The Blog Post on “Titles” Or “Why Elon embodies taking their work seriously but not themselves”
In case you missed it, here’s what happened with “Titles” at Tesla:
If your gut reaction is, “Yeah, titles are silly, created from the fiction-making mind of homo sapien, have limited shared world context, and are tied more to ego than skills and ability”, the rest of this blog post is not for you. Instead, create an instance of sobol.io and let us know what you think.
This blog post is for those of you who had the opposite reaction. The reaction that went something like “oh that Elon, making a mockery of everything….”
Before we deep-dive into the fallacy of titles, we want to show respect to Elon for “having fun at work.” We hear lots of people claim that they “take their work seriously but not themselves.” We find most of these people are lying to themselves and others. They will break down in tears when v1.1 of a slide deck gets emailed to an investor instead of v1.2. (I have seen this happen in real life from a grown man with children).
We can’t imagine there is a single person on this entire planet (maybe even in the history of human beings) that represents taking their work seriously but not themselves more than Elon. That being said, Elon’s re-titling has given us an opportunity to write a blog post on “Titles” at work.
Let’s focus on what’s “silly” with titles. First, and most importantly, titles are not what you actually do at work. Head of Marketing tells nobody what you are doing day-to-day. A reasonable person can surmise that you are accountable to “marketing-related activities” but even something as broad as marketing differs from company to company. What you actually do at work is fill roles, and those roles have accountabilities. You even probably have multiple roles across and within Teams.
Second, but maybe most importantly, Titles are “literally” not a real thing. You don’t have titles embedded in your DNA or on your microbes. Titles are “words” created to “give you” as part of your compensation/promotion/dopamine hit package.
Third (and maybe most importantly) everybody who has worked long enough knows that, inevitably, people get titled-up despite being incompetent. We all know that people with “titles” aren’t necessarily even good at their jobs! So why do we even care about titles? We can only surmise our ego is at play. I have more fun going on a date and telling someone I’m the COO of a company than the “title” I’ve given myself which is “Donatello”, as in the Ninja Turtle, because when I was a kid I always imagined myself as the Ninja Turtle Donatello (dreams do come true).
We’ve heard, “But if I want to change companies, how will another company know where they should level me?” Let’s answer this hypothetical question with another hypothetical question: Can you imagine a company saying, well, we can’t hire this Zach Kirkhorn, his role responsibilities included managing the finances of a company in the S&P 500, but ‘Master of Coin’ that title makes no sense to me.” Of course you can't imagine this, because it would never happen.
We have hired people we’ve worked with, or people who have been referred to us, because we knew, or hypothesized, that they were competent at the roles we needed to fill on our Team. Their “title” had absolutely no effect on our decision making.
All of the above writing is to make this point: You will have more fun at work and have a more cohesive, less political and ego-driven work environment when you drop the Titles (or make fun ones up such as the Ninja Turtles) and focus on roles and their associated accountabilities.