Think about your work this week. Did it excite you? If so, what was it that excited you? Can you do more of it? If so, how?
When I was in private practice, the first thing I realised I enjoyed doing was big deals. The sort of projects that consume you for the best part of a year. After doing a few, in the weeks between deals, I would find the constant swapping between smaller matters frustrating and the work boring. Others of course think the opposite. The variety of smaller projects keeps them stimulated, whereas one big project would have them chewing their toes off with boredom.
One of the mentors I worked with at a national firm had a really diverse practice, that within a six month period would see them working on an IPO, a judicial review for dairy farmers, and a defending a criminal case involving a missing cat (I kid you not!).
The point I’m making however, is that having identified what I enjoyed about my work, I made a conscious choice to take my career to a firm where I’d get more of that type of work. The next stage was realising that one of the key things I liked about big projects, was getting close to the client’s project team and really understanding the commercial drivers for the deal. To show how the same work type can provide enjoyment for different reasons, another, consider that at that particular time I was working with a great lawyer who got a great deal of satisfaction from the really technical, black letter law issues that came up on these sorts of projects. Same type of work that gave gave me a buzz, but a very different reason for it.
This then led to move inhouse, so I could get much deeper exposure to the commercial side of deals, whereupon my next moment of clarity came from realising the enjoyment I got from being involved in the commercial decisions that were been made and being exposed to the strategy that drove those decisions. This led me to my MBA, and into the commercial world I now inhabit.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not holding myself up as some sort of career-planning guru, but I passionately believe that it’s important to be in a job that excites and grows you. Life’s too short to do anything else.
Cutting to the chase, what made me write this post, was the similarity of the process I described above to a type of root-cause analysis I use in my process mapping engagements called “the five whys”.
Essentially, when a problem is identified in a process (for example a step of a process which proves to be a bottleneck, or frequent source of errors), you ask “why does that happen?”. The same question is asked of the answer to that first question.
For example, the due diligence report for an acquisition is often late. Why? because the employment section always takes too long. Why? Because the two employment lawyers who have the experience to do the work are often out at tribunal. Why? Because they have an institutional client who will not let them delegate any of their work.
This process continues until “why” has been asked five times, which will invariably take you to the root cause of the problem.
My thinking is that the same technique can be used to work out what it is about your job that you really love (i.e. when you find something you enjoy, ask “why?” five times to get a deep understanding of where your enjoyment comes from), allowing you do find ways to get more of it into your day. More love is good, right?
I don’t think this is easy; answering these kinds of questions requires time, self awareness and often a degree of soul searching. However, what price a flash of insight that can shape your working life?
Digging beyond the superficial answer usually unearths a deeper truth.
When I worked in the ad business, I learned the importance of asking “so what?” again and again to uncover real value.
‘We have a new range of garden furniture’
‘While it looks like wood, it’s made of a new material’
‘It doesn’t stain in the rain’
‘You don’t have to spend time looking after it’
‘It’ll look new all year round’
‘That will impress your neighbours’
‘You’ll feel slightly superior to the people next door, who you don’t really like.’
And there’s a value proposition of a humble garden chair.
Insightful both in terms of application to the legal profession, and in terms of understanding why my wife found it necessary to replace our (perfectly good) garden furniture this year!