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Episode 56: The Difference Between Red Work & Blue Work & Why RevOps Needs to Master Blue Work

by Hannah Rose | May 17, 2023 10:00:00 AM

Summer is quickly approaching us and with that schools are about to be out and summer camp is about to start. Jess is looking forward to having her kids at summer camp, but is looking forward to picking them up afterwards while Doug fondly remembers going to sleep-away camp every summer. 

While I'm sure Jess and Doug could do an entire episode about summer camp and the lessons that they learned from those times, today is all about this concept of red work versus blue work. We might as well call this episode “The Lost Episode” because about a year ago Doug and Jess talked about this topic before for about 49 minutes until Doug realized that he forgot to hit the record button. BUT that’s okay because this ended up being a better episode.




Additional Resources:

[RevOps Show] Get in to the Zone - The 3 Zones of Execution

Show Notes:

What is red work and blue work? Where does this concept come from? 

A lot of this conversation is inspired and framed from the book, Leadership is Language by David Marquette. (If you haven’t read this book, Doug highly recommends doing so. ALSO we have a future episode coming out on the book...stay tuned!)

What we tend to think of as work is red work. When we think of productivity, we think about red work in terms of how many things did I get done today?

If you ask yourself whether you had a productive day today, you’d think, how many things did I check off? If you checked off 10 things versus 1 thing, you’d say you were more productive checking off 10 things. In reality, you haven’t given enough information to answer this question because getting one thing done is very often far more productive than getting 10 things done.

Red work is the doing.

Blue work is the thinking.

Blue work is about: 

  • Achieving excellence
  • Planning
  • Diagnosing
  • Innovating
  • Improving

Blue work doesn’t look very productive from the outside, but in reality the value is actually created in the blue work. It’s exploited and extracted in the red work. There needs to be a balance of both. You can’t succeed on just blue work or just red work.

If you’re intermixing red work with blue work, you’re setting yourself up for failure. One of the keys to red work is very segmented focus, so too much red work leads to myopia. Blue work is about stepping back and viewing the whole. Red work is about speed. Blue work is about velocity.

Why is red work about speed and blue work about velocity?

Speed is how fast you’re going. Speed is checking 10 things off of your list. Velocity is how fast are you going towards a vector. Velocity is how long it takes you to get there. Speed is the hare; velocity is the tortoise.

Should you do red work and blue work simultaneously?

We’ll get to the answer here in a second. Let’s look at an example first. Let’s say you’re building workflow and figuring out enrollment criteria and then going to work on the workflow. What could be wrong with that? There’s a bunch of things wrong with it! First off, you don’t do either one well. You’re not efficient when you’re doing both. You’re not efficient because you’re stopping then starting over and over again.

Blue work requires space and disruptive thinking because you’re breaking things apart. When you’re red working then blue working, you’re becoming myope. You get to the point where you can’t see the forest through the trees and you can’t keep a plot. A lot of tech debt is because of this.

If there was one word to describe blue work it would be pause. 

Also, if you’re trying to do red work and blue work at the same time, you become stupid. Your IQ drops because you’re bringing yourself down to the lowest common denominator. It’s a devastating form of multitasking and requires two distinctly different areas of the brain. 

5 times 3 is not hard, but 22 times 58 is a bit harder. You’re capable of doing it, but it might take you a little longer. You might have to write it out. That’s blue work. Writing it out instead of clicking on the preset function makes you think.

One thing to understand is momentum gets momentum. There’s an element of blue work that’s like playing hot potato. If you hold the potato too long, you lose momentum. If you’re dealing with something new or disruptive or difficult or complex, bounce it back and forth. Plan upfront and build pauses into the system so you automatically pause.

Now think about when you’re working with clients. Calls with clients are our client’s blue work. The leader of that call is doing red work. When we conduct deep dives, that’s our red work. The information we’re pulling from clients is their blue work.

There is no such thing as “wrong” in blue work. What’s wrong with red work is that there’s shame and judgement with it. With blue work you’re free. That’s the difference between first draft and shitty first draft. You have more freedom to just get everything down when you’re doing a shitty first draft. 

How does this all play into RevOps? 

RevOps is inherently blue work.

Sales, marketing and customer success is inherently red work. Does that mean there’s not red work in RevOps? No, of course there is. Does that mean there’s not blue work in sales, marketing and success? No, of course there is.

The key to RevOps is adding value to the organization. They bring pause to the go-to-market.

Jess’s Takeaways:

  • Mixing blue work with red work is a devastating form of multitasking.
  • Plan your pauses. 
  • RevOps is inherently blue work.

Next Steps: