Saturday, March 16, 2019

Work doesn't speak for itself

Work doesn't speak for itself. These are some of the lines i recently read in Austin Kleon's book-'Show Your Work'. I will share a couple of stories that ran through my mind on reading this:

First one....
A while ago, during my early days as a manager (i am no longer a practicing manager), i had one reportee, lets call him Amit. Amit had a belief that I do a great work (which was true) and he also believed that if i continue doing good work, my work will be eventually heard and i will get my due.

Second one...
One of the Innovation programs that i lead in my current organization is the Technology Fair. This program has a high visibility demo day where execs participate and review the demos. Great demos that align with business and project value and impact for the organization gets rewarded and lucky amongst those wins prizes under different categories. In the build-up to this event, I plan impactful demo presentation trainings and subsequently the demo pitch practice sessions. General observation, the attendance in these two sessions tend to be less than ideal.
Now there can be many reasons for the attendance to be low like training quality not good (not in this case), people busy with their work, people having schedule conflicts, or simply they think they don't need training on pitch presentation.

The last point is significant to this discussion. People feel they are good presenters and they would carry along demo well. Or they just think the content of their work is so good that the 'work will speak for itself.'

As evident, the whole idea that 'work will speak for itself' has played many times in my career. And I know that I am not alone to have experienced that

In the book that I called out earlier in this blog- 'Show Your Work', there's a mention of an experiment- gist of which goes like this:

A few people went to thrift stores and brought a few insignificant items with average cost of $1.25 per item. They then hired story writers who wrote compelling stories about the items purchased. They listed these items on eBay with the associated stories produced by the writers. Collectively, the items fetched close to 30 times more than the collective price of original items.

This little experiment goes on to prove that:
1. Stories matter, more than what we think they do.
2. Items didn't speak for themselves, they needed stories to be their voice.
3. Story telling is one of the most underrated skill.

Taking cues from this experiment, the demos with strong technical contents does have a great value but if it is wrapped with a strong storyline, it's value, metaphorically, can be 30 times as much.

Whether we realize it or not, we are always telling stories about our work- be it during 1:1 with manager, in a team meeting, in meeting with customer or even while writing emails. But more often we fail to appreciate the importance these situations and don't tell effective stories that amplifies our work. In a hyper-connected, geographically split workplace, it is even more important that we treat story telling as a skill.

One of my favorite lines that I used to tell my team was- 'The work shouldn't be considered as done till it is communicated. Communication about the work done is not separate from work, it's wise to consider it as a part of work.'

Finally, I will leave you with the lines from the book I quoted in this blog-

Words matter. Artists love to trot out the tired line, "My work speaks for itself," but the truth is, our work doesn't speak for itself. Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work,and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.

Our work doesn't exist in vacuum. There's an ecosystem of people and groups that are dependent on or are related to our work. It's prudent that we attach a voice to it and amplify the impact of it without sounding boastful and disrespectful.

What do you think?

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