November 17, 2010

*Results Not Typical

I finally finished Daniel Pink's Drive after a long, interrupted reading that began this summer. Since Pink went to the trouble of providing a "Twitter Summary" of his book, I will reproduce it here: Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.

He also provides a discussion guide. For me, the most intriguing question in it was, "Pink draws a distinction between “routine” work and “nonroutine” work. How much of your own work is routine? How much is nonroutine?" While my attitude toward the lack of structure in my job oscillates wildly, one thing is clear: I have autonomy. I believe that many of the successes I've blogged about are directly traceable to the very high level of autonomy given to me by my employer in general, and by my supervisor in particular. This may render my advice useless to those who have fewer options in their libraries or organizations, but it's a nice applied study of Pink's ideas. Most of my work would fall into the "nonroutine" category.

My primary project is conducted through a federal cooperative agreement which outlines discrete quantitative deliverables for the library: items added to the events calendar, publications announced as being added to our holdings, and print resources disseminated by staff at events around the country. These tasks are routine. They also take a maximum of 90 minutes per week (on average), and perhaps another 90 minutes at the end of the quarter to report on them. Coding web pages would also likely fall under "routine," except that each page requires a sufficient amount of creativity. And replacing complex code (which I generally refer to as "surgery") takes so much concentration, at least for me, that the routine aspect of it is overshadowed by the caution required.

The rest of my work is nonroutine by Pink's definition: "Creative, conceptual, right-brain work that can't be reduced to a set of rules." I was acting as de facto marketing specialist on one project for a while and came up with a bunch of good ideas for promotional items. I've been working on "blog empowerment" lessons for a set of independent contractors who write (somewhat reluctantly) for us from the field. I was searching for a penguin costume. At times I have blogged about these adventures, and other times I got so carried away with my nonroutine work that I didn't want to stop to document it. Suffice it to say that the creativity and autonomy I have for most of my work have led to great, and perhaps atypical results.

So, what can you do about it? Last week I wrote about how this blog is becoming more about effective work habits than embedded librarianship. If your work is largely routine, figure out a way to do it more effectively. I know this doesn't always mean Faster, but it may pave the way for more nonroutine work in your future.

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