Monday, June 23, 2014

I Don’t Know What’s Going On

I really don’t understand what’s going on — at least, not the way it might appear. As a blogger, I am not as smart as my blog is. That’s because I can pick the topics I write about and skip over the topics where I know I’m confused. This makes it look like I know a lot about a lot of subjects, more so than is really the case. Of course, sometimes I will make mistakes and write about something where maybe I shouldn’t have, but in general, my ability to pick the topics I write about is an advantage.

This principle applies to work in general. If you can get to the degree of work autonomy where you can often pick the work you do and, obviously, pick things you’re especially good at while delegating all other work, it makes you look more successful, hardworking, and expert than you really are. Not that there is fakery involved in this — there really is more work getting done when more people can specialize in the things that they are highly productive at, so long as other essential work isn’t being completely neglected. But there are people of high skill in every area of work, so this kind of specialization doesn’t necessarily imply that there is work that isn’t getting done.

Still, it is a way in which skill differences are exaggerated. A low-level worker will tend to be assigned a wide range of responsibilities. Where these tasks match the worker’s skill they’ll get done quickly, but the result is that the worker spends more time on the other tasks, the ones where the match between skill and requirement is poor. This is one of the main reasons low-level jobs are so stressful. A high-level worker has more ability to negotiate for responsibilities that match skills, and so will spend more time working productively and will tend to produce more, quite apart from any generally higher level of skill.

At any level of work, then, it is important to recognize what you are good at and try to position yourself accordingly. As an employee, you want to do your best to take jobs and assignments where you have an advantage of skill or experience. As a manager or entrepreneur, you want to get to the point where you can delegate the tasks you aren’t especially good at — but this only adds to productivity if you can delegate them to someone who is better at them than you are. Otherwise, you are just passing the same work stress along to someone else. Delegation isn’t always an option for a one-person business, but gets easier as revenue grows. Often small businesses reach a point at which they break through after they grow to a size of about 20 workers — beyond that point effective specialization becomes practical and no one has spend much time working on things they aren’t so good at. The resulting productivity gains let the business deliver in a way that it couldn’t at a slightly smaller size.