Throughout my professional journey in the past decade, moving from non-profits to Government, to private sector, from working with start-ups and entrepreneurs to large corporations, then back to “start-up land”, and above all – building my own business – I have noticed and gathered various insights on today’s world of work and on-demand economy. So, I decided to share some of them with the community.

This time: The gold is in the gray

In many service-based businesses, there’s a very basic way for growth: ‏you need to proactively come up with a new added value, one that your customer actually cares about, and offer your customer that new added value (for the first time, maybe even for free). Once you have introduced a new, better reality for your customer – explain that in order to maintain this new output, you need more input. If that added value is actually relevant for your customer, and if they can afford it – most likely, they would want to, and that’s how you grow.

Given my overview on today’s world of work, even if you are a salary based employee – as a business unit, you should act in the same way.  Your workplace is your market, and you are a business unit within it.

So, how does your “market” in the office looks like? Most likely, like “bubbles”, with space in between them. In many (every?) workplaces, people tend to establish their comfort zone overtime. Then, they tend to “fortify” themselves in them. Comfort zones almost never overlap. However, there’s almost always a space in between them. I call this space “the gray.” What’s in it? Many tasks and responsibilities no one is interested in. They are under no one’s responsibilities. Some of them are known. Many are not. And quite often, you can actually create and develop some.

This “gray” is exactly where your opportunity lies. That’s where the “gold” is. The gold is in the gray.

You, the office, comfort zones and “the gray.”

Since the tasks and responsibilities in the gray are effectively abandoned, when you pick any of them up – you raise almost no objection. By making them your responsibility over time, you actually grow your circle of influence, and grab them into your comfort zone. Now, if you picked some that your employer actually cares about, you could emphasize to them that for you to keep up the new output (the new tasks and responsibilities you took), you will need more input (budget, salary, promotion)!

What’s even more interesting about this strategy – you don’t have to only pick tasks and responsibilities that your employer cares about, you can actually cherry-pick the ones that are interesting and relevant for you!

You see, in the old “employee” state-of-mind, you are not paid to do this, so “why should you”… However, under the “business unit” state-of-mind, you strategically think to yourself what would you like to get paid to do, cross your answers with what your employer cares to be done, and “voila” – there’s your career growth path!

This strategy worked for me more than once in the past. But the key element is – you have to understand no once will give you anything. you need to create it yourself. You need to biz-dev your way into your career growth.

Expanding your infulence by adopting the “gold” in the “gray.”

So bottom line, if you are looking to grow inside the office, here’s my advise:

  1. Get off your comfort zone.
  2. Start observing and exploring the “gray” within people’s comfort zones.
  3. Identify responsibilities and tasks that are hidden in the “gray.”
  4. Focus on the ones that you would be interested in doing, given your skills, capabilities, experience, chance for success – and passion and interest!
  5. From those, select the ones that you believe are valuable to your employer.
  6. Make sure that they are actually valuable to your employer. You have to diminish a pain for them, one that they actually care about enough. This is a really important stage.
  7. Start doing something about them, up to a phase where you are on the verge of doing actual changes, and putting a lot of work to it.
  8. Communicate to your employer what you did, and the new reality you can create for them (i.e. the plan you wrote, the demo you developed, and the impact this generates).
  9. “Sell them the project” – make them want it!
  10. Explain to them that if we want to do this seriously – you will need more budget/salary/staff/resources etc.

“Priceless diamonds often shape in worthless dirt.” – Matshona Dhliwayo