Tuesday, September 21, 2004

My Work Won’t Survive Me, Much Less the Product

I was watching the Oscars a few years ago and they were giving out a lifetime achievement award to some director, praising his “body of work”. A few days later I was watching a documentary and they talked about an artist creating his “masterpiece”.

These two phrases kept ringing in my head for a few days and I started thinking about how, and if, they apply to the modern worker. Do we have a “body of work” or a “masterpiece” we can point to at the end of our careers that will last longer than we do?

The short answer: no. In my case, what marketing professionals create is as transitory as the products we work on. Sure, I have a few articles and publications floating out there in the ether, but the vast majority of what I do day-to-day is forgotten within a year, or certainly by the time the product is obsoleted.

If my “body of work” were put into one location, it would actually be quite volumous - everything including product definitions, roll-out plans, roadmaps, advertising, focus groups, forecasts, several start-up business plans, and lots and lots and lots of PowerPoint presentations (or its predecessor, Harvard Graphics, or its predecessor, Foils). Then there are the gigabytes (terabytes?) of emails I have created in the last 15 years (yes, email existed in 1989. We did it on mainframes). All this work would fill a good sized room, or at least a very, very large hard drive. But no one would give me an award for this body of work, and I certainly can’t find anything in there that anyone else would call a masterpiece.

So are there “bodies of work” and “masterpieces” in business at all? Sure, the bodies of work are the companies you buy stuff from everyday – the “body” being the sum of all the little things that individuals in the company do that contribute to the whole. And the masterpieces are those companies that are successful in providing quality goods and services to consumers while providing returns to investors. So the little things that we do as workers are like brush strokes within the masterpiece, not the masterpiece itself.

The bottom line is that these two artistic ideas are ill-suited for business workers. We workers just have to accept the fact that what we do is transitory and that it will be the company, not our individual work, that will be our legacy.

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