Want to get better at Dirty Work? That's the first thing to avoid
Here are a couple of rules of thumb I follow you may find helpful.
1. Does the person complaining complain a lot, or do a few things bother him? My wife and boys have high pain thresholds, so when they complain, I pay attention. My father could complain about a few common problems, but it was time to pay attention when he complained about a new pain.
2. Unfamiliar pain can be hard to understand. If your father does not often have leg cramps, it's worth paying attention, even though he may ascribe it to another cause. I think he was telling you, "This pain is unfamiliar to me."
3. It's almost impossible to get any rest in the ER or the short-stay unit; he may not have wanted to complain to the doctors for fear of being held longer. Also, ER docs are very different from a hospital ward. They are very focused and quick to take action on problems that may kill you but are less concerned about pain or comfort. Their goal is to keep you alive for the next 20 minutes, hour, or four hours and get you out of ER - either back home or into a regular hospital bed.
I understand the "dirty work" model but would like to offer a different perspective. There is value in architects who can visualize and document an ideal case, then run simulations based on what they can imagine might go wrong to at least verify their basic assumptions.
But you need to pair them with people who can imagine what can go wrong and develop test examples. Of course, it's possible that the "pessimists" are too pessimistic, but I think it usually runs between 4 to 1 and 9t to 1 (80-90%) that the failure modes they can imagine must be dealt with.
And you also need people who are very good at debugging: documenting the failure, developing hypotheses for what might be happening, and changing one thing at a time to verify or disprove each failure hypothesis in turn.
So I understand your "dirty work" metaphor, but I think you need three kinds of skills--and one person rarely has all three:
1. Confident optimism that can imagine new architectures and approaches. If you can imagine a way to eliminate or dramatically reduce the "dirty work," it's a better start than a stoic willingness to "embrace the suck."
2. Constructive pessimism that can identify potential flaws or areas of improvement in a current design or process.
3. Patient, systematic exploration of options and hypotheses.
Some related blog posts:
Unfamiliar Pain: https://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2008/11/23/unfamiliar-pain/
Innovation: the Trick is Managing the Pain https://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2015/04/16/innovation-the-trick-is-managing-the-pain/
Constructive Pessimism https://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2016/09/07/constructive-pessimism/
The need to counterbalance excessive pessimism https://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2020/10/12/skmurphy-perspective-counterbalances-excess-pessimism-or-optimism/
It's like writers thinking they should be perfect or write the perfect thing - it always seemed like conscientiousness that would kill creativity.