A new book profiles ambitious professionals who find the most satisfaction in work that is critical to their organization’s success, but goes largely unnoticed by the public.
David Zweig worked as a fact checker at Conde Nast for five years. In an interview with Mr. Zweig says he enjoyed “slaving away on the minutiae of other people’s stories,” all while knowing few people would read them and wonder who verified the information.
Eventually, Mr. Zweig would need fact-checkers of his own. He’s the author of the new book, “The Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion,” which profiles people who are highly educated and motivated, but choose careers that involve little to no recognition.
These behind-the-scene professionals include piano tuners, interpreters for the United Nations and guitar technicians for some of the most famous rock bands. But regardless of their titles, the traits that make up “invisibles” are more universal, and hospital and health system leaders may recognize some invisibles within their own organizations based on what Mr. Zweig discussed.
1. Invisibles are ambivalent toward recognition. They don’t seek attention in the same way many other people might, which is especially exceptional in today’s culture that places a tremendous amount of value on attention. For the book, Mr. Zweig spoke with several career recruiters who say they see more people pursuing careers in high-profile fields, but fewer in behind-the-scenes work.
2. They tend to be meticulous. The book focuses on perfumer David Apel, who has created some of the top-selling fragrances in the world for celebrities like Calvin Klein and Tom Ford. “He creates something from nothing, and he has to translate very abstract concepts,” says Mr. Zweig. “He has this incredible knowledge of science and chemistry; these fragrances have hundreds of ingredients, and the amount of each ingredient can go down to fraction of a gram. He has these spreadsheets that go on and on and on. He’s extraordinarily meticulous.”
3. They savor responsibility. To illustrate the trait of responsibility, Mr. Zweig told the story about engineers on one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s early buildings. The engineers knew the design wasn’t safe, but they also knew the notoriously stubborn architect would not heed to their warnings. Instead, the engineers secretly went into the building and reinforced parts of it while it was being built. “They wanted to take on this responsibility, knowing that publicly they could never talk about it, because they just cared so deeply about their work,” says Mr. Zweig.
4. They are well-respected. This isn’t so much a character trait, but an important distinction. Mr. Zweig stresses how these professionals purposely chose careers that do not involve a lot of recognition, but are still well-regarded positions. And they do their work well, which makes it all the easier to overlook. For instance, he met an anesthesiologist who attended an Ivy League medical school. “He could have gone into any number of specialties within medicine, but he chose to do something where when he did his job perfectly, the patients aren’t really going to think of him that much,” said Mr. Zweig. “You’ll never forget who removed your gallbladder, but you probably won’t remember the anesthesiologist who kept you alive in that surgery.”