Some time ago I heard a comedian telling a story about friend who was describing what their day job was like, and this person described it as: doing serious work for serious people seriously.
All I could think of at the time was how uninspired that work must be. How exhausting it must be to slog through that kind of environment day after day. After some reflection I realized that my own experience has taught me that this state of being in the workplace is all too common.
Perhaps it’s not directly analogous to the above, but I’ve certainly worked on teams and under senior leadership that took their work all too seriously.
There seems to be a correlation between taking your work too seriously and a level of self importance that borders on delusions of grandeur. This parallel is especially rampant in Silicon Valley, where “make a dent in the universe” has been the mantra de jure since the late ‘80s.
If that’s the position you want to operate from, fine, but understand the reality of that perspective and the unintended consequences it can have for those working under its weight.
It can have a deleterious effect to the atmosphere in which the work is being done and the stakes of that work become artificially elevated. Over time this will erode morale.
A constant expression of importance can impede the ability to make sound product decisions that are grounded in reality (also something in short supply throughout the Bay Area).
A work culture like this will ultimately squeeze wit from the product and push levity out of the equation altogether.
A lack of levity will, at best, lead to burnout and, at worst, birth resentment. Both will degrade the quality of the work.
Lead with levity
Levity can be used as a guideline for how we approach our own work as well as how we ask other to approach theirs. It can provide the margin we need to take more risks and push the perimeter out a bit more.
Levity frees us up to drop the pretension of product or service the company has socialized and just focus on doing good work.
We can look at the problems through a different shade lens and with some wit or humor we can inject some emotion back into the product.
We can drop our shoulders and take safe harbor in knowing that what we’re actually building isn’t urgent or life changing, and that’s okay
We often do our best work when we execute small things really well. Those small things are always part of bigger things, and those bigger things will benefit from those small things being done with the utmost care, craft, and with a bit of levity behind it all.
Embracing levity will benefit your entire organization.