The impact of how I choose to spend my time – work, hobbies, & otherwise – is something I have had in consideration high school. I will be the first to admit that I fit the millennial and generation Z stereotype of someone who values making an impact through their work above all to a tee. A look at what I have gotten involved with in the past is proof enough. Impact, however, is such an loosely defined term; there are numerous ways to achieve it. For clarity, impact is the effect one has on others through their endeavours. It goes without saying that ideally we would want to have a positive impact on others and the world. There are so many dimensions through which to evaluate impact. My goal for this piece is to provide clarity on these dimensions so that it may strengthen your ability to assess the impact your are making.
Impact Transmission Model
Impact is the byproduct of building a physical or digital good, or service, made available for consumption. If you are working to produce something, the impact you have can be measured through the impact of what you are helping to produce. When I say impact, I am assuming a positive impact.
- If you work for a supermarket, your impact can be measured by the quality and quantity of items you deliver to households.
- If you work for a professional services firm, your impact can be measured by the quality of your projects and what they enable in your clients.
- If you are a creative, your impact is harder to measure, but will be captured in the responses of an audience to your work – whether it be a poem, book, visual art, etc.
For this purposes of this analysis, impact and value refer to the same thing: namely the (usually positive) effect of an endeavour on people. It is a deliberate choice to restrict to the definition of impact to this, so as to limit the scope of this investigation.
Will what you do have a life-changing or incremental impact on someone’s life? The former could describe the work of surgeons, that have the ability to save and enhance one’s quality of life. The latter could mean creating an phone app that could save someone time, inconvenience, or money. Regardless if the positive impact has a high magnitude or low on a case-by-case basis, they both unquestionably provide value.
The next step to consider is the scale of the impact of an endeavour. Scale can be broken down into measure and coverage. Measure describes a time-period over which an event acts on one’s life; coverage describes how many individuals are affected.
High-measure impact is often associated with low-magnitude and vice versa. For example, take the example of Calendar apps on smartphones. Their impacts can be described as high-measure since most of its users would be using it everyday. It is, however, low-magnitude. The value it offers is to save the user time and inconvenience of having to remember appointments in their head. In the grand scheme of things, its impact has a low-magnitude. Overall, however, the value for the individual is very high given how often they use the apps. An example of a low-measure but high-magnitude project might be organising a music festival. It is low-measure because it happens only once a year, but it is high-magnitude because of how involved and all-consuming the experience is for the festival-goer. They are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see live one’s favourite artists. Regardless of whether you work for a company that develops Calendar applications or organises music festivals, it is impossible to deny the impact of both endeavours.
The higher the number of people that consume the good or service i.e. coverage, the higher the level of impact. You may work for a company that helps to deliver a product that has a high-measure and high-magnitude impact profile. It, however, may only be relevant to a very small subset of the population. An example of this are specialised medical devices like pacemakers. Alternatively, you could work for a company that produces staplers. The impact profile would likely be low-measure (especially as things move online), low-magnitude, but high-coverage given that almost everyone would need a stapler around at least a couple of times a year. Each of these companies are both necessary for the modern world. While it is an apples-to-oranges comparison, it does help to illustrate the extremes of the coverage dimension in looking at impact.
All work is impactful
All work is noble, provides value, and is worthy of respect. This applies to everything from dishwasher roles at your local restaurant to theoretical physicists working at CERN. To say otherwise proves an ignorance of reality. The world, or should I say, the wealthy were only recently reminded of this through the lockdowns of 2020 and the fetishisation of “essential workers.” The spotlight was especially large on supermarket workers, the value and impact they provided were made crystal clear. Our lives are built atop of the work of people in so called “low-skill jobs”. For example, if a barista failed to show up to a popular coffee house on a weekday morning, patrons would protest. I imagine the same would happen if bus drivers, restaurant waiters, or factory workers walked off the job. All work is, therefore, impactful.