A Job is Not Necessarily a “Thing” to “Do”

Normal thought generally fits normal language.

In normal language, the subject of a sentence, as in “my job needs me to do X”, is considered to be a person, place or thing. Given that a job isn’t apparently a person or a place, “thing” is the category remaining in which to hold it.

To think of a job as a “thing” is to set up a very poor relation to what is possible in the “job”. It also calls on you to be slave to the concept or idea of the “job”– concepts and ideas go readily with the thing-like territory.  Imagine dealing with people as “things” and note how fixated, narrow, and conceptual one’s relation with them would be. (This does indeed happen — as in dealing with a waitress as a “waitress,” or a CFO and a “CFO.”)

Once the negative alchemy of turning a job into a “thing” happens in normal thought, there is a cascade of grammar and concepts that turn you into “the kind of thing that would do a ‘thing-like’ job.” There are “things to do” to satisfy the job. There are qualities to have to satisfy the job. There are models for how to do the job well, and models for how to fail at the job. There are standards you can have for how you ought to measure up to the job, and you can succeed or fail at those. You can suffer about what is and isn’t getting done in the job. You can even suffer needlessly (not necessarily helping the “job” to get “done”) about aspects of the job no one has asked you to do nor even expects you to do.

Our normal language and our normal culture asks you to “Do Your Job”. And that seems like a common sense intention and a rightful expectation. After all, you do get paid for just that, apparently.

What if this is all superstition? What if the job is neither “there” to be “filled” nor a “thing”? And what if the best relation to have with it is not “get ‘er done”?

An alternative approach alters all aspects of a job. And that is to relate to it as a conversation among and between people in a community gathered for purposes of particular kinds of accomplishment. As a conversation, a job lives “between” people (not inside someone), and is open and generative and can go wherever the competent players involved can take it.

A job as a generative conversation allows for new fits, new collaborations, new outcomes, new methods — innovations in all directions. Innovation and stabilities need to be balanced. All innovation and the players in the conversation can easily get lost as to that intention on which they are collaborating. All stability and the job and work become rote and boring. The right mix depends on the players, the community of support, and the background levels of competence and mastery among the players as well as among those the players are intending to serve.

A generative conversation can also be a timely one. It alters with the players, the circumstances, the resources available and the time horizons the players are willing and able to include, as well as the flexibility and interests of those being served.

Against this background, the common sense “Do Your Job” becomes “Unfold the Conversation that Your Job Exists As With Appropriate Others in Appropriate Timings.” This would also include tailoring the conversation to make the most of the talents available and involved — including yours. That is part of making one’s job one’s own without needlessly constraining the contribution others can make to its fulfillment.

One cannot “unfold the conversation that your job exists as” if the job is already a “thing” and what there is to do is “do your job”. You’ll have to pick one or the other.

Which kind of job do you have? And how are you out to fulfill that job?


About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life -- in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.
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