The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


It’s Not Cool To Say, But Nothing Comes Without Graft* …

As you know, I love the band Queen.

Yes, spare me the insults, I’ve heard them all before.

Anyway, I was recently reading an interview with Roger Taylor about his 50 years in the band and there was a response to one question that caught my eye. It was this:

The bit that specifically stood out was when he says:

“But when you’re young, you’d better be arrogant and have big dreams, because it’s not going to happen by accident”.

I found that sentence interesting for a number of reasons.

One is that Queen were always criticised by the music press as being ‘too ambitious’.

As if they had a a masterplan for World domination that they were executing bit by bit.

Now they definitely wanted to be huge – Roger says that in the interview – but apart from the fact, pretty much every band wants to be successful to a degree, these accusations neatly side step some key things.

First is, there isn’t a masterplan.

A guarantee of success.

Yes, there’s some elements that increase the odds of it, but nothing certain.

Second, if you were aiming for World domination, writing songs like Bohemian Rhapsody would literally not be part of the plan.

Of course, ironically this helped them get there, but even their record company didn’t want to release that song because it was so against the approach the music industry tended to follow.

If you want to talk about a band that was designed for World domination, you can throw that far more at melodic mainstream masters, Abba, more than Queen.

But even if Queen did have some fictional blueprint to guarantee the future success, all the barbs thrown at them ignore some of the critical elements they would have needed to stand any chance of achieving it.

Talent.
Songs.
Luck.

Whether you like Queen or not, you’d be hard pressed to say they didn’t have that.

You might not like the songs. You may not like their musicianship. You might not like their performances.

But you have to admit they had that.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Underpinning those critical attributes the band hand …
Underpinning the ambition to be a hugely successful rock band …
Underpinning the “when you’d better have big dreams” attitude.

… is something we don’t seem to want to talk about any more.

Graft.

Putting in the effort. The commitment. Trying and learning.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting people should put themselves in a position where their mental health is impacted.

And I absolutely accept companies have exploited people’s ambition to serve their own purposes.

But treating ‘graft’ as if it is the enemy is wrong.

A quick look at Corporate Gaslighting tells you that where mental health is concerned, it’s not simply about the volume of work you are expected to do, but what the work is and how the people around you, treat you and it.

Yet that contextual part is rarely talked about …

Many companies talk about mental health through the singular lens of volume … and while a more cynical person could suggest that is so they can remove all other elements of the job – like training etc – to ensure every second available is spent on paid work, I would never suggest such a thing.

Which is why I’m bothered the word ‘graft’ has been seemingly removed from our lexicon.

Tainted when the reality is, it’s important.

Because graft is about learning, exploring, growing.

It’s personal. An act designed to help you improve rather than just make you do more.

That’s very different to the term agencies and companies seem perfectly OK with …

Hustle.

Hustle is far more damaging in my mind.

Hustle is about speed. Additional workloads. Never stopping.

Hustle is the opposite of graft.

An activity designed to fulfil the needs of others [read: managers], not yours.

I think in our quest to deal with mental health, companies have got everything the wrong way around.

Mental health is not about relinquishing ambition.

Mental health is not about abdicating hunger.

Mental health is about feeling you are growing, encouraged, supported and heard rather than just continually giving your energy, taking orders, listening to demands, being offered zero flexibility and being expected to do whatever is asked in increasingly shorter timeframes.

I passionately believe people don’t mind grafting.

I passionately believe people don’t mind working hard for something they care about.

I passionately believe people don’t even mind if their graft doesn’t always result in the perfect outcome. Disappointment maybe but not devastation … at least not if it’s something they still found fulfilling.

What they are sick of is having their progress defined by how much they hustle.
What they are sick of is having their career measured in energy rather than value.
What they are sick of is having their development dictated by workload not training.
What they are sick of is having their needs ignored in favour endless client demands.

If we want our industry to offers dynamic careers rather than repetitive jobs, we better understand people need to feel they can progress and grow through other means than mindless mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.

