Up The Evolutionary Ladder of Work


Each rung of the ladder solves different types of problems.

The problems at the top are more important — and more difficult. As you climb, you’ll find fewer people capable of solving them. They require increasing amounts of autonomy, conceptual thinking, and creativity.

They tend to pay more, too.

(When thinking of examples, I noticed Restaurants and Touring Bands are remarkably similar. Hmm.)

Level 1: Physical Laborers (Dishwashers, Roadies)
This role takes no mental effort. It’s all muscle.

Level 2: Mechanics / Technicians (Kitchen Cooks, Session Musicians)
Warning: mental activity required. Whether it’s fixing cars or fixing computers, it takes specialized knowledge and experience. Still, you’re following instructions to achieve results for people higher up. The important thing to notice here is that, sadly, it’s one step above Physical Laborer.

Level 3: People Wranglers (Managers, Band Leaders)
It takes an entirely different set of talents and skills to run a machine made out of humans. Still, it’s a machine. If you’re one of the few who can conquer this one and move to the higher levels, you can go from being an Animator to an Animation Studio Owner.

Level 4: Salesmen (Hosts, Entertainers)
I think highly of Salesmen. It’s said in business that “nothing happens until a sale is made.” Do not overlook the importance of this level. If you pay attention, you’ll realize that these are some of the most creative improv actors you will ever meet. Still, they are second to…

Level 5: Creators (Owners, Artists)
This is the person who had a vision. “We are the dreamers of dreams.” They take all of the risk and all of the responsibility. The highest level of self-discipline and self-actualization is required. It’s not for wimps.

Points of Interest

  • There are diminishing gaps between the levels as you go up the ladder. In other words, Creators and Salesmen have a lot more in common than Physical Laborers and Mechanics / Technicians do.
  • Of course, some of these roles overlap. You don’t have to be one at the exclusion of the others. I’m not saying Creators shouldn’t do any Physical Labor. What matters is which of these you spend your most valuable time and energy on.
  • Any creative person who hopes to control his own destiny should make it his mission to master all of these roles. If you’re at the top and having problems, you might have skipped a level.
  • Personally, I spend way too much of my time on Level 2. It takes away from what I can be spending on 4 and (most importantly) 5. That’s because I’ve avoided Level 3.

    It’s time to change that.

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    4 thoughts on “Up The Evolutionary Ladder of Work

    1. Well, best of luck running a machine made out of humans. Really I think it will be great for your work. We’ve seen how well you take advantage of a typical machine like Drumkit from Hell, running the more complex machine of other humans with their own inputs and ideas and biases and tendencies etc will be an intriguing step up for I believe, whether it be in music or animated cartoons or whatever you choose to manifest.


    2. I always enjoy your statements about sales and business. I began as a physical laborer on a construction site, got several jobs during and after college as a digital printing specialist (copy jockey) and graphic designer (level 2), became a manager of said business (and was “in charge” of more bands than I care to mention, level 3) later becoming a salesman. I now run a guitar store in Santa Cruz, and while I consider myself 99% salesman (an intuitive imrov actor with specialized technical knowledge, who would love to attend the Groundlings school someday) I still move amps, repair instruments, crack the whip on noodling employees, and sell pipe dreams. I am in the midst of creating my great work of art, but finding the time to do this and have a family makes me very reluctant to purchase the business from my boss as he would have it. His stress level is so high, and problems and liabilities so great, that it ages him prematurely. Several business owners I’ve worked with are growing old before their time. I LOVE being a salesman so much, it makes me reluctant to make that leap to owner. Alas, we must move ever upward or stagnate and die.
      Thanks SMM

    3. I beg to disagree. I think part of it may be your terminology. For example, you begin by suggesting that problems at the ‘top’ are more important, and more difficult. This is hardly true at all, I would suggest that it is simply a matter of perspective. Important to who? The next meal to a starving man and sip of whiskey to an alcoholic are reasonably equal, but probably of greater personal importance than the agreed percentage rate on a million-dollar financing package considered by Donald Trump. It is easy to fall into the trap so eloquently presented by Oliver Stone in “Wall Street”, the assumption that a dollar-denominted value has some equivillence to importance, or that importance even has a dollar value assigned. I can assure you, it does not. As for being more difficult, that is hardly the case either. Certainly you have not fallen into the falloucy that leads you to believe that these CEO’s and movers and shakers are any more intelligent than the average auto mechanic… because statitstics show again and again that they really are not. The real difference is that they have had access to specialized knowledge and the opportunity to practice it. Brain surgury as a process is no more difficult than becoming a reasonably good guitarist, it just requires a great deal of practice and preparation.I think the word you are looking for is ‘complex’ instead of important or difficult. Additionally, I think you will find that as one moves into positions requiring a higher degree of complexity, their options become even more limited as opposed to your assumption that they require more autonomy, conceptual thinking, or creativity. It is said that the more power one has over the destiny of others, the less he has over his own. This is a hidden truism that few understand. A Judge must act like a judge, or he will be disrobed. A mafia boss must be ruthless, lest he be “replaced”. This is where the statement “heavy is the head that wears the crown” comes from. Positions of power are short-lived for those who are unwilling to bend to it’s demands. Only those infinitely suited to be a mafia boss should aspire to such. Remember, power does NOT corrupt, it is simply that power is magnetic to the corruptable. This about covers my critique of the first paragraph, and I guess it pretty much wrecks the rest of the work as everything else follows from that.

    4. Strangely, I had the idea to apply a similar concept to music except including the role of ‘musical scientists’. I’ll write about it one of these days or something.

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