Breaking Rocks versus Building Cathedrals

I heard this metaphor recently at Publicis Sapient and so I went and found the story I’ve never been told over here. And I’ve de-genderized it below. Enjoy!

There is a classic fable about a person who approaches three laborers breaking and shaping rocks. The person asks the first laborer what they are doing. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m breaking rocks,” the laborer replies. The person asks the second laborer what they are doing and they respond that they are building a wall. The man then asks the third laborer what they are doing and the laborer responds, “I’m building a cathedral.”

The three laborers are all doing the same work, but each with a different perception of its relative worth. Which one do you suppose is coming to work happier and more engaged?

The first sees their work as a job, the second sees their work as a task, but it’s the third who sees their work as a worthy calling, because they are clear about the bigger picture and how their work connects and adds value.

And it is that laborer who has more positive intentions about

  • performing at an above-average level
  • being a good organizational citizen
  • using more discretionary effort on behalf of the organization
  • remaining with the organization
  • endorsing the organization and its leadership to others