Transfigure

Your job sucks. Or does it? “Transfiguring” your work can make it more fun, comfortable and enjoyable.

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Audio

Remember being a child and playing dress-up games with your friends/siblings? You might have pretended to be a fireman, a doctor, a policeman, or play some other kind of role.

What a lot of fun it was! You’d dress the part, you’d talk the part, you’d act the part. And you would imagine yourself in that role.

And then a few years go by, and you find yourself in a different profession, one which you wouldn’t have dreamed about as a child. Perhaps you’re being an executive, or you’re writing code, or you’re designing something, or you’re selling to people.

Not all jobs seem to be fun up-front, and perhaps that’s why we get paid to work. We’re being paid to do activities we probably wouldn’t normally do, by default, without prompting.

But I have observed that that the way you imagine yourself, while doing a job, can affect the way you feel about that job, and perhaps how motivated and productive you are at that job.

So what if you were to re-imagine your job?

Depending on your work environment and what it is that you do, there are various kinds of challenges you may or may not face. But there are also various ways of “imagining” that work, which could make it more enjoyable.

  • You are often called into difficult people situations. You find yourself in meetings where there is a lot of conflict, disagreement, difficulty understanding people or knowing what they want, different people making different demands of you. That can be stressful. In this situation, you might imagine yourself as: “Negotiator for the U.N.”. So those conflicts and tensions that seem to be a bummer can actually feel like a lot of fun, when you imagine yourself as someone working for the U.N., in a challenging but important role, that will have big consequences for the future of nations or countries. Your real job mightn’t be as big or epic as that! But that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine yourself as that, and get into a really fun, comfortable zone that way.
  • You are not really doing much. Work is slow/boring. There’s lots of downtime. You could imagine yourself as a secret agent working for the FBI/CIA/MI9. You have intelligence and multifarious capabilities and have been sought out by the government. They don’t quite know what to put you on right now, but they just need you to be there, ready and waiting, to act and jump when the time comes. To find a critical piece of information, at the right time, and act on it fast. And your action can save the country! If you could imagine yourself as that person in that role, it’s no longer a boring/dead-end job, but rather, something critical, exciting and fun.
  • You have to do lots of reading and research to do. It’s tedious. There’s a large quantity of documentation. Pages, paragraphs, sentences, all have to be read and scoured. Perhaps you could imagine yourself as a judge in court. You’re going through the details of the case, prior to a hearing, and you have to analyse the arguments of all sides, being careful, unbiased, impartial. You have to think critically and come to the most fair, just understanding of the case, and help to deliver the most just outcome for those involved. So your tedious, long-winded job suddenly feels important, crucial, and perhaps even prestigious.
  • You’re in a busy, fast, loud, noisy environment. There’s lots of action, words, movement. People are coming at you from all sides. You are constantly having to react. This might seem stressful. But you could imagine yourself as one of the top traders on wall street! You’re yelling at other traders, getting the latest news and prices. It’s a high-impact, high-energy job. You’re suiting up daily, going onto the trading floor and doing big deals, racking up millions of dollars in profit. It can feel fun, exciting and energising, rather than draining.
  • You’re training and mentoring one or more people. Most of your time is spend troubleshooting other people’s issues or difficulties or teaching them how to resolve these themselves. You could imagine yourself as a doctor or physician of some kind. You have a large body of knowledge and experience, people are coming to you with chronic pains and conditions, and you’re applying that expertise to helping and healing them. Calmly, carefully, methodically, you diagnose the patient’s issue, while comforting them and telling them they’re going to be OK. It’s a job that requires a lot of expertise, and by practicing it, you are giving others crucially needed help and healing. It’s a job of profound importance.
  • You’re giving a lot of counselling and advice to one very important individual, perhaps an executive. You might imagine yourself as a therapist. Your client comes to you with lots of anxiety, stress, difficult emotions, perhaps pressure from lots of others around them. And they’re offering up these problems to you. And as a therapist, you’re someone who’s able to help, but who first needs to understand them, to patiently hear them out and listen to their problems, and then to give them the right kind of influence, to help them help themselves and move forward.

