The In-Betweeners

You know, I think I have a very good work-life balance. I spend enough hours in the office that I think we’re accomplishing things. I do lots of private work-like things (writing here, reading the right blogs and twitter, participating in the online conversation, writing books, and the evening networking schedule) that are in the middle between work and leisure. And I have plenty of free time still to relax at home, or go out.

There is a graduation in my life between what is totally work (the office) and what is totally leisure (blobbing out at home or being with friends).

Having that graduation is a vital determinant of how well I can perform in the workplace.

For example, as an innovator, I really need to know what’s going on in the mobile phone market or what people think the next big trend is going to be. As a manager, I really need to the latest thinking which comes out of various thought leaders. And as someone who is responsible for a technical architecture team, it is important that I have at least a remote clue about what’s going on in that space.

These are all things I get in the in-between that’s in the middle between real work and real leisure. I am in a competition with my peers in each of these areas to know what’s going on, and I can’t have a rational conversation with them unless I am at least as up to date as they are.

Conversely, if they know more than me, is it reasonable I should have any rights to be part of the decision making for which they are clearly more expert?

Being as up to date as possible is table stakes now.

The In-betweeners (a name i just dreamt up, by the way) seem to be way more up to date, and way more able to have a reasonable conversation about the way things are likely to turn out.

But there are lots of people who don’t have an in-between. They do work, and they do leisure. There is no fine graduation between the two. Theirs is the Work-Life balance argument. The moment the office is left, take physical steps to make sure that work can’t interrupt at all. Turn off the devices. Shut down the email. Don’t take a phone call. And under no circumstances read anything at all that might have worky-like overtones.

Let me not for one moment make judgements about that lifestyle choice, which is perfectly valid. I mean, I probably do have fewer family and other commitments than most to which I must assign time. Although, there are some colleagues of mine who have very large families and who still manage to keep up, so I don’t know why I’m making that excuse, actually.

But let us not spend 2010 pretending that there isn’t a difference in performance between those who are up to date and those who aren’t.

2010 is going to be a performance – not an experience – competition. That’s why I said the other day that I think people who are connected are going to get all the rewards this year. It’s going to be about making things happen, and that means you need an in-between.

Because making things happen is not a 9 to 5 job any more. The conversation continues 24 x 7. Some of those conversations have unusual levels of significance.

I think it is possible to find a personally appropriate in-between that lets you participate whilst continuing to live a full life in the outside world. And I also think that those who don’t are going to get marginalised as their peers step up.

Update: Shane Dillon comments on the davepress blog that I “appropriated” the term “In-Betweener”. That made me check Google, and he’s right. The term actually refers to a Marvel Comics superhero. The wiki entry makes interesting reading, and is quite apt given the subject of my post.

4 Responses to“The In-Betweeners”

  1. January 6, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    I think that the absence of a clear cut frontier between private and work life used to be a specific trait of entrepreneurs. But, as you do, I think a greater proportion of the population will now live in a less clear cut world as well. We talk of multitasking for the younger generation in their private lives, but this is what could happen to a large part of the workplace. We will not only have a larger share of our life allocated to "in-between" activities, but we will also have multiple streams of activities that could be qualified as work (in-house and external professional projects).

  2. January 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    I've been thinking about this a bit, as I'm an inbetweener. Is it a return to the pre industrial modes of working?
    Back in the day, a blacksmith didn't have a clear line between work and home. They worked from home, usually for people they knew well, and worked when there was work to be done. They also worked on the mix of things (paid and not) that they thought mattered the most.
    I like the inbetweener life: it lets me leave work early in the afternoon, pick up the kids as school and spend two hours wandering home via the cafes on Acland St, only to do a couple of hours work at home. Work happens when and where it needs too.
    Work-life balance (and the clear divide between home and work) seems to be a recent invention. I'm not sure it's a good one either.
    That said, did you see the recent article in New Scientist on the Peter Principle (rising to the level of your own incompetence). It makes you think about performance and experienced based promotion.

  3. January 7, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    Frederic, Peter
    Most of the feedback has been pretty supportive of this in-betweener thing. I have, of course, had a few private and (not so private) communications warning of the dangers of "exploitation" of workers. The idea of that is that if you are forced to be an in-betweener (because everyone else is doing it) then you are having your right to switch off taken away.
    I don't necessarily agree, because we always have the right to switch off.
    Anyway, being an in-betweener is fun!
    I think it a pity when people don't find pleasure in the things they have to do for work. Maybe they need to find new things to do career wise?

  4. January 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    We spend so much of our waking hours at work, that if we're not having fun then I don't know why we're doing it!

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