Posts Tagged ‘Essence of work’

This post is final part of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.

Van Nevel

I am listening to “Utopia Triumphans – The Great Polyphony of the Renaissance” by Paul Van Nevel’s Huelgas Ensemble.

I am in my post-natal depression after having delivered Innotribe Sibos a couple of weeks ago in Singapore. Architecting an event like this is indeed like giving birth to a new baby. Or/and painting.

Jeff Koons Ethereal

Jeff Koons – Easyfun Ethereal series – Guggenheim Bilbao

It was always my ambition to create awareness about what is cooking at the edges of our industry’s ecosystem.

At the edges, but not beyond.

In my earlier, more anarchistic period, it was more about provocation, and I got judged on the externalities of my work. And as I matured, I got – without really planning for this, it just happened through the intensity I put in my work – into higher levels of awareness, with a greater deal of “softness”, humanism, beauty and yes, even romanticism: all unconscious components of designed learning experiences.

Working at these edges – but not beyond – requires some sensitivity and understanding of your audience and their deeply buried ambitions: this understanding is not about their professional business titles and roles (roles like in a theatre play – which it in many cases is), but about the deep archetypes and associated human desires of the searching individual looking for a greater essence of work.

Like a fashion designer, I am very much in the background of our “shows”, only making occasional stage appearances, usually only at the end when the cast and the models left the catwalk, and to leave my gentle greeting as a signature of the architect.

Dries Van Noten Fashion Show Women 2015 Paris, Grand Palais, September 24th 2014
Soundtrack - Oscar and the Wolf "Strange Entity"
Carpet Artwork - Alexandra Kehayoglou

The occasional contacts with the members of the tribe are sincere, direct, and respectful.

This year a woman approached me in the corridor, greeting gently, asking where we met before, and then – quickly shying away – saying: “you have the most friendly face I have met in my life”.

That comment for sure kept me alive the rest of the week, to a point where I tried to connect with it at the moments where I tried to also enjoy myself the delivery of the new-born baby.

The renewed “softness” in my watchful eyes must have shown elsewhere, as during day-4, Adizah tweeted this picture of your servant into my digital slipstream:

watchful eyes petervan

Love that: the “watchful” eyes. It makes me think about the inspiration source for this 10th essay in the Essence of Work series, a little free booklet “Nothing is written, Learning is an adventure” by Johnnie Moore & Viv McWaters” from www.creativefacilitation.com.

cover nothing is written

“Learning is an adventure,” says the subtitle. Already in 2009, John Hagel from Deloitte’s Centre of the Edge, labeled this “Learning at Scale”.

Being at the edge is not about “R&D” but about “L&D” – Learning and Development.

L&D is becoming the Essence of Work.

The booklet explains eight principles to create more engaging experiences that play to human strengths.

  • Nothing is Written
  • Emotional Connectedness
  • Experiences over Explanation
  • Shared peril
  • Avoiding the teacher trance
  • The value of loose ends
  • Getting out of our heads
  • Getting over ourselves

One of the key sentences in the book is about the edge:

“So the focus must be on allowing participants to manage their own experience, so they can be on the edge of their comfort zone, and not pushed beyond it”

During these ideal moments, there is some sense of stillness in the room: the stillness of being pushed, but not beyond. When the audience collaboratively works through the assignments to internalize the new knowledge acquired from the speaker/igniter.

When there is almost whisper in the air.

When the assignment comes natural, unforced, and gentle. When the room and the atmosphere just feel right. “Right” like in Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless Way of Building” and the sculptural integrity that goes with it.

I am reminded here of Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró (April 20, 1893–December 25, 1983), whose masterpieces upended the conventions of visual art by giving life to a new aesthetic of vibrant stillness. (from Brainpickings.org)

“Miró’s most potent point deals with the proper gestational period for art and the painstaking care that goes into any worthwhile creative labor. In an age when the vast majority of our cultural material is reduced to “content” and “assets,” factory-farmed by a media machine that turns creators into Pavlovian creatures hooked on constant and immediate positive reinforcement via “likes” and “shares,” here comes a sorely needed reminder that art operates on a wholly different time scale and demands a wholly different pace of cultivation.”

