leader. Gen X, and god knows Gen Y, were born to lead, or at least they think so. In my mind, today’s ‘leaders’ typically delegate client work, and hire consultants to do their work. Sorry folks, that doesn’t count. And FYI, if you’re not doing work, you’re the definition of dispensable. Eek! I’m scared for you.

Some see bureaucracy as a comfort. Others view it as an epidemic; I see it more as a behavior, one I’m committed to unlearn. This year I’m gonna do more work. I’m gonna work hard to work with more people who like to roll up their sleeves and get dirty, and I’m gonna to do my best to create a culture of action.

When I was growing up my parents had an image of Jesus hanging on the wall with a saying that read “I never said it’d be easy, I only said it’d be worth it.” That’s exactly how I feel about work.

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