Michael Bungay Stanier on Do More Great Work, Part 1

In the book, Do More Great Work.: Stop the Busywork, and Start the Work that Matters, Michael Bungay Stanier shares his inspiration and techniques to help us do more work that matters.

These are some of my favorite takeaways from reading the book.

Borrowing from the great insights of graphic designer Milton Glaser, Michael outlines the three types of work we do: Bad Work, Good Work, and Great Work.

Bad Work is a waste of time, energy, and life. Doing it once is one time too many. Sadly, organizations have a natural tendency to generate Bad Work. It shows up as bureaucracy, interminable meetings, and outdated processes that waste everyone’s time. Bad Work also limits our productivity and our professional growth.

Good Work is the familiar, helpful, and productive work we do. We probably enjoy doing it and likely do it well. There is a range of good work. It could be engaging and exciting, and it could also be more mundane. However, we recognize its necessity and are happy to spend time doing it. We always need good work in our lives. At an organizational level, good work is vital as it helps the organization stay efficient, focused, profitable, and sustainable.

Great Work is work that is meaningful to us. It has an impact and makes a difference. Great Work is the work that matters as it inspires, stretches, and provokes us to grow. However, Great Work can also introduce uncertainty and discomfort.

Great Work is often new and challenging, as risk elements and possible failure exist. Great Work creates tension. On the one hand, we want to do more Great Work because the work matters, and we also care about it. On the other hand, because it is new and challenging, there is a chance that it might fail.

Despite the tension, Michael encourages us to do more Great Work for the following reasons:

  1. The desire to do more Great Work is not a call to abandon our everyday life and become a martyr to a cause. However, it is a call to do more meaningful work. We all have opportunities to do work that makes a difference, changes the status quo, reduces waste, and generally improves life.
  2. Great Work can be public, but Great Work is also private. Great Work should be meaningful to us. Only we can determine what matters to us.
  3. Great Work often is not wanted, but Great Work is needed. Great Work shows up at the intersection where what needs to change in our world meets what is important to us.
  4. Great Work can be easy, and Great Work can be challenging. Sometimes when we are doing Great Work, we are in a flow zone where things come easily, and time seems suspended. More likely, Great Work can be a time of grinding through it. It is a period where we need to show up when our muse is not whispering to us. It can be a time of uncertainty, groping forward when we are unsure where we are heading. It can also mean picking ourselves up off the floor and carrying on after “life” has just slapped us around a bit.
  5. Great Work is about doing what is meaningful and not about doing it well. It is often easier to deliver Bad Work and Good Work at an excellent level. Instead, Great Work is not so much about a standard of delivery. It is about a measure of impact and meaning.
  6. Great Work can happen in a single moment, but more likely, it is a project that develops over time. Great Work is often a commitment (or a journey) to making changes in ourselves and our world through the work we do. Perhaps not every minute of the journey is Great Work, but those minutes eventually add up to something meaningful.