Every hour, every day, every week and year over year your career rolls on. And each hour, day or year you go through a constant cycle of… contributor or cog?
As a contributor you give those unique insights. You put forward creative ideas that only you could contribute. You get done what only you could have got done. You know when you are a contributor. That special “thank you”. That email from someone to your boss raving about you. The warm feeling, the tear in the eye, the fist pump. The great night’s sleep and the bounce out of bed in the morning.
Sometimes you are a cog in the machine, doing a task that anyone could do. A task that may not make a lot of sense, but you grind through it. You know when you are a cog. The day seems longer, the mind gets numb, your forehead hurts from hitting it on the wall. “Cogginess” is often measured in acronyms, EBITA, ROI, ROFO and AOP. Or with words like quota, shareholder value and end of quarter. Corporations are very good at measuring and reporting the cog stuff.
The contributor stuff is hard to measure. The machine may not know it, but it’s the contributor stuff that keeps the machine alive. Kill the contributors and the machine dies. But somehow even dead machines, Zombie machines, can keep churning on.
Contributor to Cog Ratio
Sometimes I’m a contributor, sometimes I’m a cog, I like to call it the contributor cog ratio.
The ratio changes with time and bosses. It changes with corporate “visions” and market conditions. Stay in a position long enough and the ratio can swing to more cogging than contributing. It’s a challenge to keep a job “fresh”, on the contributor side of the ratio. Leaders have ways of helping you do this. That’s because leaders lead contributors. But, managers manage cogs. Of course every organization needs both leaders and managers. But I have noticed that it’s not unusual for mangers to call themselves leaders. Not sure why that is, maybe they don’t want to be management cogs?
A special contributor, the Linchpin
In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he discusses the how’s and why’s of always trying to be a contributor. He has a manifesto that sums this up nicely, the Linchpin Manifesto. The ultimate contributor is a linchpin. As a linchpin you are generous with your time and share your unique skills with others, for free. Your always try to be an artist, taking the things you do to a special level. You know an artist when you meet one. One of my favourite artists is a breakfast waitress named Debbie. She turns serving you breakfast into an art form. Linchpins take the initiative, to do the work, not the job. If you are in a long cog phase in your career maybe Seth’s book can help.
So there are moments when I’m a contributor, like now. But there is a lot of the times I’m a cog. When the ratio swings to more cogging than contributing, you are going to want to change something. Hopefully before you loose your mind or have the soul sucked out of you. Read some books, listen to some podcasts, read a blog (hey, start a blog), ask a friend for advice, find a way. Of course the last course of action may be to get out of the machine.
Because no one wants to be a cog, do they?
Love to hear your thoughts, if it’s a contributor day for you.
Joe Pops or cog # 000240922