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DALE DAUTEN | THE CORPORATE CURMUDGEON

Today's work ethic just no longer works

By Dale Dauten
March 25, 2007
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The work ethic is dead. Younger generations in the workforce have killed it off. If you're under 30, "work" has a different meaning than it did -- for the younger employee, work is something to do with your hands while chatting on your cellphone . . . unless it's something to do with your mouth while text messaging.

"Are you working?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

Here I am, give me a high five and a Starbucks. And it's nobody's fault but ours, the boomers. We're the ones who were squealing with delight if the kid drew an egg. We were the ones who said, "Johnny tried, and that's what counts." And that's why these misguided Johnnies show up and give working a try, then wonder where they find the counter where success is handed out. They see "work ethic" as "show up and shut up," and no wonder they want no part of it.

What's called for is a way of working beyond mere work, something higher, something finer. What's needed is a Contribution Ethic and -- hello! -- it always has been needed. People with a contribution ethic have always been rare, and they have always been who drive the economy and the world conversation.

The Contribution Ethic

1. Just help. Make yourself useful. You aren't just there, waiting. There's no waiting. Just help.

2. A great player is worth less than a great teammate. (aka "The Steve Nash Effect" or "The Yankees' Blunder") A great player might or might not improve the group, but a great teammate always does. (Imagine a sales team of 10, each selling 10 units a month. A star might come in as the 11th employee and sell 50 percent more than everyone else, raising the group to 115. A great teammate, however, might come in and sell 12 units, but also help everyone else sell 12, raising the department's output to 132. Thus, the great teammate seems to produce less but is actually more than twice as valuable.)

3. Your half is 60 percent.

4. Innovation is a subversive activity. You can't expect management and/or co-workers to drool with excitement over your "I have an idea!" After all, most ideas are suggestions and most suggestions are complaints. On the other hand, if an idea is truly original, then expect resistance; indeed, welcome it as a measure of originality. Organizations are built for continuity not creativity. That's why you need to demonstrate how the idea will work, and you might need the guerrilla's wiles. Ideas are nothing next to proposals; proposals are nothing next to experiments.

5. Giving time without attention is a gift-wrapped empty box.

6. Assume the best. If you accept that every 10th person is a jerk and that you're a jerk one-10th of the time, then you can meet the world with the smile of the victor, for the odds are with you.

7. Being right is overrated. If your goal is usefulness, then what matters is progress.

8. Being wrong is underrated. Admitting you were wrong is wisdom gained.

9. Always bring something to read.

10. Think like a hero; work like an artist. If the end is helpfulness, that's the hero mind. If the means is exploration and learning, that's the artist's mind. When kindly attention meets curiosity, you move gracefully through the world.

Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at dale@dauten.com.

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