The Work

Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work – Exodus 20:9

And so we work, six, seven, or—if you’re the Beatles—eight days a week. But what does it mean? Is “work” a word in such common usage that we don’t think about a definition?

Consider the following definitions:

Work in Physics

The transfer of energy from one object to another, especially to make the second object move.

Work as Noun

The exertion or effort directed to accomplish something. It can also mean the place where we do this exerting, or the actual material we are exerting effort on. This allows sentences like, “I went to work to work on my work of art.”

Work as Verb

To manage, operate, or make as in, “This camera is easy to work, allowing me to work with images of social injustice so that I can work a change in the world.”

Work as Adjective

Describing objects related to work. “I put on my work clothes and break out my woodworking tools.”

Each definition merits further study and consideration, but I have two more definitions:

work (with a lowercase w): This is the busy work of life; the things that contribute to the economic, social, or leisure bottom line of life. It’s the grocery shopping, and the post office, the obligatory dinners, the email, and so forth. This is the work that dominates our lives six or seven days a week.

Work (with an uppercase W): This is effort we put into our purpose or calling. Most of us don’t do it often enough and many of us don’t even know what this work is but there are some ways I’ve learned to recognize it:

  • It is not assigned to you by anyone
  • Doing it makes to less tired rather than more
  • It elicits a powerful, almost supernatural opposition called resistance

The second hardest work out their is simply to distinguish between work and Work. The hardest Work is to do the Work…everyday…eight days a week.

Being an Example

Every man is a diary in which he writes one story while intending to write another. His humblest moment is when he compares the two.
— Hugh B. Brown

My task list is loaded today with things that are urgent, things that are commitments, things that required by my employer, etc. But two particular entries loom large. They were not assigned; I chose them, and I’m not going to get fired if they don’t get done. They are not conventionally urgent. They are not part of my job. They are really hard, I’m not entirely sure how they will turn out, and my time is really limited today.

But these two are the most important tasks I will do this week because:

  • I have been working for five months very openly to get to the point where I can do these tasks,
  • Getting these two things done right has the potential to fundamentally change my life,
  • I made a commitment to an old friend that I would do one of them, and most importantly,
  • My son is watching me.

I have been telling my son that the future looks very different than the present and that a lot of what he is hearing about living in the future may be wrong. I have been telling him that the actions I have how people of the future will act. In his eyes, my action on these two tasks will determine whether I am a man of the past or a man of the future; whether I believe what I’m saying or not.

Today, I will compare the stories I am writing. By the end of the week, so will he.

Every action we take sets an example for people who are watching (and people are always watching). The question is whether we will be a role model or a cautionary tale.

The Caring Conundrum

I’ve heard many times that in negotiation, the person who cares the least wins. And it’s tempting to focus on negotiation, the mindset, the language, the craft. Negotiation looks like the place where you win or lose.

But winning and losing doesn’t happen in an afternoon or over a conference table. Winning has a much longer timeframe.

In the long game, the person who cares the most wins.

What’s the Big Idea?

In a recent interview, Ramit Sethi suggested differentiating your business based on, “How you see the world.” I had never articulated the world view on which my business is predicated, so I took a few minutes before sales calls this week to figure it out.

The results were magical.

Being able to tell a prospect, “This is fundamentally what the business is about,” was tremendously freeing. It wasn’t sales anymore; it was storytelling and philosophy. It was fun and enjoyable for me.

I hope it was enjoyable for my listeners. I believe that it made the call more interesting. I believe it made people think. I also believe that sharing my world view makes it easier for the prospect to accept or reject the offer—people who agree with my world view are more likely to buy and people who don’t agree are more likely to say no. This is what I believe, but I really don’t know…yet.

Since you asked: The view that informs my business is that the Internet’s ability to dramatically scale our reach is widely understood and used. But we also have the ability—through the marriage of domain knowledge and automation (and eventually AI)—to dramatically scale the depth of the relationships we have with the people we are now reaching.

This world view isn’t novel, or course, neither is figuring out your why. But sharing (and even leading with) the underlying big idea behind the business is new to me.

Team Peterson

Shanna was indignant. After a long, dirty winter, the carpet was clean. But the guy who cleaned it had been really insulting, casting aspersions on her housekeeping with comments like:

“Ugh, this carpet is really dirty.”
“Whoa, it’s even worse when you turn the light on.”
“You know, if you had people take their shoes off, your carpet wouldn’t get so bad.”

Of course, this is strange coming from a person whose livelihood is based on people having dirty carpets, but more interesting was Shanna’s remark right before announcing that she would not be using this company again.

“I paid him $150. You would think for 45 minutes he could be on Team Peterson.”

When people hire us to do a job, the task or service or expertise is only part of what they are buying. They also want (and deserve) our support, empathy, enthusiasm and loyalty. They are not buying servants, they are paying for teammates.

Some of the characteristics of effective teammates:

  • They win or lose together
  • They share
  • They sacrifice
  • They sometimes disagree
  • They challenge each other to better performance
  • They support but don’t flatter
  • They take responsibility

We can be teammates on a three-month project, but we can also be teammates in a 30-minute task and even a 30-second transaction.

