Some jobs are “process jobs”. They consist mostly of taking some sort of input (phone calls, support tickets, orders, sales leads), performing some work on them, and providing some form of output (a satisfied customer, a filled order, a new sale). These jobs exist at all levels and in all kinds of businesses - from a small business support technician to a large business sales director). A lot of people (in fact, most people) have jobs that fit this description, are happy with that work, and do it brilliantly.
If you’re a hyperbrain, however, this kind of job is your worst nightmare. Why? Because it is a job you will always screw up.
Imagine you’re a manager in charge of a process. What do you care most about when hiring people to put in the roles you’ve identified? Predictability. You don’t care if the person handling the support tickets is capable of churning through 200 tickets on a really good day. You want to be sure that, on any given day, they’ll handle the 20 or so tickets that come in on average. Unfortunately, the hyperbrain does not work like that. It can produce exceptional results, but it is lousy at being consistent.
This is a weakness that, once again, can be worked around. Read on for this technique.
#3 The value accumulator
As long as your worth depends on your consistency, you can never win in the long term. You might fool yourself and others into thinking that “this time, it will be different,” but it won’t. In order to win, you need to change those rules. The question is, what do you change them to and how?
First, the “what”. The best way I can come up with to describe what you should be aiming for is a “value accumulator”. You need to engineer your own job so that people focus on what you’ve accomplished rather than what you’re going to accomplish. You need to create a system that accumulates value and then rewards you based on accumulated value.
This can be done both in choosing a career or profession, and in deciding how to perform and evolve your work.
It’s worth noting that there’s another technique hiding in this discussion - how to smooth your output, within any environment - but I won’t be covering it in this article.
Careers that accumulate value
I believe that most smart and capable people benefit from doing work that accumulates value. For the hyperbrain, however, it’s essential, if you want a fulfilling, successful career.
Most human activities “accumulate value” in some respect, since experience is a form of value. Some careers, however, are better at it than others. Let’s look at some examples.
Let’s consider writing as a first example. You can be a writer in many ways: working directly for a newspaper, being a freelance writer, writing a blog, writing books… How do these compare?
While the first two (newspaper and commercial freelance) accumulate value in the shape of experience and contacts, they do little to turn the output of your previous work (your backlist, as Seth Godin calls it) into something you can keep deriving benefit from. Freelancing is sometimes anonymous, and writing a great article today will not keep returning you benefits for the months to come, unless you’re also the publisher. You’ll have to keep writing great articles over and over again.
On the other hand, writing a blog is a pretty good value accumulator. It takes time for the value of a blog to be realised, but, for example, I published my most popular post so far in November last year, and yet it keeps bringing several hundred visitors a day each day, and keeps my PageRank up.
A book is an even better value accumulator. Once written, it can be marketed and sold over and over again for many years, and you keep the credit for “having written a book about X” for your whole life. Of course, book writing is a difficult way to make money, but if you write just one brilliant book that captures people’s imagination, you can keep deriving value out of that even if you did little of value for years after writing that book.
As I touched on in this earlier article, a product business is a great value accumulator. The market doesn’t care how you built your product, through great spurts of inspiration or a long, consistent effort. It only cares about how great your product is. And a product is a natural value accumulator, since work that you’ve done on it remains there pretty much forever.
On the other hand, a services business might not be ideal for a hyperbrain, since clients naturally care about the work you’re doing for them now, rather than the work you did for other clients in the past. So if you’re running a service business, you might want to consider turning it into a product business instead.
In most corporate jobs, the high-level equation is not in your favour, since employers usually care more about your future output than your past achievements. However, even there, some jobs at least provide past achievements, whereas others are entirely process-focused.
Consider an IT support job, for instance. By default, it has no past achievements that you can point at. Your performance is mostly measured by the consistency with which you answer tickets. If you stop answering tickets for a week, you’ll take a very serious hit.
A development job, on the other hand, has natural “past achievements” in the form of features built, for example. A one-week lull in productivity won’t make anyone happy about you, but it won’t destroy you either, and if you can keep people focused on what you’ve done rather than what you were supposed to do, you can survive those lulls unscathed.
You should seek a job that naturally lends itself to accumulating past achievements that people care about, but even in the case where it doesn’t, you can still tweak the work in your favour, and slowly transform a process job into a project one. Read on to find out some ways to do that.
Accumulating value within a process job
Within a job, to make up for your inconsistency, you want to create value accumulators and then keep people’s attention firmly on those.
The best device for that is a “project”.
A project is a set of tasks that achieve a definite goal within a definite time. A project can be finished. This is important, because it means that once you’ve finished a project, it remains in your “achievement history” no matter what else you do (or don’t do) afterwards. If you wrote the competitor analysis report, you’ve done it, and no one can take the credit away from you. However, if you processed all the orders reliably for a couple of months and then go through a couple of weeks when you don’t process any, the credit for “processing orders well” will vanish immediately.
For a hyperbrain, it’s useful to structure every bit of work as a project. Even if you’re in a process-oriented environment, find projects to get involved in. If there aren’t any, create them.
You can create projects by looking for improvements that you could make to the process, and implement those improvements as projects. You can also create projects by packaging processes into chunks. If you can ensure that your work on a process has an end-point, it can be completed and put aside.
Find the projects, finish them, and then keep people’s eyes on the projects.
After you finish a project, keep other people aware of it. Blow your own trumpet, so to speak. Every once in a while, perform small additions to projects that you already completed, to give you an excuse to re-release them and keep them fresh in everyone’s mind. Those additions shouldn’t be planned, they should be things you do spontaneously.
As you accumulate more past projects and keep people aware of them, your credit will go up, since everyone will then be aware that you’ve done a lot of things, rather than seeing only the bits where you failed to do what you said.
In any work environment, look for ways that you can create value accumulators. Steer yourself away from work that’s purely process based. Ideally, find a career that allows you to accumulate value for yourself rather than for others.
I’ve been pretty busy this week, so haven’t had the time to write part 5 yet, but there’ll be another hyperbrain article coming next week. Keep your eyes peeled!
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