About 9 years ago I was working for the then CEO and president of ISO Healthcare, David Tanner. While I worked for him, I learned a number of valuable lessons that I’ve taken with me, and one of them was this: Add value at every level.
What David meant by this was simple; as a project passes through your hands, regardless of your job, regardless of your pay, when it hits your hands, do the best you can with it, and make sure it leaves your hands in better shape than when you received it. Its an amazingly simple philosophy that when practiced, yields results that are a wonder to behold. When everybody just does their ‘job’, a project can go from beginning to end and come out pretty much the way everyone expected it to, but when every person who touches the project takes time to engage with it, to look for ways to improve it or make it even a little bit better, the final product is often far more than anyone could have planned for.
Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Linchpin by Seth Godin, which I HIGHLY recommend. He talks about this exact process, which he terms ‘creating art’ or ‘giving a gift’. When a person steps outside of what is expected of him and does the best he can regardless of his role, that person becomes an artist, and what he creates is a gift of art, and that such giving is the basis for creating tribes around yourself. Seth also makes the argument that the receivers of such gifts tend to want to return the favor, and that artists, because of their art and their gifts, have more opportunities open up before them than someone who selfishly hordes their art.
Today, during a team meeting, we had a surprise visit from a colleague of mine from another team. One of her roles in the Creative department is roughly, Keeper of the Brand. She and a few others work hard to make sure that the ESPN brand and its many imprints are maintained and handled aright across the company and in all forms of media, which is a BIG task. I, on the other hand, am one of less than a handful of creatives that work within the ESD branch of the Technology division. I stick out like a sore thumb amongst a throng of programmers, engineers and other techy types. Over the past couple of years, however, I’ve been pushing hard to make sure that the creative our web teams produce is in harmony with what the teams in NY and the main campus create. Its not something I was asked to do, its simply something that someone from a background like mine understands is important, and its one of the ways that I endeavor to add value at my level.
As I was saying, today she showed up unexpectedly (to me, anyway) at our team meeting, and presented me with an ESPN Game Ball. There are 21 game balls in all, and it passes from one person to the next roughly once per month. It is given by the previous recipient to someone who they felt has gone above and beyond. I’ve watched these game balls passing around the company for about the last year, and never thought one would make it into my hands. Now one has. Its a real honor, and now that its been given to me, I can’t think of someone I’d rather have received it from. Today, it was blindingly obvious to me, that this theory of giving gifts unselfishly and having it returned toyou is actually a reality. Its not the first time that what I’ve given has come back to me, but right now, this evening, which a brand new game ball sitting on top of my cubicle, its certainly a topic that’s on my mind.
So, create your art, whatever it is you do. Add value at every level. Explore and expand what you do, and help your team envision beyond what they currently do. Do more than is asked or expected of you, and most importantly, do it freely without expectation of compensation. It will be noticed, and you’ll be recognized as a Linchpin.