MAP 1 Where Are You Now?
To get to a destination, you need to know your starting point.
ONE OF THE MIRACLES OF the Internet age is Google Maps. No longer do you have to haul out a slightly out-of-date road atlas to plot your journey from point A to point B. You just type in your destination, and your journey is plotted for you, with helpful tips, if you want them, on where to stop for coffee. But it works only if you know your starting point. Without that it’s impossible to create a plan to get to a destination.
This first map will give you a snapshot of a moment in time—now—that will help you see what your current work mix looks like. Once you’re clear on this, you can start to define just what your destination might be and how you’re going to get there.
MAP 2 What’s Great?
Your past holds clues to your future Great Work.
THIS IS NOT AN “INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY.” Have you seen those advertisements for mutual funds that promise wonderful results, and then say in small print that “past performance is no indicator of future results”? Well, that’s not true when it comes to Great Work. Past performance—or more specifically, past moments of engagement and meaning—is actually a very good indicator of future results. Clues to what Great Work is for you are preserved—like insects in amber—in the peak moments of your past.
It can be an hour when you rise to a challenge and sort out a crisis that’s causing disruption in your workplace. It can be when you have a sudden moment of realization, almost as if you’re floating outside of yourself—Wow, I’m doing this and I’m doing it well and I’m thrilled to be doing it.
It can be about a big, public project or a small, private triumph. But whatever the context, it is a moment of certainty, a moment of insight when you say to yourself, Yes, this is something to remember. This is me at my most essential, most authentic, and best.
MAP 3 What Are You Like at Your Best?
What Great and Not So Great look like.
Remember a time when you were at your very best. It will be a time when you felt you were being most authentic, most yourself, most natural, most “in the zone.” It might be one of the peak moments you described in the previous exercise. Or it might be another time, a time when you were playing to your strengths or doing Great Work. Bring it into your mind’s eye now.
There are two routes to doing more Great Work. One is to figure out where the opportunities might be and then start to take them on.
And another is to figure out how you behave when you’re doing Great Work and start to behave like that as often as possible—then see what Great Work starts to blossom. This second way may seem slightly counterintuitive, but it can work just as well as the first—and sometimes it is the easier place to begin.
MAP 4 Who’s Great?
Tap the power of role models.
The role models don’t even have to be people. If it resonates with you, a hero could be an object that you admire or that sparks your imagination (for example, the Mini Cooper or a Ford truck) or even a company or organization that you think does great work (for example, Apple or Greenpeace or Google).
Know that you are a role model to others. It’s not as though you’re a blank slate—you’ve got a number of essential characteristics that are ready to be harnessed for Great Work. But sometimes it’s hard to see yourself clearly. So imagine that your friends and peers are discussing your best characteristics, what they love most about you, what makes you the unique person you are. What characteristics do you think they would list? See if you can come up with five—and this is no time for bashfulness or false modesty.
MAP 5 What’s Calling You?
Scan your life for Great Work opportunities.
The busyness of our lives can often be like that initial climb. Our attention is on where next to put our foot, how to get through that looming piece of scrub, how to make it to the next rest point.
But to get a sense of where there might be opportunities for Great Work, you need to find a place where you can stop, scan the landscape, and see what might be worth pursuing. You need to get to the lookout.
MAP 6 What’s Broken?
What pains you can also inspire you.
spectacular sunset. As the colors slowly fade, you become aware of a familiar, high-pitched whine. And then the mosquito bites. No problem, you think. It’s just a mosquito. I’ll stay and enjoy the panorama.
And then another one bites. And then another.
Finally you give up on the view, and beat a retreat indoors.
As annoying as they may be, at least with mosquitoes there’s a solution at hand. It’s harder to get away from the irritants that buzz around us in our daily lives. There’s no fast-acting bug spray nearby, no retreat to a screened porch. So we put up with a host of aggravations—some big, some small—that erode the quality of our lives.
Think about your own cloud of metaphorical mosquitoes. What bugs you? What have you been tolerating for a while but want to tolerate no more? What’s ho-hum, boring, taken for granted, and could do with a little electroshock therapy?
In short, what’s broken and needs to be fixed?
MAP 7 What’s Required?
