Good work isn’t enough

Good work isn’t enough. – Cognition: The blog of web design & development firm Happy Cog.


When I was a young designer, I always asked other people how they got noticed for their work. The answer I most consistently received was “do good work.” Now, when people ask me the same question, I respond with the same answer. Good work always speaks for itself. It’s a self-promoting robot.

If you work in an agency or web department within an organization, let’s shift that perspective from promoting your work to being considered for a promotion. Doing good work is a smaller part of the equation. My experience has demonstrated that most of the great opportunities go to people with magical attitudes. Maintaining a great attitude is far from automatic. It takes real skill to keep it positive.

While we largely deal in a world of computer interactions, it’s the personal interactions you have with your colleagues, peers, and managers that truly shape your destiny. The amazing grid structure you implemented, the engaging presentation you gave, or the sleek JavaScript you wrote won’t stick in people’s minds as much as the time you praised someone for an amazing effort or (gasp) threw someone under the bus to make yourself shine.

For better or worse, I’ve been in the position to influence the professional growth and development of many talented people. My experience is that people who achieve the most success share one or more of these qualities, in no particular order:

  • They are humble. Their success doesn’t consume them.
  • They are on time. On time for work, on time for meetings, on time for the train. They hate wasting their own time, and as a byproduct, anyone else’s.
  • They always appreciate what they have. And as a result, they usually get more.
  • They are universally respectful—to their friends, their boss, or to the person that makes their sandwich for lunch.
  • They don’t let work consume them.
  • They make sacrifices for the benefit of others.
  • They are patient.
  • They put in the extra effort when it’s needed, without any strings attached.
  • They resolve issues or conflicts directly.
  • They respectfully push back. It’s easy to push back. To do so with respect takes skill.
  • They trust their colleagues.

The truth is, I have hired people based on their attitudes alone, and it’s rarely been a bad move. People who have positive attitudes want to learn. People with great technical skills and lousy attitudes may find themselves combing through LinkedIn before they know it.

You know those passionate locker room speeches by sports coaches pounding the importance of winning attitudes in the heads of athletes? Yep, heard them a million times. But they’re not doing it to create drama. They’re doing it because they’ve learned firsthand what contributes to success.

I, for one, plan on making 2013 the year I take a step back and look at how my attitude is absorbed and affects the others around me. And I’ll adjust accordingly. And if you consider doing the same, you might be surprised by the doors that open for you.

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