What’s the equation for doing great work?

There are so many elements that go into building a great career but what are those elements and how do you keep them in the right balance to be successful? In this episode, we will explore how craft, originality, impact, joy and other variables can come together to define your career, you work and your happiness.

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Just because I record this podcast doesn’t mean that I have all the answers. Far from it. I am going on a journey through my career just the same as all of you. As I go through this journey I learn new things, question old things and figure out new things along the way. One of the biggest things I have struggled with over the course of my career has been figuring out the right ratio of the parts of a creative process to do great work and be happy doing it. I started to explore this topic in more depth back when I dedicated a whole episode to happiness all the way back in episode 27. It has remained a topic that I have been focusing on because of my new job where I am working with so many amazing teams who are also trying to figure this out.

I knew I wasn’t alone in this struggle as I get emails all the time from people who tell me how frustrated they are in their jobs. They say that I talk about creativity, design and leadership in ways they have heard about but never experienced. So it’s a subject I have continued to think about, reflect on and try to figure out. Thanks to a series of recent conversations and some more thought I’ve made some progress and started to figure something out. This episode is a supplement and enhancement to what I said back in episode 27 in the hopes of expanding on the topic.

The equation

There are a lot of possible reason and factors that can go into figuring out how to do great work and be happy while you do it. Here is the best formula I have been able to come up with to start to figure it out. And keep in mind that when I am doing math and figuring out formulas then things are going to start getting really interesting.

Work = craft x originality x impact + joy

I put a lot of thought and reasoning behind each of these elements so let’s look at them one at a time.


Craft is your process to create your ideas including the more traditional artisan definition of craft in how you use your tools but also how you go about your work.

Craft = knowledge x attention to detail

Knowledge = Learning your tools to the point where they become transparent

Attention to detail = on the path to being a master craftsperson who sweats all the details

For me, everything starts with and should always stay grounded in our craft


Originality is your ability to use and grow your creative process.

Originality = creativity x growth

Creativity = Your ability to understand how you have ideas and summon your creativity on demand

Growth = Your ability to create new ideas, things, relationships and more.

Ultimately you need to know your work tomorrow is better than your work today


Impact is your ability to solve problems and make a difference with the people you care about.

Impact = problems solved / customers + team + company

Problems solved = are you making a difference

Are you making an impact with these groups of people
– The impact of your work on your companies customers
– The impact you have on helping to support, work with and grow your team
– The impact you have on your company


Joy is your ability to love what you do and be happy while you are doing it.

Joy = teamwork + passion + love

Teamwork = Have a supportive group of people who make you and your work better

Passion = Your work is more than just a paycheck

Love = Emotional connection to your work and team

You may be asking why joy and not happiness and is there a difference? Of all the parts of the equation this is the one part I have personally struggled with the most so it is the part I thought about the most. The thing that I’ve realized is that happiness is a transient state – a target. Once you hit it, you raise the bar and are no longer happy. Once I realized that happiness was a transient state and not the thing I should be concentrating on I started to study myself to figure out what I was missing. It was joy.

Much like the distinction between honesty and candor, there is a subtle but importance between happiness and joy. Joy is something I have been lucky enough to find in a few of my job.
But I have also struggled as there have been a few that stripped it form me. Joy is loving what you do in big and small ways every day.

Other variables

As we all know it isn’t as simple as you work on all of these elements are you are a world class rock star. There are other things that can influence the formula for better and worse.


Can have a huge effect on parts of this equation


Can be a great help to figuring out your equation

Making peace with yourself

Often misdiagnosed as lack of confidence

Negative influences

Could be clients, critics, trolls and more


The things that go into each part of this equation will change over time

Everyone else involved in your process

You also have to realize and know that you don’t do this work in a vacuum.

Final thought

This equation is meant to be a starting point and not a final answer. Spend some time to think about what are the things that need to go in your equation. What are the thing that make you happy at and with your work?

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