Balance the competing demands of your life.
MOST OF US WORK FOR AN ORGANIZATION. And with that come conflicting goals and objectives.
Sometimes—rarely—all the planets are aligned, and everything we want to do is exactly what our organization wants us to do. But for most of us most of the time, there’s a tension.
There’s what our organization expects us to do: some of it Great, much of it Good, some of it, to be blunt, Bad. (Those reports, that meeting, this project. You know what I’m talking about.) And then there’s the Great Work we know we could do if our talents and passions were fully recognized and realized.
The challenge is to find the best possible balance between these competing forces, so you are doing not only what is required and desired by your organization but also as much Great Work as you want.
MAP 8 What’s the Best Choice?
This, that, or the other?
IN THE PARADOX OF CHOICE, Barry Schwartz describes an experiment conducted in a gourmet food store. Customers were given a discount voucher if they were willing to taste samples of gourmet jams. There were two versions of the experiment. In one, six varieties of jam were offered; in the other, twenty-four.
The version with the twenty-four jams attracted the most tasters—all those flavors!—although people tried about the same number of jams in both the tests. But here’s where there was a telling difference: 30 percent of the people who tasted from the lineup of six bought jam, whereas only 3 percent of those who tasted from the twenty-four choices actually purchased a jar.
You probably react the same way. There are 127 varieties of toothpaste at the supermarket, but—like Robin Williams fainting in the coffee aisle in Moscow on the Hudson—most of us get overwhelmed and paralyzed by having too many choices. What if I make the wrong choice, and I’m stuck with it? What if I don’t have all the information? What if I’m missing something?
Of course, there are times when it’s really obvious which is the best choice, and you know that from the start. Maybe that’s the case right now, and you’re really clear what you want your Great Work Project to be.
MAP 9 What’s Possible?
Find the idea-generator within you.
CORPORATE BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS can be dispiriting, soul-sucking experiences. The call goes out, “Let’s brainstorm this,” and hearts sink. People trudge into the meeting room, and an hour later, they trudge out again with few good ideas but with a deep and abiding resentment about orders to be creative.
But we’re all better than we think we are at having ideas, our experience at brainstorming meetings notwithstanding. We have ideas all the time, throughout the day, every day. But we could have better ones and have them faster if we could overcome some limitations.
First, we’ve gotten it into our heads that we’re not so good at coming up with ideas. That’s what “creative people” do, and we’re certainly not one of them.
Second, we have a limited number of ways we generate new ideas. Often, it’s just one way: We concentrate hard for a bit—and typically we give ourselves very little time at all—and hope that a new possibility will just appear in our brain.
And finally, we rarely give ourselves enough time and space to have new ideas. When we’re busy and in the processing mode that Good Work seems to engender, it can be hard to stop, focus, and create the relaxed free time that good new ideas require.
MAP 10 What’s the Right Ending?
Explore different ways forward.
THE SECOND OLDEST PROFESSION in the world, if not actually the first, is storytelling. Hunting stories are drawn on cave walls in France, Australian aborigines tell stories of the Dreamtime, and mythical stories are painted on Etruscan vases.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell said there’s really just one story—the Hero’s Journey—and its basic rhythm underlies all our tales, from Homer’s Odyssey to Pixar’s Finding Nemo. In fact, you can think of your life as a story with you as its hero. But stories are not just for bedtime, the fireside, or the pub. We can use the structure of the story to help generate new ideas and possibilities.
The smartest organizations have been using storytelling to help them make strategic decisions, only they call it scenario planning. In scenario planning, various ideas and situations are narrated, with happy and not-sohappy endings imagined and brought to life.
The simplest structure for telling a story is the three-frame cartoon strip. In that strip you have the three basic building blocks of the story:
￼ ONCE UPON A TIME . . . where you set things up and introduce the hero (probably you).
￼ SUDDENLY . . . things shift, the challenge becomes clear.
￼ AND THEN . . . resolution! The way things work out in the end.
By telling a story, you can test possible Great Work scenarios. Storytelling is a way to visualize the future so you can make it more concrete. Playing out a scenario in story form can also enable you to see potential challenges, so you can adjust for them along the way.