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.