Documenting work has taken on many different forms over the years. I’ve certainly documented other people’s work – or their brand. What it looks like, how it speaks, etc.
Sometimes, I’ve not documented things clearly; other times I’ve produced a mountain of information (most of which no one ever looked at).
This is all the what and the why of work. Yet, I don’t’ think I’ve ever really taken a close look at the ‘how’ of my work. Until recently.
I’ve been fascinated with the work of Curtis James, an ethnographer from Brighton to whom I was introduced a few years ago. His Beyond Work initiative is full of amazing insights into how people work, as well as uncovering some real personal meaning. People’s work stories somehow invite us into their world, and help us truly understand how we tackle the thing that we spend most of our time doing.
Its purpose is simple: “Beyond Work is driven by a simple purpose, to unearth the lives of people whose jobs are often invisible, and for the stories that come out to inspire us all to make the world of work a respectful, humane and kind place that rewards people with more than money.”
Curtis throws light on working lives through combining photography and the words of those working lives he is documenting.
Working with, not for
It’s only been the past few years that I’ve started to think about my own work. Previously, I’d worked for companies, or people. Even as a freelancer, I was a supplier of services to an organisation.
However, since I began Formation London, I’ve been working with organisations. Yes, I still supply services; however, the work I do manifests itself in such a way that I am an equal partner in this work. The difference may seem subtle, but it is actually anything but in terms of the output I provide and the input I’m willing to give.
I began this journey by seeking work that was interesting, working with people that were smart (those I’d learn from, as much as teach something, as well as learn something together). This, I think now, is limiting as it focuses solely on work types.
I’ve since been coming at work in a different way: the ‘how’ of work. This is focused less on the type of work and more on the frame within which work happens and the changes that occur as work progresses. I’m looking at process, designing frameworks for organisations to build upon, and using workshop activities to help people understand their own ‘how of working’ so that they can perform better, be happier, and be vested in the bigger picture in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Funnily, I’m finding it more creative than the work I did when ‘creative’ was my job title. Mostly this is because it’s often different (people and personality) and the outcome and reward isn’t defined (in an advertising agency you were rewarded for creating ads).
Two things that are important there: people, and reward.
When you can understand the ‘how of work’ it’s easy to see where within a process change can be most effective, transformational even. I’ve found it quite astonishing how simple some changes can be, yet the effect is huge. Those with whom I’ve been working have felt the same.
One camera, one month, one project
I decided to try to understand in more detail about the ‘how’ of my own work to see if I was on to anything of interest, and to uncover the nascent details that are often forgotten or taken for granted by people as they go about their daily working lives.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
I learned, quickly, that the work I was actually doing wasn’t what I was selling. It was the turning point in my understanding of who I needed to speak to about my consultancy work, the language I used to sell it, and what I should be focusing on as an output of my efforts.
Simple photographs of my tools, what I interpreted as the most important aspects of a workplace, and what I did when I needed my mind to wander have all helped to coalesce my thinking around an entirely new approach.
Just the addition of carefully weighted prompts, an openness to documenting what I’m doing and the willingness to adapt to what I learn has created an urgency within me. I’m excited about what I’m doing and rethinking workshops and frameworks and more.
Along with the other things I’ve been doing around my own personal work development, my FieldKit experiment has demonstrated that the work I thought I was doing isn’t actually the work I’ve been doing at all – what I’ve been looking at has been off-centre, or even behind what I’ve really been doing. It’s consolidated my thinking and given me insights on which to build and move forward with. It’s shown me what isn’t obvious. It’s turned my attention to the invisible, the unnoticed yet incredibly important details.
Most of this has happened by sitting down with Curtis and talking over why I took each photo and how I was feeling at the time. His searching questions allowed me to really pinpoint what it was I was thinking, and build larger stories into those photographs. The combination of using the FieldKit and talking to Curtis afterwards while looking at the results was been potent. I’d recommend this to anyone looking to find out about the ‘how’ of their own work.
You can also follow Curtis’s guide on doing it yourself without his input, although I’m not sure you’ll get the full benefit if you follow it on your own the first time. Documenting and reflecting on the ‘how’ of your work is an investment – in you, and quite possibly your future, as you may end up discovering something fundamental that shifts you into a whole new why, what and how of working.