Great Work

Summary Written by Martina McGowan

The Big Idea

We are Each Capable of Doing Great Work

"The role of a difference maker is available to everyone."- Great Work, page 3

Every person is capable of doing great work. Sturt defines great work as, “making a difference that people love.” But, most often, we do not. He has nothing against good work. Great work stands on the shoulders of good work. Doing good work is about taking something and making it better.

We live in a world that defines most of us by our work. We can choose to do so-so, good, or great work. We can first make the move toward doing great work by refusing to hide behind the usual excuse that it’s not our problem.

In order to make a difference that is valuable, important, doesn’t make more work, and is something that people love, difference-makers tap into two important aspects of their personalities. They:

Think (or see) differently: They must think and see with their mind’s eye, from a new perspective, in different, sometimes unusual combinations.


Act differently: They must choose to take action and wander into new and uncharted territory.

Working on this book could not have come at a more opportune moment. I could clearly see what needed to happen in order to re-imagine our training process, turning it into something people love, while accomplishing the intended goals. Additionally, I could understand why no one else in the room would have come to the same conclusion.

Every industry has new rules, regulations, guidelines and standards coming into play. If we fall behind, everyone will pay. So, a mental shift has to occur from, “It’s not my responsibility,” to “How can we make this better for everyone?” How do we get from so-so, to good, to great work?

Insight #1

Think (or See) Differently

"If you look at how your work affects others, at how relationships work, at what others want and need, you will see things you don't see when you are just going through the motions."- Great Work, page 4

Most people work in environments where their jobs are defined by a paper job description with specific limitations. We are being called to think on a grander scale, and do what Sturt refers to as job-crafting. Making a mental shift that we aren’t locked in predefined boxes and that things can change. Freedom to think that you can make bigger connections to a brighter future for everyone. One of the keys to great work is an unselfish ambition for improvement.

It’s about visualizing the value you bring to your job, even if you think it is unglamorous. This reframing involves altering the boundaries of our job descriptions in ways that make our jobs more meaningful and substantive.

My job is not to write code, or figure out communications strategies, but this issue seems to sit on the cusp of good customer service, and I do have extensive experience in that. Additionally, I blog and have some other related skills and interests that can be brought to bear. We need to reframe who we are viewing as our main customer.

Begin seeing yourself as part of something greater, and being able to influence your world.

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Insight #2

Act Differently

"... we cannot become the difference makers we were meant to be until we leave the comfort of base camp and 'get on the wall."- Great Work, page 163

Through ongoing studies and social experiments, Sturt found that there are five skills that are available to everyone who chooses to make a difference. They are asking the right questions, seeing for yourself, talking to members outside of your immediate group, improving the process and of course, and delivering the goods. The way to make a difference is to activate these skills in your life.

In addition to listening to our hunches, we need to pause to look at processes. Is it good, or just good enough? We step into this pause to ask why the status quo is the way it is, and why doesn’t someone do something about it.

The questions aren’t grand. It’s usually a simple question nagging at your brainstem that you cannot let go of.

Questions like:

  • Why can’t Johnny read any better? (Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss)
  • What would happen if we changed the process?
  • How come IT can’t help us with this?

We all have hunches, intuitions, feelings about how something can be changed, but we have been taught to blow them off. And, we have a unique life perspective, filled with work experience, family, life experiences, hobbies, other interests and pursuits, that make our lens on the problem unique, as is the solution that comes to us.

We can take the things we are good at and tease at the edges of the problem for some connection and come up with distinctive solutions. Crazy, but brilliant, doable solutions.

One of my favorite stories involves Martin Cooper of Motorola. When tasked with making the next generation of car-phone, he asked the simple sounding question, “Why is it that when I want to call a person, I have to call a place?” This question turned a whole industry on its head.

Wayne Gretsky. Everyone knows his famous quote, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” But few people know the story behind it. As a child, he sat and watched games and plotted out the movements of the puck long before he became a hockey celeb.

Or Eiji, thinking to put a “kingfisher beak” on the bullet trains in Osaki to get rid of the almost sonic boom caused every time the trains entered the tunnels. How? Because one of his outside interests was Ornithology.

Our work lives and our “real” lives do not have to be so compartmentalized. We can all continue to do so-so work, waiting for someone else to chime in, but we each have it within us to do great work. We each have unique skill-sets and experiences.

You’ve got some thorny issues floating around that everyone is putting up with; hoping they will disappear of their own accord. You have a few hunches about how to make a dent in the problem, if not resolve it. Now you have some help. In David Sturt’s book, you have a well-written resource, with actionable steps at the end of each chapter that will help you bring to light what you already have inside of you.

You have mad skills. Step into the terra incognito. Set a goal to raise the bar on what is possible. You have great work to do.

Read the book

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David Sturt

David Sturt is an Executive Vice President of the O.C. Tanner Company. His career began in market research, where he analyzed the impact of recognition on people and their work. In the two decades since, he has developed products and services that engage employees, inspire contribution, and reward outstanding results in organizations around the world. He regularly consults with Fortune 1000 leaders and speaks to audiences worldwide. He has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Human Capital, and is a guest contributor for

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