April 7, 2011

Just Dance: What Makes Meaningful Work

As a follow up to my post yesterday, there's a lot more I could've written about Outliers. But I just want to highlight the discussion in the book about what makes work meaningful, because this is a large part of success: if you love the work you do, you'll be motivated to put the effort in that's needed to be really great at it.

According to Gladwell, satisfying work has three key qualities:
  • Autonomy;
  • Complexity; and
  • A clear connection between effort and reward
Autonomy is about having a certain level of independence in your work; it's the ability to make choices about your work and have a level of creative control. No one wants to feel like a cog in a wheel.

Complexity is feeling engaged with your work and having the chance to use your imagination. I've often heard that one of the best ways to find the work you love is to pay attention to those times when you were so involved with something, you lost all track of time. Meaningful work will really draw you in.

Seeing the connection between how much time and effort you put into something and how successful you are at it is also important. If you keep slaving away at something and it's getting you nowhere, chances are pretty good you're not loving your job. But if it's clear what the result is of your hard work isif there's a direct result that's important to youthen your work will be satisfying.

In combination, these three aspects are what makes work meaningful. Ultimately, it's not how much money you earn that's going to make you happy, but whether or not your work is fulfilling to you. This quote from Outliers sums it up perfectly:
"Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it become the kind of thing that makes you ... dance a jig."

So let's get out there and dance, shall we?

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