“Miró defies this factory-farming model of art with the perfect metaphor: If a canvas remains in progress for years in my studio, that doesn’t worry me. On the contrary, when I’m rich in canvases which have a point of departure vital enough to set off a series of rhythms, a new life, new living things, I’m happy.

“I consider my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so that the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune.”

joan miro catalan landscape

Joan Miró: ‘Catalan Landscape,’ 1924

“I work like a gardener… Things come slowly… Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water… Ripening goes on in my mind. So I’m always working at a great many things at the same time.”

I leave you with a quote from my 9-year-old daughter, who savours the start of each day with new curiosity.

“It smells so good outside, it smells like it just snowed”

This freshness and openness for new learning experiences and development at the edges is the Essence of Work.

At the edge, but not beyond.


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This post is part-9 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.

Geert Degrande is a Flemish writer, author, translator, journalist, listener, and innovator. We met in 2009 as part of my personal self-discovery journey. Geert was a witness of the coming-out ceremony at the end of that journey. It was also the start of this blog in April 2009 with “Singing my own song”.

Begin 2015, Geert introduced me to Fabiaan Van Vrekhem, who was working with Geert on a book about disruption. To be honest, I was a bit suspicious, as after all these years, i have seen so much abuse of the buzzwords innovation and disruption.

We met for a coffee in Fabiaan’s offices in Brussels on a warm spring day in April 2015, almost day on day 6 years after my first blog post, I only realize now.

The connection was genuine and immediate. We had a long conversation about the essence of work and different levels of quality awareness.

I got hooked when the conversation went into the topic of letting go: those moments in your work maturation, where you are not interested anymore, because you want to move on to the next level. Where you delegate the execution of certain tasks to professionals.

I am just back from delivering a great edition of Innotribe at Sibos, where I had the pleasure of working with professionals from George P. Johnson and Collective Next.

Those professional are so good: they give me piece of mind that the work will be performed as imagined by its architect and curator. Where art and content and flawless execution meet and create a superior experience.


Innotribe anchor person Akhtar Badshah with his own artwork in the background.

It is the result of months of build-up, co-creation and co-ideation; it is the moment to “let go”. And I have to confess I find it still difficult to let go.

Letting go is also my challenge when doing my artwork.

Leaving room for unplanned encounters.

As many of you know, I have gone back to artschool. Last year drawing: painting this year. Discovering the difference between drawing in lines and thinking in shapes and layers. Where the best discoveries happen unexpectedly.

IMG_5735 (1)

Study book Petervan – unplanned encounters of stuff – 2015

As part of the studywork, I dived into this great book about artists. And I had to think again about the layers of quality so well described in Fabiaan’s book.

33 Artists in 3 Acts

Letting go and delegate, like artist Jeff Koons in Sarah Thornton “33 Artists in 3 Acts”, where she describes the artist employing a staff of 150 people in his studio to execute his creations by the best craftsmen.

“Artists have become ideas people liberated from manual labor; they can delegate without compromising their authorship.”

“It is important not to confuse art with craft”

balloon dog jeff koons

Balloon Dog – by Jeff Koons

Fabiaan’s book “The Disruptive Competence: A journey to a sustainable business, from matter to meaning” came out in June 2015. I got a copy of the manuscript before that and invited Fabiaan to speak at our 2015 Rebel Jam on June 26, 2015. You can listen and watch the recording of his WebEx talk here.

cover fabiaan

The book is about letting go, delegating when not being interested anymore. And moving on to the next level of quality awareness. It’s a deep book about different levels of ambition and life quality.

map fabiaan

The 7 dimensions of value creation – courtesy Fabiaan Van Vrekhem

A good example of “letting go” is when you for example reached valuable craftsmanship. You move to the next level of value creation “service” and let the quality control craftsmen come in. Your interventions are now about service. As you mature in the essence of your work, you work yourself naturally up on the value layers.