Roger Taylor is right things don’t happen by accident.

You rarely get to great without pushing yourself.

Athletes don’t just wake up and can run personal bests.

Chefs don’t just wake up and can cook the finest cuisine.

Drummers don’t just wake up and write a number one song.

But by the same token …

Athletes don’t run personal bests writing endless presentations no one reads. Chefs don’t cook the finest cuisine just because they work 12 hour shifts everyday and weekend. And drummers don’t just wake up and write a number one songs because they wait for hours on end for their boss to come out the office ‘just in case’ they need them to do something before they go home.

Yes, progress takes hard fucking work, but when you’re doing it in ways – and with people – who share your goal, rather than just want to exploit it, it has a very different impact on you and your wellbeing.

I believe this is possible to do in this industry. I believe we have people who want to work fucking hard to grow and develop. I even believe progress does not have to come with the devastating cost it has in the past.

Some sacrifices, maybe. But not mental destruction.

However, as long as we continue signing contracts that allow our people to be at the whim of clients regardless of what they need … and then promote people based on volume of work rather than quality of it, then all we’re doing is fucking everybody over.

[There’s going to be a post in a few weeks about career plans and how companies make a big deal of them but few actually live up to them. In other words, they sell the illusion of structure but it’s generally made of sand. And then they wonder why employees are disillusioned]

So while I believe one thing we should do is place mental health protection guideline in all contracts – as clients rightfully do with diversity demands – I think another major step is having adland kill the hustle and start valuing the graft.

_________________________________________________________________________

* Unless you’re from a rich family and can have whatever you want without effort.

Or you’re white …

Where you still have to work but you have a bunch of immediate advantages.

And if you’re a white male, you have hit the jackpot in terms of getting a leg-up.


15 Comments

Knowing me. Knowing you. Aha.

Comment by Bjorn

Queen. Bloody queen.

Comment by Bazza

I think the issue is people are expected to put their energy into areas that have little to do with their job. It exhausts them and undermines their ability at the moment they are expected to do their core job.

Comment by George

100% Jobs are more about managing politics than improving standards and craft.

Comment by Rob

more like managing the career of the wanker they work into.

Comment by andy@cynic

This is very good, even though there’s an American definition of graft that is the opposite of what you’re writing about.

The keys, as you say, are mentorship and the valuing of outcomes ahead of process and presenteeism. Both of which require humility and vulnerability on the part of management.

Now ths could lead me to a third definition of graft where new shoots are allowed to grow on an established plant. But I’m not a planner. So it doesn’t.

Comment by John

Hustle is a nice way for companies to say they want to destroy people.

Comment by DH

they dont want to destroy them. they want to control them. make them complicit to the shit they do so they cant get called out or challenged. its fucking dark evil shit. like planning and planners.

Comment by andy@cynic

Well said Andrew.

Comment by Lee Hill

This.

Hustle.
Hustle is far more damaging in my mind.
Hustle is about speed. Additional workloads. Never stopping.
Hustle is the opposite of graft.
An activity designed to fulfil the needs of others [read: managers], not yours.

Comment by Pete

Mental health is affected more by the culture of hustle than graft. This is a great post Rob.

Comment by Pete

Exactly.

Comment by George

its way too fucking long campbell, but when i get past the bullshit about queen and all the other planner bollocks youre spouting. theres a lot of good in this. which means theres a bunch of shit the corporate c suite wankers would choke on which is the best fucking outcome this blog could achieve.

Comment by andy@cynic

Another excellent post Robert. You raise so many good points that are rarely discussed within companies. Maybe that is intentional, ensuring employees do a lot but personally progress very little.

Comment by Lee Hill

I just wanna do the shit that I wanna do as good as I can do it and as long as I can do it for but people keep making me do the things I don’t want to do for as long as I can do it until I don’t want to do it enough to tell them I quit doing it. Fun times.

Comment by Vince




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