When I meet people for the first time, invariably, one of their first few questions (if not their absolute first), “What do you do?” As in, what do you do to make money — earn income — so you can eat and pay your bills. There is nothing inherently wrong with this question, but I wonder at what point in time did our society become so wrapped up in what we do. Where was it in our history that it became imperative for us to discuss our occupation?
It’s an interesting topic and maybe someday I’ll do a post on that, but for now, I’m going to talk about my answer to that question. As what may come as a surprise to some, my answer to that question varies depending on who is asking the question. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Doesn’t it just make sense for the answer to my question to be different given who is doing the asking? While the words of the question may be the same from person-to-person, invariably, there is going to be a different underlying question that is being asked and this is what I am answering.
When someone asks me the question about what I do, often, I am hearing the answer for the first time, too. I don’t have a rehearsed elevator speech like most people advise, but if I happen to be in an elevator and someone asks me, I seem to have an answer that fits. This is usually either because we’re in an elevator, so they’re not deeply interested in what I do or because something in what I said has sparked their interest, so we’ve gotten off on the same floor and continued our conversation.
Some of my favo[u]rite answers to the questions about what I do usually involve my talking about going beyond the systems and organizations present in our planet. When I am able to get into the nitty-gritty of this kind of answer, I usually get really excited. Sometimes, it’s even appropriate for me to reference the fictional universe of Star Trek in how in that time period, there is no more conflict (external, at least) and the focus is no longer about accumulating monetary wealth. The focus has shifted to that of exploratory, somewhat similar to the way that explorers of the 1500s like Magellan and Columbus are fantasized about through history. Of course there are differing opinions as to what the explorers of that time were really interested in, but in some history books, they were really ‘seeking out new life’ and ‘boldly going where no one had gone before.’
In a fictional universe like Star Trek, I would relish the role of someone who would be an advisor on intergalactic relations. That may sound a bit “out-there” and of course it is because at present, we don’t have intergalactic relations (publicly, at least). Regardless, I think it is immensely important for someone in the room (ship?) to be present to the idea of the macro. Someone who is focused on the implications of not just the next step or the third step, but what it will have on twenty iterations down-the-road.
While I may not be assigned to the USS Enterprise anytime soon, I still feel deeply called to be that guy in the room. To be that guy who is focused on the macro-view of the organization. To be the outsider eyes looking in at the organization, business, or company, identifying ways in which success — in all senses of the word — can be increased.