And don’t forget—some people are buying servants. But you don’t want to work for those people, and consistently acting like a teammate is the best way to be hired onto a team.

The Ends Part 2

Yesterday I asserted that the ends cannot just the means because the ends are inherently unknowable.

But what if they weren’t?

What if the consequences of every action could be known with 100% certainty? What if the entire network of cause and effect were understood? Could the ends then justify the means?

In short, what if you were God, who “knows the end from the beginning?”

The question is not abstract or irrelevant. On the contrary, it goes to the heart of the human condition and has been in a subject of conversation all the way from St. Augustine’s City of God to Tom Shadyac’s Bruce Almighty.

If you know the end from the beginning, can torture (and let’s be honest—what God sometimes puts us through can only be described as torture) can be justified? The question produces a visceral response that says, “no, it can’t.”

Something else is missing. It isn’t enough to be all knowing—seeing the ends. Justifying the means also requires being all-wise—seeing how the ends produce a justifiably better whole. And it requires being all-loving—performing the means out of pure, unadulterated love. This is the trifecta—all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving—that allows the ends to justify the means.

How is any of this relevant:

  • When we attempt to justify the means, we should recognize that we are walking where angels fear to tread, and where even gods walk lightly.
  • When we view ourselves as victims of the means, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God (omniscient, all-wise, and all-loving) will—indeed has—justified the means and that all things work together for our good.


The Ends

In a world that where the lines seem to be getting more and more blurry, a question is being asked more and more often: Can the ends justify the means? Can preventing terrorist attacks justify torture and the targeting of civilians? Can the danger of obesity justify prohibiting the sale of large sodas? Can the need for office small talk justify my keeping up with the Kardashians?

The question—of necessity—requires an analysis on lines of morality and ethics. This is a fascinating, informative, and valuable exercise, but it is highly subjective.

Allow me to propose an additional, different framework for evaluating the question: How certain are we about the ends?

We are famously bad at predicting the future, so how can we expect to know something is going to end? (And really, do things ever really end, or do they just lead to other things?) If the end is uncertain (and it is always uncertain to us mere mortals), how can it justify anything? Yes, there are actuarial tables, and chaos theory, and lots of complex modeling that is highly accurate…until it isn’t.

It’s probably best just to know what you are and are not comfortable with and do stick to that.

h/t Dan Carlin – episode 303

Why Am I Doing This Part 2

In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon. — David A Bednar

Sometimes the answer to the question, “Why am I doing this?” is straightforward, but sometimes it can be answered in layers that are far more meta.

  1. The layer where we tell ourselves and others the logical answer
  2. The layer where we don’t tell ourselves or others, but secretly know a different answer
  3. The layer where we suspect there may be other forces at work, but we don’t see them unless they are pointed out to us
  4. The layer we don’t even question unless circumstances strip away all the other layers

Each layer is governed by scripts but the scripts governing the bottom two are the most powerful because we aren’t aware of them. They are written in childhood or inculcated by our culture:

  1. I bought this house because it is in a good neighborhood where home values will never go down.
  2. I bought this house because it has a big garage that I can someday turn into a studio where I can make industrial sculpture.
  3. I bought this house because my parents lost their home when I was a child and it traumatized our family.
  4. I bought this house because in America, we own our homes and renters are losers.

We are better able to live intentionally—to act and not to be acted upon—when we understand all of the scripts that are driving our actions.

h/t Ramit Sethi and Chase Jarvis

Why Am I Doing This?

At the end of another week of language study I was repeating my review of past tense verbs (again!!). By objective and subjective measures I made no progress during the week and miserably asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”

In the constant battle to live more intentionally, to act and not to be acted upon, it’s a great question—three questions, really:

  1. WHY am I doing this? (What is this really helping me accomplish?)
  2. Why am I doing this? (Is this the best use of my time, should someone else be doing this instead of me?)
  3. Why am I doing THIS? (Is this thing the best way to get to my goal and does it even need to be done?)

The question works on the strategic, tactical and task level.

  • Strategic: Why am I doing this? I believe learning a language will make me a better person and give me a better brain.
  • Tactical: Why am I doing this? I believe completing my daily goal in Duolingo is an effective tactic for language learning.
  • Task: Why am I doing this? Duolingo says I’m having trouble with past tense verbs.

Asking in the moment and from the task horizon produced an unsatisfactory answer (Why am I doing this? How many times am I going to have to go over these damn verbs?) led to asking on the tactical level. Asking on the tactical level (What else can I try to get these verbs learned?) led to the decision to try new tactics: Set up a lesson through The problem didn’t escalate to the strategic level, but it might later.

h/t Derek Sivers

What is the Purpose of the Internet?

The Internet has a purpose. It is a machine—a tool for making things.

You can use the Internet:

  • to make art
  • to make fun
  • to make money
  • to make change
  • to make hurt and pain.

You can be used by the Internet. You can let it:

  • make you distracted (wasting your time and focus)
  • make you incriminated (incognito windows notwithstanding, there is a browser history)
  • make you dissatisfied and unhappy (others’ lives always look better on Instagram).

The Internet has a purpose, and you get to decide what that purpose is.