The above are just a handful of job “types” and fantasies that you could apply to them. And imagining is just the start. You could (maybe!) take things even further and physically dress the part! Try wearing a suit, if you find yourself in that “busy, fast, loud” stock-trading-style environment. Or perhaps try using props. Perhaps putting pictures or posters on your desk that put you in the mood of the “imaginary” role you’re playing.

A closing point I’d like to make is that the job you’re actually doing and the job you imagine yourself doing may not be worlds apart. The job where you need to be patient, critical, unbiased, may not be all that different from the job of a judge. The judge’s work can affect the course of people’s live. So might your work too, if you consider the impacts, down the line, of what you’re doing. Think of the lives of the customers you serve, or the others within the organisation. The quality of your work may determine whether the company stays afloat and continues to employ people, or whether it goes down and has to lay people off. Likewise for the other “styles” of work. You may not know how others out there are benefiting from your work.

So try “transfiguring” your work. Wear a different hat, literally or mentally, and see if you can have a bit more fun at what you do!

Paste

Often, “don’t repeat yourself” is good advice. But might “copy-and-paste” sometimes be a better way of solving the problem?

Audio

Repetition – one thing happening again and again. It’s everywhere. Look at the trees outside and you see patterns of branches and leaves, repeated over and over.

Yet, when it comes to product design, business, software and other creative works, we strive to avoid repeating ourselves. We strive to make it “one of a kind”, a “unique” business proposition. “Don’t repeat yourself” is a common maxim in the software industry.

However, as in nature, repetition is frequent and common in software and elsewhere. And granted, it has often caused much pain and frustration. However, it may not always and necessarily be a bad thing. We might ask: “where does repetition make sense?”

In one of my former projects, working with a very experienced and trusted team leader, I was assigned to develop a new feature of the product, in this case, an online form, containing many fields and controls and some fairly complex interactions. After I had completed this, he tasked me to develop a new screen. And when described the new screen to me, it sounded so similar to the first screen that my immediate first thought was: “this should all really be done as one re-usable component, called by both screens”.

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However, when I expressed this idea to him, he recommended against it. “Don’t do that – copy and paste!”. Suprised, I asked him if he was serious. “Yes!”, he said, “trust me”.

So I followed his advice, copied the existing code to a new file, and started working on the new requirements. And even though, at the start, they had seemed like very similar screens, as development progressed, the code started to diverge quite radically.

For example, a user would enter a figure on one form, and they would get one kind of error and a link leading them to a particular screen; whereas on the other screen, they might enter a figure into an equivalent field, get a message that wasn’t an error, or a link leading them to a different screen.

What I realised was that these are two very different screens. They started out the same, and I was correct to point out the similarities. But, over time, they were destined to diverge and become very different screens. Thus, it made more sense to start with a copy-and-paste.

What would have happened if I had gone with my initial instinct and created one “master” component, to serve both screens? Well, every time there was a difference between the behaviour of one screen and the other, we would have to add some kind of exception (e.g. an if-statement) to the “master” component. And over time, as these differences accumulated, the “master” component would develop into a mess of exception-handling, and the code would become difficult to read and maintain.

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Instead, I ended up with two separate screens, each with its own behaviour, which could easily be modified if needed.

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Win!

More broadly, the “mathematical” instinct may be to reduce, but the problem may not be one of reduction, but rather, of generative, divergent growth. In simple words: we may want lots of copies, so that we can easily modify each copy in a different way.

So sometimes “don’t repeat yourself” is helpful advice, but sometimes it’s not. If you know ahead of time that two or more pieces are going to diverge from each-other, and you want to be able to easily control and customise each of those pieces, copy/paste may well be a better strategy.