Discovering and Doing More Great Work

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

So I’m reading Michael Bungay Stanier’s 2010 book Do More Great Work. I know. I know. I’m behind the times. But this is totally indicative of the circuitous journey that’s been my personal and professional life. (More on that in other posts).

I also tend to do things backasswards. For example, I came to this book after reading Stanier’s 2016 book The Coaching Habit a couple of weeks ago. I liked the latter so much I decided to check out the former. Both are excellent.

Do More Great Work is essentially a self-coaching tool. A combination of business book and workbook, Stanier has delivered an informative and engaging resource for anyone desiring to do more work that aligns with their passion and purpose, that’s energizing and life-giving. Divided into seven parts comprising an introduction and 15 short chapters, Stanier inspires and guides the reader to discern their passions and interests and differentiate between Bad, Good, and Great Work.

Along the way there are coaching tips and insights as well as “Great Work Wisdom” excursuses from Stanier and other leading thinkers designed to propel readers towards doing more Great Work.

Conceptual Maps

The heart of the book is the 15 different conceptual mapping exercises that lead the reader through self-reflection and a discovery process of what Great Work is to them and how to do more of it. Each chapter contains a different mapping exercise and helps readers unpack their findings with questions for reflection and gaining further insights. 

Why maps? Stanier answers that the conceptual maps are “designed to reveal how you’re working now, help you decide what you’d like to do differently, and instil the energy, drive and confidence you need to do something about it” (7).

The maps are tools that help us to first pause and reflect on important questions and answers and then propel us towards action. If you like interactive reads, this book is definitely for you.

Fair warning. The exercises are simple and practical but not easy. They require some thought, like almost all things worth contemplating and eventually doing are.

If you really want to do more Great Work then it requires enough time and space for thoughtful reflection. I recommend getting a notebook for doing the mapping exercises and recording your thoughts. All of the maps are also available as free downloadable templates, along with other Great Work resources here.

This is also not a one-and-done read. Rather, it’s a book that you keep revisiting as your professional life ebbs and flows. As Stanier notes, “Finding the right mix between your Good Work and Great Work (with no Bad work) is the practice of a lifetime. And even if you find a harmonious balance now, it will change” (6).

Doing More Great Work is an ongoing, lifelong journey and process of discovery and rediscovery.

The Bad, the Good, and the Great

Stanier suggests that we all intuitively understand the differences between Bad, Good, and Great Work in our lives. For example, “Bad Work is a waste of time, energy, and life” (4).

Remember the 1999 Mike Judge film Office Space? Yeeaaahhhh. Completing those damn irrelevant TPS reports came to mind as I thought about Bad Work. What’s your version of TPS reports?

Conversely, “Good Work,” Stanier says, “is the familiar, useful, productive work” we do every day that likely comprises a large portion of our time and energy. Good Work is the heartbeat of businesses and organizations. It’s the “efficient, focussed, profitable work that delivers next quarter’s returns” (5).

Hopefully we’re doing more Good Work and very little, if any Bad Work. Good work is necessary. It’s what most of us are probably already good at and what drives our organization’s success.

But Great Work is the work we all want to be doing more of. It’s “the work that is meaningful to you, that has an impact and makes a difference. It inspires, stretches, and provokes. Great Work is the work that matters” (5).

Sometimes our Great Work aligns well with our job description and official responsibilities. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes our Great Work is very public and comes with accolades. Oftentimes it’s more about our own personal satisfaction and sense of purpose and meaning, regardless of or even absent any public recognition.

Great Work is the work that makes us feel most alive. We would probably do it even if we weren’t being paid. It’s those moments when we’re doing what we feel and know deep inside that we were born to do. It’s when we’re in “the zone.” 

Think how much happier we might all be if we intentionally did more Great Work. How might doing more Great Work impact our relationships and interactions with others? How might it impact our physical, emotional, and psychological well-being?

Begin the Journey

Penelope Trunk notes in an excursus titled “A Leap of Faith” in Do More Great Work that it’s easy to make excuses why we’re not engaged in more Great Work. It’s our job, our organization, our boss, the people we work with. Blah blah blah.

But the truth, Trunk suggests, is that “Great work is internal, and ultimately the choice to find it or not find it is yours” (41). She continues, “doing Great Work is about knowing who you are and what you want” (41). And basically we just have to do the hard work of figuring that out and take the plunge to get going. Easier said than done of course. But definitely doable.

I’m at what feels like an important and pivotal point in my career and future direction. About a year ago my life changed significantly when I moved from a career I’d invested 15 years and multiple graduate degrees in to something completely different and outside of my experience, education, and expertise.

Fortunately, things have turned out very well so far. Better than I could have imagined actually. Over the past year I’ve developed a new sense of vocation and vision for a new career trajectory. I’m genuinely excited. In fact, I feel like I’m doing a lot of Good Work and I struggle to identify Bad Work I’m doing.

But I want to do Great Work — work that energizes and inspires me, that pushes me to be creative and innovative, that challenges me to grow and develop in ways I never imagined, and that makes a difference and impact for others. I want to get more in tune with what makes me tick and also what sucks the life out of me. And I want to be intentional about choosing more Great Work rather than settling for Good Work and sloughing through Bad Work.

So I want to take Stanier’s Do More Great Work seriously. I’m going to work through the mapping exercises he provides. And I thought it might be helpful to blog about it at key points along the way. It will help me process things. And also maybe help any readers of this blog who also desire to do More Great Work.

So What About You?

Are you interested in doing more Great Work and eliminating Bad Work as much as possible? What have you discovered? What have been your struggles and your high points? What’s been your journey so far?

Please leave your comments below to continue the conversation. I’d love to learn from you!

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