Snow Day Thoughts on Identity and Fun at Work

I am blogging away between power outages in the latest snow and ice storm in Georgia. Not the Georgia near Russia, where you expect stuff like snow and ice storms, but America Georgia. So before the lights go out again, some thoughts on my mind:

“So, what do you do?”

Has a more dreadful question ever been asked?

Easy for you, doe-eyed unpaid intern at Globocon. “I’m in — uhhh — Web marketing. For the summer.” Or my oldest son, attending an expensive business school: “I am in B-school at (expensive business school).” That’s it. Simple. Even for me, at least it was back in the days when I had a real job: “Lawyer and HR guy at Coke, blah blah blah.”

These days, however, in Independent Contractor America, most people don’t have a single, career-defining role. If we are lucky enough to be working, it is often in a “portfolio” career — “Web designer/blogger/substitute teacher/pet sitter.” A mouthful.

That is OK. Being defined as a worker-unit rather than a human being is an existential black hole. It is also fraught with very real psychological risk. Sooner or later you won’t have that job. You won’t be assistant controller at the Ho-Ho factory anymore; you will be plain old Bill to your friends and family. So get comfortable with Bill, and don’t ignore his growth and development. Find a calling, something I have written about before. Discover a hobby. Start blogging and pet sitting — I don’t care, just be something more than your job. If you don’t, once the Ho-Ho factory gets sold to the Death Lizards you will cease to exist in many ways. Not good.

Now this is a Great Place to Work

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post ridiculing the “Top Places to Work” list from Forbes magazine. A lot of you liked it, and I appreciate you making it the most viewed article of the week on Talent Management’s website.

My oh-so-tolerant editor, Ladan Nikravan, gently reminded me the other day that some companies really do seem like great places to work, without PR hacks getting them placed on bogus top 10 lists. One, apparently, is Netflix. How do Ladan and I know? They have a sense of humor, and their customers love them for it.

As reported by Tom Cheredar on the techie website VB,“Netflix subscriber Norm contacted the company about a problem he was having with an episode of ‘Parks and Rec.’ In the middle of the episode, the video player would get stuck in a ‘temporal loop’ that continuously played the last three seconds — (sort of like an unintentional YTMND page). Netflix service rep Michael responded by introducing himself as ‘Captain Mike of the good ship Netflix’ and then asked which member of the crew he was speaking with. ‘Lieutenant’ Norm took the bait, responding as if he was a ranking Star Fleet officer from ‘Star Trek.’ With the exception of the first two lines, neither side broke character for the duration of the conversation.” Check out the entire exchange here. Apparently, according to Cheredar, this sort of thing happens a lot at Netflix. Makes me want to call customer support right now.

I am not a “Trekkie” (although I did enjoy the William Shatner version on TV when I was a kid because it was the only show we could get in color on our Zenith), but I know that any company that gives its employees the freedom to have fun is a great place to work by my definition.

Now, time to call Georgia Power to get the lights back on. Any chance Captain Kirk will answer?