the HOW of work

I have approached the question of the HOW a couple different ways in discussions on this blog, so first let me say a bit more about what I mean by the HOW of work.  Here I am I referring to how you think and the way that you see the world and how this shapes the problems that you see and how you approach the solving of them.  In research, this is your analytical approach.  In your professional life, you may certainly bring something from your analytical approach (as it likely shapes how you see things, frame problems), but how you think is not going to be everything about how you work.  Although certainly, it does begin with what you see, work comprises myriad factors including the people with whom and for whom you work, the contexts in which you do it – and all of the other work interrogatives which come to flavor your HOW, but it does all begin with “what do you notice?”

This way of seeing, or as Goodwin calls it, your Professional Vision, will have been shaped of course by things you have studied, experiences you have had, and it will also be shaped by you. To begin to suss this out, I use the idea of “show me your city block” when you walk down that metaphorical city block, what do you notice? and why?  What problems call your attention?  What means of addressing them suggest themselves to you?

One of the major challenges for those of you who are just beginning your professional lives, is that you might unconsciously still be viewing yourself in the world as (and consequently talking as though you still are) a student – this is why “shifting your deictic center” becomes so very important. Shifting your deictic center involves “perspective-taking,” taking a much more active problem solving stance, asking “what if?” and “if that then what?”  Something along the lines of:

 “what if this were my job?  What would I be looking for in terms of problems to solve?  How would I solve them?  If that, then what?”

To begin enacting this shift in perspective, begin to think and talk about school as a job (if you have not done so already). Take stock of your academic path and what you have learned about your HOW thus far.

And the job search process adds another layer of challenge by asking you to step outside yourself to describe yourself as others might see and experience you.  Storytelling is a helpful tool in “finding your lens” as I will now explore.

Activities for articulating the HOW

The best way that I know (and consequently the one that I talk about the most here at Career Linguist) involves putting together and telling “pocket examples” that show a little bit about how you work.  This gives your listener a sense for how you think, what it would be like to work with you, which is really giving them a chance to see a little bit of the HOW of your work. To get started, make a list and set a timer so that you can just focus on making the list for 10 minutes.  List every job you’ve ever had.  You can include research projects that you have done, volunteer work, just basically problems that you have devoted yourself to solving.  Once you have made your list, sit back and reflect.  To create pocket examples out of these, you will want to craft a story around how you identified the problem and how you solved it. Do you see patterns?   Once you have written any of these pocket examples, the key to honing the HOW will be to share them with other people and get feedback.

Another way (although this is not a Pomodoro-length task) is to read books like Stand Out which help you identify and articulate your “unique perspective.”

Also important is to learn about your workstyle preferences.  Any of the tests out there that help you take stock of these are valuable and time well-spent.  If you are currently a student, you might be able to get many of them for free.  Find out from your career center whether you have access to the Myer’s Briggs or the Strong Skills Inventory, and crucially whether you have access to a person who has been certified to facilitate the debrief with you. If not, not to worry, there are plenty available online – and you can always think about hiring a career coach.  I take stock of my workstyle preferences any chance I get because they often change, and it always behooves me to take stock: I always learn something new about how I work, and what contexts and factors don’t support my best work.  The more I know about the HOW of y work, the more I know what I can do to shape in including designing tasks, building the supports and environments, and finding the tasks and challenges that will best suit me.

Finally, now that you are thinking about it, keep a notebook handy to jot down fleeting observations about the HOW that might come up as you are reading a report or an article, or as you are speaking to someone about a challenge they solved, or when you are spending your hour (or more) a week on LinkedIn.  Pay particular attention to things that register as frustration (“I wouldn’t have done it that way!”) or as admiration (“I never even thought of applying that approach to this kind of a problem).  These flashes of insight speak to your  HOW.  They are telling you something about what makes your HOW unique. Capture them.  Bring these thoughts to networking events and informational interviews to ask your professional network to help you reflect on them.  What are their reactions/responses?  Where do they see opportunities for using this HOW to best solve the challenges that you want to solve?

And, as ever, keep us posted!  🙂