Can you remember the last time you completed a “WOW” project? A project you’ll still be bragging and chortling 10 years from now, as Tom Peters would say? If not, rest assured that you can make your work matter – but only if you take proactive steps to make it work for you.
Every assignment is a starting point
Every mundane assignment is a starting point. Your real job is to turn that task into something cool. Something memorable. Something WOW.
“You’re in charge of the company Memorial Day picnic. Poor you? Ho-hum? Or: Make it the most incredible, awesome, memorable, high-involvement celebration (project) of: ‘Who we are,’ and ‘What we stand for’, and ‘How we care about our people,’ ever.” That’s how Tom Peters approaches assignments.
How do you approach assignments? Take a hint from the father of personal branding and start making your projects work for you.
1. Tweak the structure and specifics of a specific task until it becomes a “cool project.” How can you make this task truly remarkable? Change the language of the task. Change the location, the processes involved, the outcome achieved, the people required, the technology used. Get creative and tweak it from all angles.
2. Keep an observation notebook. Record everyday experiences that provoke emotional responses, good or bad. This will make you a keener observer, and you’ll start finding ways to incorporate them into your own projects. Here’s what Tom Peters does: “What’s bugging, intriguing, exciting you? Start an observation notebook – paper or electronic. Jot down stuff you come across that is dumb (no matter how tiny or mundane) or great (at a restaurant, a ballpark, the dentist) that your operation can learn from.” There are millions of experiences that can help you do your job better. Choose to record them and integrate them.
3. Use your support network to help you reframe the project. Email a brief description of the project to your Mastermind group (the intelligent, passionate and creative individuals who you turn to for advice). Ask them to help you rethink the project. They likely come from different backgrounds and can come up with all kinds of novel ideas.
4. Talk to the customers your project will affect. Ask one of your customers, Jane Doe, what she’d do if you put her in charge of your project. What would she focus on? What would she care about most? Integrate her advice to reframe the project.
5. Brainstorm the impossible. For every deliverable requested, list out also what “could be.” If asked to make a paper airplane, give your boss a specification for a space station. The worst thing that comes from thinking big is being told, “that can’t be done.” Even so, your colleagues and boss will remember you as the one with the visionary ideas.
6. Make it into the history books of your company. Think back to tenth grade. The people in your history textbooks were committed, determined, focused, passionate, risk seekers, irrational about the righteousness of their life’s project, ahead of their time and quirky. “If those traits are good enough for the ultimate Hall of Fame, the history book,” asks Peters, “why aren’t they good enough for our finance department?” Brand You will not shine based on a series of mediocre completed projects. Brand You will shine when you transform menial tasks into meaningful projects that move your whole organization forward.
7. Gauge the WOWness of your project. Can’t tell if your project is WOW project? Peters would ask: “is it a performance, an act unbridled passion, memorable, a signature piece, a plunge into the unknown, exhausting, a growth experience?” If not, start digging deeper. Reframe the task, ask others how they’d change it, think about how employees in other departments (and other fields) would approach it, and hit your mental whiteboards.
8. Link the project to a grander vision that gets passionate people on board. Once you’ve got a potential WOW project on your hands, you need to sell it. Get others fired up so they’re motivated to give you their very best (as opposed to just following their boss’ orders). Make this project “the place to be” – an awesome project with an awesome team.
When your work truly matters, your results will naturally be remarkable. When your results are remarkable, your personal brand will speak for itself. When your personal brand speaks for itself, ideal opportunities will start finding you with less effort on your part.
Your projects should matter. Your projects define you. Start using the tips above to turn “Okay, boss” projects into “WOW” projects that forever make your brand worthy of remark.
Pete Kistler is a leading Online Reputation Management expert for Generation Y, a top 5 finalist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of 2009, one of the Top 30 Definitive Personal Branding Experts on Twitter, a widely read career development blogger, and a Judge for the 2009 Personal Brand Awards. Pete manages strategic vision for Brand‐Yourself.com, the first online reputation management platform for job applicants, named one of the Top 100 Most Innovative College Startups in the U.S.