The Ultimate Question

Seth Godin in this incredible TED presentation discusses the role of schools and the entire education system.  He claims that we need to constantly ask “What is school for?” but I would like to take his question one step further and ask, what is work for?  His video is unbelievably insightful and I would encourage everyone to spend 16 minutes watching it at least once.  I have commented on Godin’s work on education before but like all good things repetition is important and perhaps even critical to get the message across.  Isn’t that what we do in marketing all the time?

The video starts out by talking about how historically the education system has been organized around control and not freedom or creativity and one might argue that the same is true for most work situations.  People are forced to come to work usually from 8-5 with an hour lunch break.  Just look at the rep’s day to see how crazy this rule might be.  A rep should work from 7-9 in the morning when he or she could see the the providers before they start their day, lunchtime when they have a break and from 5-9 as they finish the day and perhaps attend educational meetings.  During the rest of the day they are actually interfering with the flow in the office and upsetting rather than helping most practices, right?  How many companies would allow a rep to work those hours and perhaps spend the middle of the morning or the afternoon working at their kid’s school?  It is kind of about control.  How often are people forced to be in the office rather than with customers?  Control again.

Another key message in the video talks about counting and collecting dots rather than connecting them.  How often do we see this in our work?  We complete task after task, email after email, meeting after meeting and project after project without giving much thought as to how they all connect.  What is the big picture?  Why are we doing things?  What things that we routinely do are effective and which aren’t?  Do we ever stop things or just continue to go with the flow?  How are all these activities driving business?

Seth talks about how schools were set up to train factory workers to help industrialists get richer and richer.  The key was to train people in a very similar way and control the way they think and act so that they could become interchangeable parts in a factory.  The more consistency and less individuality there was the easier it would be to set up systems and processes in the factory.  Take a look at your own job and see if the same principles don’t persist.  Budgets are all kept the same way.  Medical, Legal and Regulatory reviews are very regimented.  Materials are all sent to the field on a planned schedule.  Business plans are written and presented based on the calendar rather than the need.  Take some time and list out all the things that you do and then see if they are done based on customer and business needs or based on the need for your organization to work like a factory.  Always keep in mind that one of the primary purposes of a factory is that workers can easily be replaced by other workers as the system controls the individuality.

The final point to consider in Seth’s video is the issue around art vs. work.  Do you consider what you do art or work?  Remember art is something you can’t stop doing and work is something you must do to keep your job.  Perhaps a better question would be how much of your job is art and how much is work?  How can you make it more art?

These are just a few very serious questions that are raised while watching the video.  Re-watch it with your work in mind rather than the educational system.  Pay attention to how excited you get when he talks about the alternatives in the education system and then start to figure out how you could make similar changes in your job assignment.  Just like you only go through school once, you will only go through your professional life once and it is important that you constantly strive to get it right.

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