  • Layers 1-4 are all about context management. That’s what many companies are good at.
  • Layers 5-7 are about context creation. That’s what not many companies are good at.

To go back at the start of this series on The Essence of Work, management and creation are different belief systems.

If you are already in context creation mode within an organization that is struggling in the context management mode, it is a source of frustration, for members of either belief system.

Again, the one is not better than the other. Trying to solve the problem as WE see it. This is coming back to Dave Gray’s belief systems: “as we/they see it”

The maturation is in the move

from “span of control”

to “span of support”

Making interventions at the 7th dimension, the dimension of societal progress – is about meaning-making. This is the dimension of societal context, the dimension of sense-making:

We are prepared to pay more for meaning than for matter

The 7th Dimension is to become a source of influence to make people aware on how to interact. This is where “let other see what I see” comes in: let others discover what they can see if they become multi-sensory sensitive and aware.

This becomes even more important in a world that is moving fast, in a world full of uncertainties.

The methods of planned certainties

don’t work anymore in an uncertain world.

The more uncertainty, the more unknowns.

You cannot solve the unknown with the known, you can only solve the unknown with what you become aware of, and that is consciousness.

People are on a growing curve. Because they have a certain potential capability present, they look for more information, more data so they can use their capability at the full.

The organization has to become “aware” of this learning-progress-maturation need of their collaborators.

This is different from “I look for a job where I can learn”: that is in essence is an egocentric desire, where the individual wants to suck more knowledge (aka value) out of the system that he/she contributes. The maturity happens when that person starts to realize that a balanced caring life is more about putting value back into the system.

How many levels can your organization integrate to create a potential context machine for your collaborators?

When people outgrow their role, they get frustrated because of the unused potential. They are determined by responsibilities that no longer fit their level of capability.

As we have seen, Fabiaan describes 7 layers of value creation.

I would claim there is another level.

Where it is about pure beauty. The sort of beauty that is not of this world. The sort of beauty that only can be captured in ballet, or in poetry, or in multi-sensory performances.


Theatre de Chaillot in Paris on May 2. (ALAIN JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

There is a word for that, I discovered recently: ETHEREAL

Ethereal means “extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world.”

Like in “her ethereal beauty”. Synonyms are: delicate, exquisite, dainty, elegant, graceful, beautiful, lovely, fragile, airy, fine, subtle, unearthly, aery, aeriform, airy, aerial, gossamer, celestial, supernal.

What if we would set that as standard and norm for the essence of our work?

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This post is part-8 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.


This time, I invite you to look into the mirror, and watch the scars in your face, the arrows in your back, and the experiences that can’t be unlearned.

I invite you to make contact with the emotional and physical footprint of your work.

To make contact with those projects where you went really deep, where you chose your own path, where you challenged all existing conventions.

The ones that completely exhausted you, but where you are left with the deep and satisfactory warm feeling of having done the right thing.

In many cases, these are the projects that you chose to be part of, which you initiated.

In the same way it is better to be in a position to choose the clients you want to work for, in the same way you’re better off when you create a interdependence in life that allows you to chose the projects you want to be part of.

When projects become your projects. Where you know that you shaped the project and the project would never have become what it is without you having been part of it.

Those projects, you know, where you do the skunk work whatever it takes.

Those projects where you feel home, where you are meant to be, and that feel like your own – sometimes messy – creative studio.

Sculptor studio

Sculptor Alexander Calder's studio, 1964, photographed by Pedro E. Guerrero

For many years now, I follow and get inspired by the work of Jan Chipchase: he used to be the executive creative director of global insights for Frog Design, took a sabbatical, came back, and created in April 2014 his own Studio-D, a research, design and strategy consultancy.

