When I was a boy of fourteen years old, my family paid me $3.25 an hour to dig upright yew. I’d dig them from the field after school, ball and bag them, and haul them with the tractor – which was the fun part – up to the sales lot. I could dig about 5 an hour. With hundreds of trees to dig for sale, that would take up my after school hours until dusk for weeks at a time. I might have been the only kid who hoped it rained.
Some income, even at that age, was nice. I’d get an Atari game maybe, or comics to trade. Mostly, I just wanted to get it done and go play. I learned efficiency at high level. That is, work quickly to get it done but at the same time, shoddy work just meant having to repeat it. Efficiency means not only speed, but accuracy and quality – not bad lessons to learn at 14 years old.
A greater lesson I learned took just a bit more thought. I realized I wasn’t paid to dig trees.
I wasn’t paid to sweat or to miss playtime.
I was paid to put trees on the sales lot.
That is, I was paid to take something in a field with near zero value and put it on the sales lot where each item was worth $35 to a potential consumer. The digging, the sweating, the missing playtime – that was just a necessary element in the process of increasing value. If that step could have been skipped – if it could have been replaced by magic, technology, or some other wizardry – than it would have. My job was to turn near valueless materials into valued product by putting them, in final form, before the consumers’ eyes.
This isn’t some “guru” word game about thinking differently or an attempt at motivational platitudes to put into an overpriced seminar with free coffee and sandwiches. It’s how things, hard reality, actually work. As machine learning becomes on-boarded, when we not only have data in front of us (as we are now inundated by it, often to stasis) and actual funding decisions are made, by humans or otherwise, based on that data, understanding where you actually add value will become increasingly critical.
In ten years of marketing and communications, for instance, I’ve seen amazing attention paid to the work. The labor, the sweat. Every detail...perfect. There are meetings. A bit of graphic design...we labor over it. It’s perfected. Then dumped into social media without a plan for a reach of 300.
A $50,000 website wins awards, but takes six seconds to load, an hour to update.
An e-magazine layout is perfected exquisitely in brilliant color, but with no call to action or useful content.
A video with exquisite sound and cutting that would make Stanley Kubrick blush at his seeming ineptitude is of no interest beyond the internal team.
A press release or feature has every comma exactly in place, with no reason for a person outside the company to care and therefore, no reason for any publication to carry it.
If I dug every single one of those upright yew so perfectly – missed more playtime and sweated more – but left them to sit in the field, did I really accomplish anything beyond bragging rights?
Or consider the humble truck driver. No PhD, no BA or BS, not even an associate’s degree required, but often doing quite nicely with a Commercial Drivers License: $73K driving for Walmart as a for instance. Not about to run the world, but better than most I know with an MA and the debt to prove it. Is it because he or she puts in long hours? Is it for miles driven? Is it because of time away from family?
It’s none of the above. It’s because product x increases in value when moving from point A at the depot to point B in front of the consumer. That is quantifiable on any ledger, and truckers thrive on increasing value.