Are You Doing Great Work? Or Merely Good Work?
You may not know the name of Milton Glaser, but you probably know
at least one of his works of art – the “I 'Heart' NY” logo. In
his book, Art is Work, Glaser provides these provocative
definitions of work
1. Work that goes beyond its functional intention and moves us in
deep and mysterious ways we call great work.
2. Work that is conceived and executed with elegance and rigour
we call good work.
3. Work that meets its intended need honestly and without
pretence we call simply work.
4. Everything else, the sad and shoddy stuff of daily life, can
come under the heading of bad work.
I combine Glaser’s second and third distinctions to have just
three categories: Great Work, Good Work and Bad Work. (And by
“Work”, I’m talking all of “the stuff you do”. It’s not only
about what you do in the office, but what you do 24/7. Work
includes looking after your children, watching TV, preparing
meals, exercise, being with friends, being by yourself, and so
How do you know what’s what? Here’s my litmus test.
Great Work brings with it both exhilaration and terror. You’re
delighted when someone asks you what you do, and they have
trouble getting you to stop talking about it. You tap into
reserves of courage and chutzpah to get done what needs to be
done. You often have no idea how to do what needs to be done –
and are only a little fazed by that, because you are certain that
this is truly what needs to be done.
Great work is a place where impact and effect trumps over
efficiency and process. It is often a place of waste, because
creativity needs waste to thrive. It is a place of inspiration,
where suddenly all your past makes sense (“A-ha! That’s why I
did that, learned that, experienced that”). It is a place that
honors your skills, your passion and your experience.
Great Work is also a difficult place to be. The temptation to
“downgrade” to the comfort of Good Work is constant. Your “inner
critic” is rampant, whispering “Who are you to try this? Who do
you think you are to be this ambitious? Don’t you know you’re
doomed to failure?” Great Work can also be elusive, because it
can degrade in a moment to be simply Good Work. To do Great Work,
you must be ever vigilant.
With Good Work, there is no shame attached. You’re doing work
that uses your skills, it gets stuff done, it may well pay you a
wage. It’s comfortable, because you know what you’re doing. It
is probably something of a routine or a habit.
So it’s not that you’re having a bad time. It’s just that when
you’re asked by strangers what you do, sometimes it feels like
you’re trying to convince yourself more than them that this is
great. Good Work is often about “being efficient”, without ever
asking the difficult question “is this the right work to be
efficient with?” (Peter Drucker says this: “Efficiency is doing
things right; effectiveness is doing the right things”). In a
year’s time, you won’t remember the Good Work you were doing a
And as for Bad Work, the test is simple. It’s when you have that
sudden flash of realization and you ask yourself: Why exactly am
I wasting my life with this?
Here’s a quick exercise. Draw a biggish circle on a piece of
paper. Now, divide it into three segments that represent the
proportion of each of these types of work in your life today.
How much Great Work are you doing? More than 80%? Less than
In my experience, many of us are doing a fair amount of Good Work
– but very little Great Work. The goal is to remove Bad Work from
our lives, and continually increase the amount of Great Work.
What would you have to say “no” to, to double the amount of Great
Work in your life? What would you have to say “yes” to, to halve
the amount of Bad Work in your life?
Resources for Great WorkPeter Block, The Answer to How is Yes
Michael Bungay Stanier,GetUnstuck & Get Going… on the stuff that matters
Richard Carson,Taming your Gremlin
Copyright 2004 Michael Bungay Stanier, Box of Crayons
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Bungay Stanier is author of the best selling coaching tool, Get Unstuck & Get Going.....on the stuff that matters
available at http://www.getunstuckandgetgoing.com A certified
coach and Rhodes Scholar, he works with coaches, trainers, teams and organizations to help them get unstuck and get going
on the stuff that matters. Sign up for Michael’s fr^ee Outside the Lines ezine at
NOTE: You’re welcome to "reprint" this article online as long as it remains complete and unaltered
(including the "about the author" info at the end), and you send a copy of your reprint to
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/