You really have to read everything on the Studio-D site: the annual report, the project reports, the way to think of a company as a pop-up crew that comes together to serve a customer and then disbands when the job is done, the ethical ways of choosing projects and clients.

His own webpage opens with:

“Everybody needs space to do truly interesting work.”

That resonates with me.

It reads like a dream to me, and it’s how I would like to be, a beacon: I just don’t have the courage (yet) to make the choices Jan made.

More dreams

Building more dreams – By Hugh McLeod @gapingvoid

Studio-D has a page about “those projects”. This page did something with me at a level beyond the cognitive. It resonates very strongly with me. I have been part of and initiated some of those projects…

There are projects.

The ones that shape, mould and refine what we do, allow us to iterate on what we know – the operational things that help us get stuff done better, faster, smoother.

And then there are those projects. 

Those projects shape us and our team, they expand our world view, open minds to new ways of thinking, bring our short existence into sharp focus – they remind us that our time on this planet is too fleeting to devote to things that are no sooner done, than forgotten.

Those projects make us question our beliefs, our career goals, who we work for, who we work with, who we want to work with, and where we want to devote our energies for the next few years.

It’s those projects that rapidly evaporate any tolerance for bullshit.

They remind us of what we’ve let drift, and provide a rough hand to steer us back on track.

They are the essence of a life worked well.

Everyone has their own criteria for what makes one of “those projects”. They can include heart-in-mouth, will-we-or-won’t-we-make-it moments where the cost of failure is absolute, where fear stalks and somewhere along the line hearts leap, and tears are shed. They generate experiences that can’t be unlearnt, are in no danger of being forgotten.

“Experiences that can’t be unlearnt, are in no danger of being forgotten”!

Isn’t that great?

Is that not what life is about? Or was I discussing work? It is the same if you look at the essence of work this way?


Picture from Burning Man 2015 – I was not there ;-)

The danger to be forgotten is in the eye of the beholder.

At one level of consciousness, the fear is about being forgotten as a person in the organization, and what you think you meant and mean for the organization. Why you think you and your work matter. Why you think you made a dent in the organization you work for. When that gets forgotten, that hurts. It is the stage where you wonder if you still matter.

At another level of consciousness, you have internalized that fear. You acknowledge what has been, and you don’t care anymore about being forgotten.

Because you now think in terms of experiences that can’t be unlearned and made you that unique human being that you are, with your own history and timeline of experiences.

The previous post was about the next 10 years. And the fear of not having enough time left to do what you were meant to do. In that post I also invited you to look back and interrogate the progress you made in the last 10 years. You probably can see the milestones and progress of your previous last 10 years.

But the trap is when you start worrying whether others have seen it too. When you let others decide whether you matter or not. When you wait to get picked, because you live in the illusion that the organization has internalized your last 10 years in the same deep way as you did yourself, and that the organization cares.

The organization does not care.

And your history trace evaporates a little more every year with the apparent mandatory half-yearly or yearly re-organizations, killing existing connections (and creating new ones), cutting-off the historic trails, and the milestones you were part of.

What re-organization do you work for?

The older you get, the more you witness how the wheels are re-invented over and over again. Testosterone, rivalry, positioning and ambition drive projects and organizations, not purpose. It has become standard practice to ignore history, to forget “those projects”, their lessons learned and the warm bodies that were behind them.


One of my heroes: Pablo Picasso – by Yoo-Hyun – Hand cut paper

Our conversations become tweets, at best. There is no time for a quality in the essence of our work. We are getting fragmented, and become shrapnel of our own identity.

We become irrelevant.

The essence of work is about relevancy.

But relevancy for whom and in what context?

Being forgotten is only in the eyes of the beholder.

The essence of work is that you were part off, where you were instrumental to one of those projects. They are engrained in your physical and emotional DNA, and make who you are. Nobody can take that away.

