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Bad Work

Careers often hinge on shifts in mind-set and I feel as if I have gone beyond a turning point in how I regard my career. In fact I think it is the first time I have taken true ownership of my direction and values, instead of inheriting and adhering to those of another entity, namely an organisation. This realisation concerns not doing what I would call ‘bad work’ (anymore).

Before I go on, let’s specify what I believe to be bad work:
  • Making a promise to stakeholders about delivery you know to a high probability you can’t keep.
  • Not flagging up information that may impact the decision a stakeholder may make.
  • Knowingly doing valueless work, as ordered by a stakeholder.
  • Implementing an exploitative strategy which preys on the ignorance of a stakeholder.
  • Treat someone inhumanely by hiring (or training) them to effect a particular change, then telling them how to do it.

The journey began in March 2013, I listened to a chap named Huib Schoots speak at TestBash 2013, in Brighton. He spoke of refusing to do bad work. I was in awe of the concept of someone taking ownership of their own work in such a way. Also my existing programmed behaviours railed against the concept, internally believing that this was idealistic and didn't translate to the ‘real world.’

However, my awareness grew and grew. I saw others exhibiting the behaviours I saw above, also caught myself on that path on occasion. I spent a significant portion of my time on a project solving a problem that no one could define and indeed no one had complained about. Eventually we delivered a system which would secure the future of that product for the foreseeable future, however, my discomfort was sharp throughout this time. Had we solved the problem? Maybe, maybe not. Had I sat in relative silence or at least acceptance of this fact? I had indeed.

Now, I’m a fairly generous chap, the propensity to do bad work exists on a continuum of consciousness, where people do it unwittingly (“I've been testing this for ages and have developed inattentional blindness to that problem”), ignorantly (“Yes, this will be tested for all possible scenarios”) or knowingly (“I have some information you need to make decision, but it suits me to retain that information”). We've all existed on this continuum, although hopefully, like myself, on the ‘honest fool’ end of that scale.

As I ventured into the world as a consultant on more strategic engagements I noted instances of the above behaviours with increased regularity. These were often disguised as pragmatic steps, picking off ‘low hanging fruit’, sometimes more blatant than that, aiming to be indispensable, rather than giving stakeholders the tools needed to tackle their problems. I favoured the latter, which often brought me into conflict with stakeholders on all sides of the divide.

So, I decided to follow my values and do something else, with a group of people I respect on a product with grand and hopefully (at least partially) noble ends. One thing I do know is that my career compass is pointing in a different direction now and I feel strong enough to follow it.

As well as my own experience, this was inspired by the following articles:


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