What do you do?

What do you do?

Before I ask this question out loud, I like to put on the voice of the Queen of England and ask it in my head. It is fun (yeah I need to get out a lot more) and you might like to try it.

I think “what do you do?” is a very interesting question. It is nearly always answered incorrectly. Here’s what usually happens:

Me: “Hello I’m Doug”

You: “Hello I’m Fran”

Me: “Pleased to meet you Fran. What do you do?”

Fran: “I’m a Senior Information Manager

Me: “And what do you do?”

And Fran repeats his or her previous answer.

I persist gently and in the end we have a great conversation and I find out what Fran does.

It interests me that when I ask folk this question they tell me their job title. And in a lot of cases – that means nothing to me, and it probably doesn’t mean much more to them and their colleagues.

Yes it’s a hackneyed tale – but I like the story about President Kennedy asking the dude with the broom, “What do you do?” Broom dude famously replies “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

I find it rather underwhelming that folk feel defined by their job title. By all means have one, but please don’t confuse it with what you do. Good folk consider and help to create a structure that recognises the what and the how that integrates with the title. That helps give people purpose.

So what am I doing? Currently I am helping people to make work better, one conversation at a time. Next week, I’ll be doing something slightly different.

What do you do?

July 2015 – Update: Philip Dodson has written an interesting blog post in a similar vein.

6 thoughts on “What do you do?

    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Thanks Martin, I love your post on this thanks for the link. I describe you as an enthusiastic social sharer. How is that?

      Cheers – Doug

      Reply
  1. Alison

    Hi
    Maybe a bit off topic but I remember one manager asking in a team meeting to each of us “What have you done to help someone today”. I still ask myself that sometimes and it can help to keep me focused.

    Alison

    Reply
    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Hi Alison – you are not off topic at all. Your question is great and I can see how it would aid focus. Appreciate you sharing it with us.

      Thanks – Doug

      Reply
  2. Sarah Matthews

    Hi Doug
    Great post. I was delivering some networking training (with role play!) to a firm of London solicitors recently and I warned them in the training session that if they told me something in the role play to which I’d reply “so what” they’d know a) they hadn’t put enough thought into describing how they spend their days and b) they are quite a go ahead company and the “so what” reply is inconsistent with their brand. I have a friend who is a type of coach and when asked what he does he says he “rewires brains.” It’s a great conversation starter and he is probably remembered by everyone that meets him.

    It’s great that you have recognised the irrelevance of job titles – I’m there with you giving people identities – after all it’s the person that wins the business – not a list of corporate credentials.

    Cheers, Sarah

    Reply
    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Hi Sarah

      Thanks for a great story. The “so what?” idea is an interesting way of digging down through the crap (like job titles) to the good stuff beneath. I appreciate you sharing with us.

      Cheers – Doug

      Reply

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