So look back, and interrogate those projects that made you who you are. That gave you the scars on your soul, and the arrows in your back. Those projects are those projects because you cared. You cared for yourself and the organization that you were part of. This relationship is different from doing your job, different from the employer-employee relationship.

The madness is many of these relations are un-even, unequal. In many cases the performer cares for the organization, but the organization does not care for the performer.

As in so many of the essays in this series, the only one way to survive this madness and is to choose and adhere to your own norms and standards for an essence of work that is after superior qualities and experiences.

That is what our next essay in the series will be about: ethereal qualities.

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This post is part-7 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.


Picture – Cirque du Soleil – Amaluna 2015 Show

This post is about the legacy of your work. It is not about your legacy. It is about the legacy of your work.

A couple of months I took some time off to reflect on my never-ending mid-life crisis that started when I was 35 😉

I suddenly got the shivers when I start thinking how little time I had left. I started wondering what I would do with the rest of my life.

In the better case scenario I would remain “professionally active” till I am 70. I suddenly realized I only have +/- 10 years left to get there. Luckily my coach helped me put things in perspective, sort of. She said: “Just look back at your last 10 years, and how you have progressed (or not) in that time frame. And now think how much more progress you could make in the next 10 years”.


Picture – Hindu Holy Men

When I say “professionally active”, I did not necessarily mean it as “having a job”, the whole purpose of this series on The Essence of Work.

So, what would be the essence of being “professionally active”?

Mike Kruzeniski @mkruz, Design Director at Twitter came help me with his post about Jonathan Ive’s patience.


Picture: Jonathan Ive – Hypebeast.com

Don’t just think about that one product you need to design in the next 3, 6, or 12 months. Consider the skills, relationships, and tools that you and your company will need for the next 2, 5, 7, or 10 years and start working on them now.

Don’t just measure yourself by the output of your very next project; Measure yourself by how you’re improving quality over the course of your next 10 projects.

Your job is to be the shoulders that the next generation of designers — and perhaps your future self — at your company will stand on.

I found another hint to my question in “Your Work is Your Work” by John Wenger @JohnQShift


Picture: Sochi Enlightning People Pascal Le Segretain - Getty Images

Developing greater reflection on self is about asking those deeper questions about our beliefs, values and orientations.  For some, it is best done when in nature, in silence or in solitude.  These are questions that get to the heart of who we are. 

  • What is it about the work I do that is related to the capabilities I need to grow in myself?
  • How do I delude myself?
  • How does my internal picture of “me” differ from how I actually am with people?
  • How do I use my power?
  • What kind of leader am I?
  • Am I living a wonder-full life?

Developing these practices gets us a significant way towards knowing ourselves and shining a light on our real “work”.

Or more recently, Kevin Kelly in reply to a question about the kind of mindset with to approach life and work that enables you to create at high quality and velocity:

young kelly

Picture – The young Kevin Kelly – Almost casted to act in Star Trek

My “work” is usually the kind of thing that also gives me deep pleasure, so I could say I also play a lot. I am a big do-it-yourself believer and I still do a lot my self, but more and more I also hire the best expert or professional I can as well. That really ups one’s productivity.

Kelly again:

“Your job in life is to discover your job, and it usually takes your whole life to figure this out.”

This re-confirms my ever ongoing mid-life crisis and the realization that it take a whole life to search the truth and in the end probably not finding it.


It tells me not to wait for others to pick me, to praise me, to give me permission. It tells me that the whole enterprise appraisal system is completely screwed up because it measures the past and not the future potential. It only measures the output and not the input. Its measures are based on antiquated standards of maximizing efficiency, without realizing that the value creation and ethical norms of work – not jobs – have moved on to higher levels of quality and awareness.

Seth Godin was pitching recently “Don’t wait to be picked” in his keynote at Inbound 2015:

Go pick yourself. You decide. I will also talk about this in next post in this series, when we have the opportunity to be part of projects that change our lives. This way, your next 10 years will be more satisfying, as you adhere to your own norms and standards.

