In all of the discussion about the future of work, and whether robots and software will or won’t eat all of our jobs, there’s one fundamental question that I don’t hear asked very often.
Your first thought might be about what you feel Work is, personally. You might think that Work is Obligation: just a job, with joy optional. You might believe Work is Challenge: a set of obstacles to be overcome. You might feel that Work is Livelihood: The way you’re compensated, so you can have the lifestyle you want. Or, you might believe that Work is Purpose, or Meaning, or Mission: The thing or things you’re meant to do.
But to understand how Work is changing, it’s important for us all to have a completely objective definition of Work. There is one, and it’s pretty simple.
Work is: We use our Skills to perform Tasks to solve Problems.
Let’s start with the end of that equation. What do we mean by Problems?
A dirty floor is a problem. An old, tired product strategy is a problem. In every Work situation, there’s a problem to be solved. As workers, we are hired to solve problems for someone.
How do you solve problems? You perform tasks.
Sweeping a floor is a task. Devising a product strategy is a task - or, more accurately, a set of tasks. The better you are at certain tasks, the better you solve specific problems.
How do you perform tasks? You use your skills.
Think of your skills as “human energy applied to a task.” Just as it’s important to have an objective definition of Work, we need a common language for skills. You actually have three kinds of skills, Knowledges, Transferables, and Traits. More on this in another post.
Again: Work is using our Skills to perform Tasks to solve Problems and create Value.
So why, when robots and software are seen as reducing the need for human labor, is it so necessary for us to define Work? Because robots and software don’t eat jobs. They perform tasks. It’s usually a manager’s decision if that means a job goes away, once technology can perform a certain amount of a worker’s tasks.
But this four-step definition of Work is also the formula for success in your current and future work. You are a Problem-Solver who uses your Skills to perform important Tasks. Whether you’re doing that in a Job, or in a small project, your ability to solve problems on an ongoing basis that will be your greatest asset - even when software and robots are around.
Of course, Work isn’t a Job. In the iconic career manual, What Color Is Your Parachute?, author Dick Bolles defines seven characteristics of a Job. We’ll be exploring all seven of them, at our workshop in Long Beach, Calif, Oct. 3 & 4. Learn more and sign up here.