What Do You Do?

What Do You Do?

During a recent keynote speech at the Annenberg School For Communication at USC, I emphasized to a gathering of students and alumni that they should use great care when characterizing what they do for a living.

For instance, if you label yourself a writer, in some circumstances you’ll be lucky to be paid a dollar per word, upon publication. That’s not bad if your are syndicated widely. But if they are not, you’re seeking starvation wages.

I mentioned one of my most successful “writings” is a conversational path that I penned a number of years ago. By my admittedly imprecise metric, it has been “performed” in more than a billion phone conversations.

Consisting mainly of a scientifically crafted four lines of text, about fifty words, it, along with the training programs I have devised to explain and teach it, has produced seven figures of earnings for me, and perhaps one hundred times or a thousand times more value for my immediate clients.

Imitators have latched onto it and have prospered with it, so much that I’m sure you have heard a variation of my text several times from your bank, mobile phone service provider, and utility company, to name a few common users.

My point is that I didn’t craft this call path as a “writer.”

I composed it as a consultant, keenly interested in raising the productivity and contribution of customer service personnel. My four lines redesigned the work of tens of thousands of people, making their conversations about 25% shorter, and measurably better.

This writing creates profits. It cuts costs. It retains customers.

How you characterize yourself and your contribution will inform to a large extent what you are permitted to do, occupationally, and how much you are paid for it.

As I stated, I trained people to use my script. That makes me a “trainer,” correct?

But if I sell my services as a trainer I’ll make a fraction of that which is paid to “consultants.” And if I call myself a “teacher,” I’ll make less than a trainer commands.

A very helpful, seminal discussion on a related topic was launched many moons ago by one of my professors, revered management guru Peter F. Drucker. He asked executives to regularly consider and to reconsider this question:

“What business are you in?”

Railroads, according to Drucker, mischaracterized their mission as being in the rail business. That contributed to being eclipsed by trucking and by airlines.

Had they re-characterized themselves as being in the “transportation” business they might have adapted to changing technologies and booming demand.

“What do you do?” is a common ice-breaker that we ask and hear when we meet people. Your answer should be very carefully considered, because its impacts will do more than stimulate or impair that chat.

You could be unwittingly opening or narrowing your occupational and financial horizons.