Carrie Bedingfield

purpose-led business


The search for meaning in an ‘ordinary job’


Here’s what I took from Doug Kessler’s talk – and my build. Doug is here> @dougkessler

DK_stencil-262x272“My work is meaningless!” – overhead on the underground.

Doug Kessler describes himself as a B2B marketer. B2B marketing is often a case of finding fresh ways to market important but dry technology in a very crowded space, fishing from the same stock of words and imagery. From my own experience, the people can be interesting but the technology is often grey. Of course the challenge is to make is considerably less grey…

Doug may be attending the Supply Chain conference 2016 (which I can confirm is quite dull) but by his own omission, this is a role of privilege in which meaningful clients can be selected. His company, Velocity, may not be working to eradicate poverty, but there is meaning to be found.

Doug says: “I love my work and I always have done” and that others may judge this: “How dare I love my totally meaningless work?!”

This type of ‘ordinary job’ is hardly the same as packing boxes of Tropicana at PepsiCo or picking up dogs**t in council-managed parks. Does that mean Doug’s got nothing for people with a different life scenario? For example those who work in manual, repetitive jobs for the minimum wage with relatively little sense of choice in their life in general who are experiencing a lack of meaning?

No. But we need to hack what he shares to open up the insight for a wider audience.

Doug highlights correctly that work can feel:

  • embarrassing
  • beneath me
  • unimportant
  • not what I want to do

Many, many people at all levels of all kinds of organisations feel disconnected from their role. For these reasons and for lots of others.

He offers his list of what makes work meaningful for him. My challenge for all of us is to develop our own list of sources of meaning. If we’re in a position of choice or influence in an organisation, we have a responsibility to help others seek out and find meaning. We all have a full set of choices – I know this – but ot everyone has the privilege of feeling they have choice at work.

Doug’s list

  1. I love helping good companies grow. Building a company is a worthy thing to do and a GOOD company really does matter. So helping a good company grow feels like it matters. For example Salesforce gives away 1% of its profit and time – that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. That feels like it’s a company worth supporting.
  1. I like helping clients succeed in their career
    Who has stuck their neck on the line for me? And how can I reward someone who has put their faith in me?
  1. I like working alongside people who are interesting people at the top of their game.
  1. I love learning new things.

Not everyone is in a role where they are learning all the time, working directly with customers they like and respect alongside people who are at the top of their game. They may not want to.

The question is … what is your source of meaning?

Hear are some sources of meaning I’ve heard along my travels at Onefish Twofish:

  • Taking home a regular wage that supports our family
  • Community and friendship
  • Pleasurable routine and stability
  • Doing a task extremely well
  • Sense of satisfaction of completing what you started
  • Making improvements in your area of influence
  • Helping someone new find their feet
  • Teaching other people in a team what you know
  • Supporting someone who is having a hard time at home and for whom work is an escape
  • Feeling of experience and mastery
  • Feeling part of an organisation that treats people as humans

So what should and organisation do to help people find meaning? Big question I don’t have the answer to yet but my instinct is to understand what their real people really say is a source of meaning for them. Don’t guess or assume. Discover, and in doing so, develop some empathy.


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