January 16, 2007

On Work

Three items, all related to work. Not my work, but the notion of work in general. The connections I leave as an exercise for the reader, although I must warn you to not read too much into it. The question of what we should do with our limited time is one of the key questions we face, and I, for one, find it to be an endless fascinating subject.

Item 1: Christina Wodtke's Three-Pronged Fork in the Road, where she explains the three career options facing us (or, in this case, those who work on the web with an IA slant) as becoming a manager, becoming an expert, or becoming "you 2.0". I've taken the first fork, but occasionally feel angst about not taking the second fork, and wonder if I'm not actually closer to the third fork than I think.

Item 2: Ben Casnocha on cross-training your brain. Ben points to an interesting article on the topic in Fortune. From the article:

"It may well be a mistake to do just one thing," says Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. "If you practice multiple things you actually get better at any one of those things." In other words the benefits of practicing one skill are not limited to that skill alone; they can be transferred.

This, I love, if only because it quells some of the angst I occasionally feel about not being super deep in one given topic. Actually, let's not oversell this angst idea. I've always enjoyed being, in Ben's words, "a mile wide" (literally, not figuratively). Knowing a lot about a lot is generally a good strategy (unless one is looking for a job). And, I've purposefully taken up pursuits unrelated to my job and/or training (e.g. learning the violin as an adult) in order to stretch myself.

Item 3: Michael Ruhlman is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. Ruhlman writes about work and workmanship. It seems as if every book of his I've read so far (Wooden Boats, House, Charcuterie) has a strong theme of work running under the surface, occasionally becoming explicit. I imagine that his other books (a number on chefs and one about a hospital) keep the theme up.

My favorite of the three I've read was Wooden Boats, essentially an homage to the craftsman building an object (I almost called it a product) that Ruhlman juxtaposes against modern "plastic" boats--the epitome of our throw-away culture. I really should give it a more in-depth review...I'll put it on my to-do list.