Posted by jlubans on September 22, 2011

I’ve written about “real work.” “Un-work”, like the un-Cola, continues my thinking about what makes for real work. Is not all work equal? If not, what is real work?

Levi’s, the jeans maker, proclaims “Real People + Real Work = Real Change.” Well, while Levi’s® Work Wear Collection (“the finest denim fabrics, brass laurel shanks, genuine leather patches and functional waist back cinches”) may make the man, it is the man (or woman) who does the work, real or not.
Levi’s is partnering with the blighted town of Braddock, Pennsylvania to show off its new denim line.
If Levi’s advertising can help Braddock and its social justice mayor, John Fetterman, get some real work done, good for them.

In the meantime, “Let’s get back to work!”
My book, Leading from the Middle, is about the democratic workplace; an underlying theme flows through most pages: when people have freedom to take responsibility for their work, their work becomes meaningful and the product improves.
Yet, I can think of lots of un-work. For example, in the book, I highlight our counter-productive tendency to want to revise other people’s work. Here are a couple more recent examples:
I had to get permission from a government agency. There was, of course, paper work. The young, university-educated bureaucrat reviewed my twenty-page application boldly stamping and emphatically initialing every page! His agency says it is understaffed. It is, of course. I wonder who makes sure my young bureaucrat follows the drill?

Another example: I was one of a dozen people in a professional association who volunteered twice a year from 6-9 hours of sitzfleisch – butt to chair - for what began to feel a lot like rubber stamping proposed programs for the association’s next meeting. While appointed for two years, I must admit I only lasted a year, once I realized we were a “quality control” group that made sure forms were filled out as required. We did not develop or suggest programs; we reviewed the program paper work – essentially we were passport control. If you did not have the papework, the visa, no entry, regardless of merit. We were avuncular and encouraging but a good staffer could have reviewed the paperwork in three hours rather than our 72 – 108 hours!
You get some idea (see the picture) what I think un-work (UW) is.
Here is my brainstorm list of Real Work (RW) qualities I have experienced (Suggestion: Ask your colleagues what’s on their RW list.)
- I have a fundamental liking for the job (RW is my reward after doing the mandatory UW;
- The clock recedes; time becomes less important;
- RW is not easy; it is difficult but doable;
- It is “rewarding” in itself, I feel creative;
- RW offers the likelihood of recognition for a job well done;
- RW may result in failure –there’s a risk, an edge to RW that excites;
- I make a sincere effort in RW – half-ass does not cut it, “good enough” is not good enough.
- RW becomes selfless,
- Someone else benefits from RW more than I do, the job has meaning!
- RW abhors forms and paper work,
- RW is doing;
- RW is the opposite of idleness;
- RW is not about the money.

My list reminds me of Csíkszentmihályi’s “flow” theory.
Here are some flow features not on my list.
We experience a:
- high degree of concentration (focus);
- loss of self-awareness, we become “lost” in what we are doing. (We may get tired and hungry and not be greatly aware of it.);
- direct and immediate feedback & we adjust to the feedback;
- joyfulness in what we are doing, work becomes play.

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