The work of a genius or giant often presents an anomaly. Reverential regard obscures the real work. People know the name, but haven’t engaged with the work. In this series, we take one Peter Drucker quote or excerpt and seek to understand it.
“Expect the job to provide stimulus only if you work on your own self-renewal, only if you create the excitement, the challenge, the transformation that makes an old job enriching over and over again”
A job, especially in the context of an organisation, is in place for producing consistent results as demanded by the nature of the task or the wish of the customer. This creates routine. Any routine becomes mindless after some point of time. People go through the motions and deliver the minimum acceptable results that bear the stamp of consistency. For the organisation, most such results are low-stakes and deemed acceptable; and so, everybody plays their part in the drift downwards towards mediocrity.
Peter Drucker puts the onus for a positive handling of the situation on the job-holder. Do not expect the organisation or your manager to make your job interesting. You are in the driver’s seat. Speaking of which, there is an example of truck-drivers with the best safety records in the book, ‘First, Break all the Rules’ These truck drivers drive trucks along the same roads up and down the country for years on end. It is an old job. How do they maintain their alertness throughout their driving shift? On being probed, the safest truck-drivers said they constantly play, ‘what-if’ games on the road. Every time, they have the supposed opportunity to slam down hard on the acccelerator, they ask themselves questions like – What if a rash driver is just now making a blind turn from the bend of the road that I can’t see ; What if my brake-pads are on the brink of being worn out completely.
These truck drivers work on their own self-renewal, as Drucker would say. By inventing new scenarios, they remain alert and alive to the possibilities of the present moment. They challenge themselves to conjure up the most unforeseen circumstances where things could go wrong. They invent the game and by pre-empting the bad ending, they win the game all the time. They don’t get bored because they create a different play in each game. These truck-drivers know how to make their jobs enriching over and over again.
When you work on your own self-renewal, you can make inspiring contributions to your field. A hotel housekeeper did just that. She had a routine to deal with. In experimenting with the best ways to handle bedsheets, she created an innovative method that became a best-practice throughout the industry. The method was easy to follow, saved time and aesthetically pleasing. What a contribution to make in your trade, your industry! She played a variation of the ‘what-if’ game.
Michael Johnson was a champion sprinter in the 90s. He held the Olympics and World Record in 200 m and 400 m. One day all professional atheletes were busy practicing for a coming athletics meet in a stadium. All of a sudden, torrential rain accompanied by strong gusty winds visited that area. All the athletes and staff rushed indoors to seek refuge. As all of them peered through the glass windows onto the rain-soaked field, someone spotted a solitary figure running in the rain. It emerged that it was Michael Johnson.
When Johnson came back, he was asked why he ran in the rain. He said and I am paraphrasing, ‘ I always compete against fellow athletes in the sunshine. Here was a chance for me to compete against myself, to see how I fare against the elements.’ That’s self-renewal for you. Johnson made running exicting all over again.
What can you and I do? Work on ourselves. Create ‘what-if’ and ‘why not’ games. Create constraints and opportunities. It could be something as simple as , “I have never seen this colleague be light and smile in our work-interaction. All business and serious. Can I change that today?” That is self-renewal.