The hard graft of greener grass


I got hooked on the Back2Work podcast from 5by5 about a year ago. Every Tuesday Dan Benjamin in Texas and Merlin Mann in San Francisco chat for about 90 minutes about fonts, apple products, parenthood, hypochondria and…..for the last 20 minutes or so of each programme…….getting things done. They are very geeky and can be quite infuriating with their sometimes rambling diversions but they are pretty switched on and there is always a piece of pure gold in each podcast. (Their credentials were confirmed for me when I learnt that Dan’s first twitter handle was @Dan – no number…no nickname…..just Dan. Yep the world’s first Dan on twitter.) After a rather rocky spell around #150 Back2Work is now back to its very best. During the lean spell I thought I’d try out one of the other 30 or so podcasts put out by 5by5. Another one hosted by Dan Benjamin is called simply Quit! It’s a sort of ‘phone in’ show for people who hate their job and are think that maybe it’s time they lived the dream. Dan and his studio panel usually proceed to urge callers to get a grip and either stop thinking the grass is greener or get their finger out and actually have a go at doing the thing they think would make their life complete. Often someone has a perfectly good job as a teacher or an accountant. They want to know whether they should quit this job and (inspite of having kids and a mortgage) try to make a living as say a computer game designer or a haiku poet! Here is the first episode I listened to #37 titled ‘What I Really Wanna do is PAINT’ In essence the advice that is given to caller after caller boils down to this:

  • If you think you can put aside what you have been doing for years – the skills and knowledge you have slowly built up through hard work – and jump into a whole new field, a new industry, and operate with the same status, income and recognition – then think again!
  • Breaking into something new is hard. If you are determined to make a move into a whole new area then there are some things you should do first.
  • Start by spending every spare moment practicing the new thing you think you’d like to do. Learn how to build a website. Do some voluntary work with kids. Graft away at a few short stories.

Dan’s advice is that if you can’t muster the motivation to learn your new craft in the stolen moments between supermarket shopping or picking the kids up from football……then you probably won’t hack it as a (fill in the blank) and would be better off learning to love what you already do. There is something here for organisations to note too. We know it’s a tough old world out there where standing still is not an option. Organisations need to keep reinventing themselves if they want to survive let alone thrive. But reinventing an organisation doesn’t just happen overnight. Your employees can’t go home on a Friday as shop assistants and return on Monday morning to find they now manufacture cars. Organisations have to innovate and experiment around the edges of what they currently do too. They need to try new things; put in the hours mastering new skills; learn how to do something different really well. Lots of things they try will fail. They’ll prove to be bad ideas or good ideas poorly executed. But some will work. Some new product or service will find an audience and over time may grow to equal or even surpass the organisations original core activity…….then they may be ready to quit their old activity and head off in a new direction. quit logo

You can find Quit! Back2Work and all the other 5by5 podcasts on iTunes or you can listen or download from here. I have to say a big thank you to my colleague Richard Haynes for introducing me to Merlin Mann, Dan and the rest…..and to Toyota for putting a USB socket in my car.


2 responses to “The hard graft of greener grass

  1. Thanks John,
    Lots of relevance to a number of things here.
    The point about hard graft is absolutely true in my experience.
    When my father in law retired he took up painting.
    He put almost as much time into learning and developing the skills as he had spent in work.
    He became quite proficient at it (I’m looking at one of his prints now), however, there were plenty of less than perfect attempts on the way.
    I wouldn’t hang everything he did on my wall!
    The point you make that the same applies to organisations about changing what they do is so very true.
    A two hour online training course isn’t going to completely turn around the workforce, it’s daft to think it will.
    Paul Taylor spoke very well about this yesterday at the Wales Audit Office / Welsh Government Prevention seminar.
    I could see lots of people nodding in agreement.
    The realisation that this isn’t a ‘flick the switch’ excercise and things will take time, and you will have failures, dawned on a few people (thank you Paul).

    Funny how these things join up.

    Thanks for the link to 5by5.
    My new car has a USB port, I’ll be listening.


    • Thanks Chris
      Just been hearing from Paul about some of ideas that were shared yesterday – the guy from Gynedd Council seems to have left a big impression!
      I know I bullied you into sharing one of your son’s ‘failed’ models but now you need to show us one of your father-in-law’s paintings!
      My USB has changed my life. No more synching ipods or burning the Archers Omnibus onto a CDRW every Sunday evening.
      The drive to Wolverhampton is a whole lot more enjoyable now (currently working my way through my daughter’s series of A Level History podcasts about British PMs of the 20s and 30s.


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