What are you looking for in work?

The other day I was having lunch with a friend who runs a professional services company. He asked me a pretty simple and typical question which we’ve all been asked before – “So what are you looking for in a work opportunity?” My answer started where most do, but it just might have ended somewhere unexpected …

Whenever someone asks that question, akin to “what do you want to do when you grow up?”, the answer seems to start with a pause and a breath. So I replied …

“I’m looking for a situation where there are one of two things – either a big pain to solve or a significant desire to achieve something. Now against that if there is no substantive vision to address the challenge, that’s great and I’m glad to help shape it. If there is a reasonable vision already in place, I’m fine with that.”

I’ll pause for a moment. Most people at this point guess that I want to tackle something challenging, sink my teeth in, get recognition, maybe a career growth path. Fame? Fortune?! (we’re getting delusional now). Here is the rest of the answer I provided:

“So I realize the above challenge and vision piece is abstract to begin with, but let me explain why that’s important to me. Selfishly speaking, I like to work with people that are smarter and better than I. Smart people are a pain in the ass. Why do I say that? Well they get things done. They have ideas. They are motivated. They are passionate. They don’t suffer fools or people without motivation. They have ideologies. They like to collect more smart people, with that comes with more of the same. These people cause work for others. They cause change. Most people don’t want change. So the only ecosystem that will support them is one where there is a big enough pain or challenge to achieve, such that people in the ecosystem will endure the discomfort of change and innovation in return for getting something they ultimate see of great value to them. When that challenge is achieved, often those smart folks aren’t so tolerated – or they get bored. Either way, they leave.”

My high order bit is creating and nurturing such environments because, selfishly, I find them tremendously rewarding – they not only raise my bar but create an environment where real and worthy accomplishments occur. Isn’t that what work is supposed to be about?

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