Stand Up, Fix Up

Been meaning to comment on a book I finished a while back, Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class As Soulcraft”.   It’s a pretty well-written examination of what work means and how contrary to our natures most modern jobs are.

It shares some insights with Daniel Pink’s “Drive” and his talk on what motivates us.  One of those ideas it shares is the idea of people needing a feeling of autonomy in order to be happy.  But it brings up another point which I think a lot of people miss.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about fine-arts woodworkers, or anything like that.  Crawford stays pretty centered on what we’d call the “trades”.  And he brings up an interesting point about the lack of objective standards to which most people can be held in their work.

In trades work, things are either done correctly, or they are not.  The wall is either plumb, or it is crooked.  The joint leaks, or it doesn’t.   The weld is done well, or it is weak.  And if something is done especially skillfully, you can see that too.

Compare that to how most of us work these days.  We don’t really have a way of measuring what we do to give us the bare satisfaction of knowing it is at least “right” to some extent.  Employees are measured against metrics they didn’t have any input in.  Bosses come and go, and most of how we are rewarded and punished is pretty arbitrary.

Even “ideas” people face this. We can launch a marketing campaign, but who knows if it will work?  You paint a beautiful picture, but will it connect with a buyer?  You can write a blog post or a book, but will anyone respond to your ideas?

This is why I think it feels so good when we stop and do something  as simple as fixing something around the house or cleaning and painting something up.  We have improved our environment in a way that is immediately noticeable.  We’ve put a little order back into a world that tends to the chaotic.

And in our abstract symbolic existence, it feels good to interact with things that don’t depend on our interpretation of them.  The garage door you fix or the jalopy you restore will probably do you more good in the long run than all your Facebook friends and Twitter followers combined.

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11 thoughts on “Stand Up, Fix Up

  1. Another insightful post!

    As a person who provides consulting in strategy, execution and pay-for-performance, I concur.

    As much as we attempt to use “management by fact” and team collaboration to achieve significant results – whether they be in process improvements, customer satisfaction, revenue and productivity – there is still nothing like the tangible “analog” creation of someone in the trades. Or the arts. Or the kinds of occupations where some kind of artifact is created.

    I think it is ultimately more fulfilling in many ways. But most of us can take satisfaction in our own ways, even if you can’t sit on it, or paint it, or drive it, or…

    • Thanks, Darren….I guess someone who was in your line of work that couldn’t derive some satisfaction from intangible results would burn out pretty quickly – I think we all need to “see” the net result of our efforts, even if only in our mind’s eye.

  2. As the Dean said in the E.M. Forster novel, Maurice to the chatty young student named Lord Risley who insisted on saying that “talking, talking, talking” was more important than the nourishment his classmates were getting from the cutlets they were eating “Oh, Risley, Shut up! At least the cutlets will do them some good. Your talking will not.”

  3. Hi Harry, I agree. I always say that if by some miracle I came into money, I would still clean houses. And I prefer dirty ones! Even housecleaners need job satisfaction, and transforming a dirty house into a shining work of art is very gratifying.

    The accomplishments (or lack of) one achieves in an office are often relative. I have seen people rise in the ranks who are highly skilled—at covering their butts!

  4. When a work day is spent on the computer and the outcome of a day’s work is intangible, there tends to be, at least for me, a sense of general pointlessness to it all. That feeling transfers from the work to the home.

    I think that is one reason why I’ve tried taking up hobbies that have that specific outcome you’re talking about. I made a clock – it stands up and tells the time. Done. It helps fight off the frustration of a day spent doing digital busy work.

    • Our digital world does make it tough to get a sense of accomplishment. If you turn on a computer in the morning, spend 8 hours furiously programming, or doing graphics or writing, or whatever else – when you turn it off at night it looks the same as it did that morning. Perhaps someone needs to make a computer that spits out wood chips or something according to the work done. Then at the end of the day you could look at the huge pile of chips and sawdust and feel good!

      • Ha ha that’s funny Harry! A pile of oily rags, paint chips, dead leaves, metal shavings, etc., could be ejected from a chute at the end of a tough workday—but for the full effect, they should be squirted out directly on you and your clothing!

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