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This post is part-6 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.


Illustration: Adrian Villar Rojas - The most beautiful of all mothers - Instanbul Water Biennale

Part-6 is about you being responsible. Responsibility is highly correlated with accountability. In the Essence of Work, you are the sole responsible.

You are responsible for:

  • Yourselves: your mental and physical well-being
  • The teams you belong to:
  • The organisations these teams belong to;
  • The ecosystems these organisations belong to;
  • The whole world these ecosystems belong to

It’s about daring to step forward. It’s about daring to observe authentically. About daring expressing the unsaid. It is about daring to be great. We have covered a lot of all that in our work at Corporate Rebels United. Check out that site and join if you feel that resonates with you.

Why do I write this in the 3rd person? Make it personal. Read this as if it were you. Start the sentence with “I”.

Rebels are responsible

What else am I responsible for?

I am responsible for:

  • Choosing my clients
  • And the projects that I refuse
  • My own failure
  • How I stand in life and in work
  • Not being dependent anymore on the judgment of others and their standards
  • My standards
  • My norms
  • My promises to them and myself

Cant take it anymore

Cartoon – “Can’t take this anymore” - by Steve Cutts

Stop blaming others. Stop blaming the system. The problem is never out there, it is always in here. Step forward, and decide what you are going to do about it. You can’t take this anymore? Bullshit. You can take a lot more.

What happens when you take personal leadership? When you take responsibility for your health. For your needs and those of your team. Even if you live in a different needs–system. Even if you live in a different belief-system.

Your actions will be different, depending on the belief system and the needs you try to satisfy.

Here are some suggestions on how you can start your day differently. Make a checklist of it and read it when you wake-up, or stick it on the mirror where you brush your teeth every day. Make a poster out of it. Whatever.

  • I let go any notion of complaint – about myself and others – and see any situation where I feel uncomfortable as an opportunity to learn and change.
  • I leave all my fears behind and set myself open to all possibilities that may lead to something good, positive and inspiring to create with and for others.
  • I let the past for what it is and focus on “being” what can be: if I want the essence of my work be more integer, then I am more integer myself. If I need more coddling in my relationship, and I start coddling myself.
  • I inexhaustibly focus on the positive – on what I love about my partner, my daughter, my boss, etc and each time I still say how much I like them and let all the negative washout.
  • I’m a Believer – I believe and follow my inner compass. If I feel that something is possible, that is probably true.


Picture: Art students discussing the approach for their study books
Art Academy BKO 2015 - Overijse - Belgium

In the Essence of Work, I am responsible from A-Z. From the initial authentic observation, the first line of your drawing, the choice of paper, the choice of pen, brush or pencil, the execution, the finishing, the sharing, the giving of the gift, and the receiving of the feedback.

In the Essence of Work, I don’t have any excuses anymore to produce half-baked bread. In the Essence of Work, I am solely responsible to show the very best of me, every day.

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This post is part-5 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.


Artwork by Tania Derijcke – 3rd year painting – BKO Academy

The initial inspiration for this post was an article about robots being able to make your dinner.

Video about Moley Robotics

According to the company, the mechanical chef, which incorporates 20 motors, 24 joints and 129 sensors, learns how to cook by watching a plain old human chef, whose movements are turned into commands that drive the robot hands. Moley hopes to eventually create a product that can do everything from preparing the ingredients to cleaning up the kitchen, and include a built-in refrigerator and dishwasher. The idea is to support the robot with thousands of app-like recipes, and it would allow owners to share their special recipes online.

At the same time I was immersed in Matthew Crawford’s great book “The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction”, already mentioned some time ago in my post “Moments of Enchantment”. The whole book is about attention and agency and tangible results of your agency.

It suddenly dawned to me that

making dinner is a matter of attention.

