As Michael Bungay Stanier explains, "This book is the sum of my work with thousands of people around the world as a coach and facilitator. It uses just fifteen key tools - conceptual maps to help you identify what really matters to you, what drives the choices and the actions you take, and how you can get onto a path to more creative, motivated, and inspired work that's good for you and for those you work for." Presumably some purpose-driven people can be happy, content, and fulfilled by obtaining great wealth, power, etc.
As I worked my way through Stanier's narrative, I was again reminded of Teresa Amabile's admonition, "Do what you love and love what you do." In her various writings, she also stresses the importance of having a purpose that includes but is not limited to achieving personal goals. For Dave and Ulrich, this means "the why of work." For Simon Sinek, it suggests the imperative to "start with why." Stanier joins the discussion when expressing the first of six "Great Work Paradoxes": You don't need to save the world but you do need to make a difference...a positive, productive, beneficial difference. More about the other paradoxes later.
Stanier invokes the journey as his central metaphor and presents his information, observations, insights, cautions, caveats, and recommendations within the framework of a journey that involves both sustained effort (e.g. reflection, completing separate but interrelated exercises, maintaining commitment and focus) and significant discovery (i.e. revelations of what really is -- and isn't -- most important). The ultimate objective is to Do More Great Work. This is not a destination because the journey of discovery should never end until one's life does.
The reader is asked to complete a series of exercises in a sequence of 15 Maps, each posing a question. The first, logically enough, asks "Where are you now?" because "you need to know your starting point" and the last asks "Lost your Great Work mojo?" if and when "you wander off the oath." The 15 Maps are organized within Seven Parts: Laying the Foundation, Seeds of Your Great Work, Uncovering Your Great Work, Pick a Project, Create New Possibilities, Your Great Work Plan, and finally, Continuing Your Great Work Journey. It is important to note that Stanier immediately establishes and then sustains a direct, personal rapport with his reader and throughout the "journey" serves several different functions: instructor, mentor, travel agent, bodyguard, cheerleader, and for some of the "pilgrims" who read this book, he also serves as a mirror that offers reflections that may be unpleasant to behold.
With regard to the map exercises, Stanier offers four tips: (1) make them yours, (2) find five minutes in your day to work on them, (3) use the maps in the order that makes the most sense to you, and (4) don't worry abut getting everything perfect. As for the "Six Great Work Paradoxes," the first asserts that "you don't need to save the world" but " you do need to make a difference," followed by Great Work Can Be Either Public or Private, Great Work Is Both Needed and Not Wanted, Great Work Is Both Easy Difficult, Great Work Is About Doing What's Meaningful But Not Always About Doing It Well, and finally, Great Work Can Take a Moment or It Can Take a Lifetime. Here's my take:
1. Start now.
2. Do the best you can.
3. Keep doing the best you can.
4. Expect surprises.
5. If you get knocked down, get back up.
6. Keep going.
7. Review 3-6.
This is a visually stimulating book, with the material well-organized and exercises clearly explained. That said, I should also suggest that it really will require a great deal of rigorous thinking and therefore I strongly recommend that key passages be highlighted and reviewed frequently. Actually, this is not a book; it's a WORKbook. Bon voyage!