Are You A Workaholic Or An Outlier?


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Workaholics are the one kind of “aholic” that society values. In fact, many people are proud to call themselves workaholics, thinking that it makes them seem more like a valued employee. Workaholism is hardly ideal. It’s definitely not great to be obsessed with your work at the expense of your other interests and loved ones. We all know what happened to Jack: This tendency to work, work, work makes all of us dull boys (or girls). True workaholics are even worse than dull, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

There are quite a few people that became workaholics when the Great Recession hit a few years ago. The shadow of downsizing inspired many employees to crank it into another gear of productivity just to keep the job.

But even before the great recession threatened all of us with downsizing, societal pressures drove us to work hard and make more money in the “pursuit of happiness”, despite all the evidence that tells us that more money simply doesn’t make you happier. In fact, experts have determined that once a family earns $75,000 per year, there is usually no increase to their happiness with each successive dollar But that didn’t stop workers from trying to prove them wrong.

As a business owner I like my team to work hard but not at the expense of their family life. I have always looked at this as ‘swings and roundabouts’, what you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts. There are times when I expect my team to work long hours if we are to achieve a deadline. To me it also shows how Customer centric we are as the team wish to do a good job for our clients. I also believe it shows commitment to our company and their colleagues. But I also expect for the team to get ‘paid back’. It’s important that it’s not all one way. We are lucky to work all over the world. When a colleague visits a different country to help a client improve their Customer Experience, I encourage them to take time off during working hours to explore their surroundings. It’s ‘swings and roundabouts’.

Workaholism is more than a witty answer to the question when a potential employer asks you to describe your worst fault in a job interview. Workaholism is a real condition for some people with detrimental consequences to their personal lives and health. Workaholics have a tendency to value work over everything else in their lives, putting it before family, friends, and any personal time or interests outside of work. Clinical workaholics have difficulties letting go in their “off time”, often obsessing about it even when they are not directly engaged with their work.

My wife Lorraine and I have argued about how much I work more than once, usually when she has caught me checking my phone for new emails for the fifth time in a half an hour. In some ways, particularly when I am caught like this, I agree with her. I value my work very highly and devote a huge amount of my time to making a success of it. I also have a hard time disengaging from my work in our off time together. This is a skill I have had to learn. However, I believe that I have a different kind of obsession born of a different kind of drive as I outlined in my post: What inspired me: The day I heard Pink Floyd.

Are you an Outlier?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers, which studies the behaviors of the super successful experts of their fields. An outlier is the scientific term for examples that fall outside the range of normal. Gladwell looks at these experts who by definition are “falling outside the range of normal” to see what makes them the way they are.

Gladwell’s findings make interesting reading. He asserts that it is both the role of opportunity and legacy that create these outliers. First the opportunity presents itself, sometimes by chance, which gives the outlier the outlet into which to channel their interest and practice. He cites the work of neurologist Daniel Levitin’s assertion that one must have a minimum of 10,000 hours on a subject in order to become an expert on it. Part of Gladwell’s opportunity phase for outliers is the availability of 10,000 hours required in order to earn their expertise. In the second phase, or the legacy phase, Gladwell studies how one’s environment and background foster the ability to achieve success and expertise. From relative age to education to socioeconomic background, these factors contribute greatly to an outlier’s path to success.

Outliers have earned their moniker by being outside the norm in their field. This is achieved, as I mentioned before by the 10,000 hours of study and immersion they have devoted to their fields. They know everything there is to know about their subject. In an interview on Anderson Cooper 360 °, Gladwell asserts that this 10,000 hours roughly translates into 10 years of experience in their field. Over that time they have thoroughly studied their subject, tested their theories, and sated their need to know more about every detail concerning their passion project.

Outliers are, in their essence, workaholics. But I would argue they are not the kind of workaholic that is popping pills to relieve stress and signing divorce papers while they are on a conference call. Outliers are a different kind of workaholic, one that is coined by Tim Gould, Editor of HR Morning: Engaged Workaholics.

Engaged Workaholics Create Outliers

Gould’s engaged workaholics differ from traditional workaholics in that they are devoted to their jobs simply because they love them. An engaged workaholic is at work because it doesn’t feel like work. They derive a lot of self-satisfaction from what they do, which they perceive as important. In addition, Gould’s engaged workaholic has healthy relationships with their family, a network of friends, and an occasional outside interest or two.

Morley Glicken, author of the book, Retirement for Workaholics: Life After Work in a Downsized Economy, supports the notion of engaged workaholics. He points out that there is a difference between a hard worker and a workaholic, although to a casual observer there may not appear to be. Hard workers can achieve more of a work/life balance, see work as a pleasure at times, derive no satisfaction by meeting an impossible demand, and can take a break when they need one. Workaholics can do none of the above.

The late Steve Jobs is an excellent example of a hard working, engaged workaholic. But Jobs was also an outlier. He was an expert in all things Apple and took the company to unparalleled heights during his reign. He was quoted as saying: “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Jobs did what he did because he loved it and in doing it became an outlier.
These new types of engaged workaholic/outliers add significant value to the workplace but they also change the world. Is there any question that the work of Steve Jobs changed the way technology influences our lives? Can anyone deny that the obsession of Job’s predecessor, inventor Alexander Graham Bell didn’t change the world with his telephone? And where would we be without the work of Taylor Swift, the teenage-girl-songwriter savant that has so clearly communicated the angst of being in a high-school romance that doesn’t work out?
Each of these people was or is an outlier because they put in the time and the hard work to become the expert. They are engaged workaholics that love what they do, so much so that they worked very hard at it for at least 10,000 hours.

A Team of Outliers on Customer Experience

I have been focused on Customer Experience since 1999. I believe I am an Outlier for Customer Experience. I have built my company, Beyond Philosophy, full of people who are already Outliers or heading that way. Each member of our team has a commitment to understanding the components of the customer experience, including the rational experience, the emotional experience, and the subconscious experience. We will help an organization to design the ideal customer experience for their business. We recently celebrated our 11th year in our field, which is incidentally one year more than Gladwell’s 10-year mark.

Our clients use our passion for the subject of their customer experience and rather than becoming a workaholic obsessed with becoming an expert in the customer experience, they hire us, the workaholics and experts in customer experience. I guess the message is, don’t be a workaholic – hire one!

Where do you fit? Are you a workaholic, outlier or an engaged workaholic?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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