And that “they” – the robot tribes – don’t get it. As we have seen already in our series’ post about belief systems, “They don’t get it” is a strong indicator of living in a different belief system.

peter goossens

Peter Goossens - Hof Van Cleve

Let’s contrast this with the craftsmanship of Peter Goossens and his team, who are running Hof Van Cleve, one of the best restaurants in the world. Best like in world-class: a 3-star Michelin and much more, bringing them into the top-25 of the world.

Hof Van Cleve - Craft

“In order to cook at the highest level every day and guarantee an exceptional experience for our guests, it is important that the interior of our restaurant exudes the same traditional spirit and identity that our kitchen does. Our preparations are, after all, in my opinion, the result of a great deal of effort at all levels. Indeed, we handle the best local products that the gardeners, farmers, growers, fishermen, hunters and cheese refiners can provide. Out of respect for their passionate work and thanks to their fantastic ingredients, we are able to provide our guests with a unique culinary experience. This makes cooking a true craft.”

You can take this wonderful definition of the Essence of Work, and apply it to your own domain. Note the emphasis on guests, tradition, respect, experience, and craft.

Cooking is much more than executing a recipe.

The essence of work is much more

than building to spec

In “The world beyond your head… “, there is a great chapter about a small family-run business that is specialized in restoring and building from scratch old baroque organs.


A New Organ for Anabel Taylor Chapel

Like Peter Goossens, these organ builders don’t content themselves with restoring or building to spec. What they aim for is a dramatically superior musical experience by the musician who will play the organ.

Tradition is about building on the shoulders of giants, a bit of a simplistic statement. The author goes at length to “craft” deep into the meaning of tradition, to internalize tradition, and to pass it on in your work and onto next generations.


is not seen as non-authentic,

but a source for energized work.

“Unlike a space shuttle, the pipe organ is a species that comes to us through cultural traditions, and serves aesthetic purposes that would be unintelligible without reference to those traditions.”

“the historical inheritance of a long tradition of organ making seems not to burden these craftspeople, but rather to energize their efforts in innovation.”

What is driving these people to strive for unconditional excellence? Wouldn’t it be easier to componentize and modularize the different elements of work and cast them in a repeatable process, so we can be more efficient and produce more at less cost? Yes, that would be possible, but I think some of us don’t get excited anymore by the efficiency game and we are aiming for a higher quality and awareness of quality of our work and the experience it delivers to our customers, or should I call them “guests”?

“There were also electronic organs available. But there’s a part of the population that will only take this.

“It’s a totally handcrafted, handmade object, and some people are willing to pay an enormous premium for it. They realize the performance musically is superior. And that’s the only justification.”

“We’re weird: we’re trying to make a living, for one thing, and make this whole thing practical, so we have to make the parts in good order and build to the contract price, which is an insane thing to do for what we’re producing, and we have to make something that’s going to perform technically or our customers are going to be coming back and getting on us. At the same time the ethos of the instrument has to be authentic—that’s why people are paying big money for us to do the work. So we’re jammed in the cracks, trying to make a realistic business out of this and at the same time be as authentic as we can. The thread of what we’re doing is totally authentic.

The author leads us into two criteria that are essential for the Essence of Work:

  • Historical coherence: The work is enlivened by a sense of going further on a trajectory they have inherited.
  • Musicality: Timeless standards of engineering, specifically as they contribute to musicality.

So, we are getting into something called

The timeless demands of musicality.”

Wow! This is getting pretty close to Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless way of building” and his passion for “pattern languages”, much more profound ways of communicating, integrating, and passing on of patterns of tradition and craftsmanship.

How would you define “musicality” in your work, even if your work has nothing to do with organs or music?

I would now like to mix-in two other criteria for our Essence of Work:

  • Constraints: Constraints have to do a lot with craftsmanship, tradition, and musicality.
  • Authentic observation: perceiving as a baby does, liberated from conventionality

Constraints. Good work is usually performed within the boundaries of timeless tradition and qualities. You have to respect the scheme, the pitch, tone, the rhythm and other musical traditions to create the right “musical experience”. Very well trained musicians, who have superior mastery of their instruments, and respect the tradition canvas of conventions, usually perform a good jazz jam.

