What is Good Work?

October 15, 2012 10 Comments

“No good work is ever done while the heart is hot and anxious and fretted.” Olive Schreiner

I couldn’t agree more! We’re fond of a related quote that “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Bill O’Brien

I know that it’s hard for me to do good work when I’m fretful, exhausted or feeling insecure.

And, the assertion that you can’t do good work if you’re not in good shape internally has me mulling over the question “What is good work?”

As IISC enters our next chapter, I’m thinking more and more about how we define good work and how we will know when it’s happening. Here are a few thoughts about what makes work good:

  • Good work connects your values and your actions. It satisfies a craving to express your purpose, and to do that in ways that align intention and impact.
  • It’s about affecting the hearts and minds of individual people, and also about changing outcomes for groups of people.
  • It’s about connecting the dots among people and groups, strengthening relationships and networks.
  • Good work means making fundamental changes in how power is constructed and what’s considered normative.
  • It’s about reordering how business gets done or how institutions function.
  • It’s about redefining the “other” so that no one is outside our circle of concern

What would you add to this list? How do you describe good work? How do you know it when you see it?



  • Curtis says:

    Thanks for this, Cynthia. I would also add that good work is connected to the real and the tangible. Not so abstract. No derivatives. It sees, understands, and is responsible for consequences.

  • Curtis says:

    Another thought – good work adds value without knowingly robbing future generations of their prospects. It is not anthropocentric, and takes place in an awareness of nestedness within larger living systems.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Great additions, Curtis!

  • Gibran says:

    Appreciating each one of your definitions as well as Curtis’ additions.

    I think good work propels us forward, in the service of evolution itself. By this I mean that it “transcends and includes,” it implies a step up, a rise in altitude, a shift in perspective that is capable of including a previously held way of seeing.

    I think good work makes us more free, better able to have agency in shaping the creating the future and shaping the society in which we live.

    I think good work demands love and grows it.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    More great additions, G! Given our staff meeting yesterday about focusing our intentions, I’d love to see us continue to grow this list.

  • Ceasar says:

    Good work does not set out to do good. Good work sets out to foster honest relationships, build just communities, and promote peace

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks for this Ceasar. Sounds like the corrollary to the idea that happiness is a by product of meaningful action and right living. Good work is the byproduct of pursuing our highest intentions.

  • Jen willsea says:

    Good work brings out the best in people. Good work gives us a glimpse of what could be. Good work comes out of a root cause analysis, while understanding that we can’t do it all alone.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    I’m with you Jen, especially on the root cause analysis. Good work deals with real stuff and actually makes things fundamentally different and better.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks Barton.