The Essence of Work is about producing a good jazz jam. Grounded and building upon the conventions and traditions of the thousand of years before us.

The other “constraint” is the audience: the public, the commissioner, the customer, the guest. Where the context of the host and the guest meet, where host and guest get into a dance, not a fight. Host and guest: much better than the transactional supplier and buyer, or producer and consumer.

Like Rem Koolhaas about architecture in When Architects Swim:

Architecture is not at all about letting your imagination go. You must confront your imagination again and again with the request and desire of your customer

Then there is “authentic observation”.

In my art classes last year, I learned to observe. To draw what I see and not to draw what I think. This has helped me a lot to get the basics more or less right: arms and legs in the right proportion vis-à-viz the body, that sort of basics. I only got a feel for the basics. Much more work to before i am getting any good at it, let’s not even think yet about mastery or even mystery. It’s still something very tactical, mechanical for me. So much more to learn.

This week-end the 2015-2016 art class started.


Picture of my art class – season 2015-2016

I will try painting this year. I never did painting, never worked with color. I am completely novice here, and open and receptive to anything that comes my way. No clue what will happen. No plan in mind.

It was thus a happenstance when my art teacher showed this as the main guiding principle for this academy year:


We were asked to “observe”, to look through a frame and let ourselves surprise by the shapes in the frame. Just see. But it is more than non-judgmental observation. It’s more than the facts and the spec.

  • An historian looks at the world adopting an non-judgmental stance towards the facts.
  • A preservationist adopts a deferential stance towards the world

What we are talking about in the Essence of Work is the “Artist’s Way” of looking at the world.


“This is what an artist does. She must defamiliarize herself with her everyday perceptions, which depend on—are conditioned by—her past experiences, including the experience of inhabiting a world that is thoroughly conventional. She has to try to perceive as a baby does, or as the empiricist supposes we all do, but this is a subtle and extraordinary accomplishment. There is nothing infantile about good art, but it does show us the world as viewed by a consciousness that has, for a spell, liberated itself from conventionality” (from the World beyond your head…)

Craftsmanship, Historical Coherence, Musicality, Authentic Observation, and Creating The Dance between host and guest are critical components of the Essence of Work.

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This post is part-4 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction, check here.


Innovators and Change Agents are probably the most frustrated people in a company’s workforce.

That is because they care. That is because they refuse to look at their work “as a job”, and refuse just “to live with it” or “get over it”

seth godin

Seth Godin recently posted a short post “In search of your calling” in essence about “What is your caring?” in stead of “What is your calling”

I don’t think we have a calling.

I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do.

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing,

worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care.

Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

And elsewhere on his blog

Caring is unpredictable, hard to command and regulate and sometimes expensive in the short run.

When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring.

When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine)

then the caring can’t help but happen.

Caring is about making interventions at a dimension of societal progress, the dimension of meaning making, the dimension of societal context, and the dimension of sense making.

Ocean Atlas Jason deCaires Taylor

Artwork: Ocean Atlas Jason deCaires Taylor

Caring is the higher and deeper dimension after purpose, objectives and tactics.

Caring gets closer to needs.

Purpose is closer to intention and beliefs, and values

Objectives are closer to outcomes

Tactics are closer to building to spec, read instructions and apply them

The ambition is to find a “Life worked well”, where needs, purpose, objectives and tactics of the individual and the organization are maximum aligned and self-enforcing. A “Life worked well” is growing on the ladder of:





Once your reach the caring dimension, you don’t want to go back. Design serendipities with others who care. Avoid the people who try to reduce your caring back into thinking about your work as a job. They are in a different belief system. Have empathy, take note, but move on and continue on your path to greatness.

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