True greatness

Eric Schmidt Quote
Really necessary quote?

Employee about manager: “Is it really so tough to knock that shit off for once?”

Often, I hear employees moan at the decisions of management or founders directly. And I agree: That question begs answers as, from outside, it all too often looks fairly simple to not do something “stupid”*. Stupid here goes along the lines from (examples)

  1. not investing a bit more cash into a decent coffee machine as a tremendous morale booster (you’d be surprised),
  2. to not taking these indispensable 30-45mins for an honest feedback talk that was desired
  3. all the way to cramping the scrum backlog during peak season such as Christmas and insisting on live deploys
  4. And the list goes on and on and on

So: Is it really so hard to knock that nonsense off?

Yes it is: Letting shit be is very challenging and not as easy as it seems. But not for the reasons most think.

But why?

In short: Smart stuff is easy, keeping the shit out is the tough part!

That is, what actually prevents truly meaningful work toward greatness is the amount of nonsense we are doing.

% share split of work
% share of meaningful work per day

Split your day into how much time you spend on really changing the course of the Universe (that would be nothing shitty at all!) and how much time you spend on shit – that is all else.

Ask yourself, in all honesty,

  1. how many meetings did you attend that were not producing output steered to alter the course significantly (or at least produce the chance to do so),
  2. how many reports you prepared that no one reads
  3. and how many emails you read and (!) write whose answers you do not want to have.

Usually, it boils down to 30% of our time spent on really meaningful work.

only 30% time left to be great

4 reasons why we spend time on shit:

Here are a few factors that reduce the % share from the optimum of 100%:

  1. Shit creeps in: Doing something that is less challenging than altering the course of the Universe is comfortable and quickly ticked off from a todo-list. It requires little new skills but only efficiency to master. It mimics an image of productivity and leads to a sense of satisfaction quicker and more easily than challenging, mind gobbling work on a seemingly impossible item. Killing todo-lists is the purest form of procrastination that wields itself in the cloak of effectiveness. Before you notice, you re neck-deep in all too many things that won’t  make a dent in the stratosphere even. Shit creeps into your agenda.  
  2. Shit is seductive! Different to creeping in is seduction. Founders tend to view opportunities – mere opportunities – as immediate items on a company’s priority list making the list ever longer. It is the notion that what could be done equals should be done. It is fairly obvious that you find yourself with so many items to work on, that none are executed well enough to really do make an impact or do so but in an overextended period that the impact is perceived as gradual improvement at best. Now aside the usual founder bashing (I really appreciate founders’ bravery!), employees are not immune neither. How many times have you been off the strategic path because the opportunity at hand just seemed too good to be left idle – “Now thats a quick win!” and wooosh down the drain go a few percentage points you could have worked on bending the Universe. Discipline in both cases is dropped because shit “seduces” you by a false perception of being a “quick win”Shit is seductive!
  3. Shit gets exponential: Since employees are – assumption – motivated to achieve more (effectiveness) at best with less input (efficiency), usually we grow shit exponentially. We build tools to automate (efficiency) and help each other out (effectiveness) to strive for ever better results. The %-share of my shit is affecting my colleagues as it contagiously leads to more shit. Shit is exponential. 
  4. Higher impact shit: Any organization has a hierarchy (despite all claims of “We re totally flat!”). Further up decides broad brush strokes (strategy, vision but also key projects and investments or budgets) while further down “carries out” – very generally speaking. Hence, further-up-shit trickles down and achieves minimum the same % share. As shit is exponential, it is important to differentiate between higher hierarchy (C-level or director level) and lower hierarchy (department or team lead, team member) shit. The former has a vastly larger potential to unwind exponential impact within a company as it trickles down many more steps in the hierarchy. A founder that does not let go of his early stage necessary inner drive to constantly pour ideas for potential pivots onto his company, nimble and agile enough to absorb and ship product or code, will inevitably drown a more mature company (post proof of concept) with his shit that is exponential. Inevitably, the more steep an organizational hierarchy and the higher the shit starts, the more schedules are affected and the contagious exponential nature unfolds. Higher hierarchy shit is higher impact shit. 

Solutions that proved to work

  1. Spread the word about shit’s nature:
    • workshops and welcome packages for existing and new employees respectively
  2. Call it out:
    • remind another of shit
    • use codewords with positive (not negative) connotation for shit (“Orca” was a term for a meeting taken hostage by a few members and then wasting everyone’s time at a company I heard of that made it funny and acceptable to use it)
  3. Resources are finite:
    • fixed story points like “pocket money” per department especially with regards to resources of IT and design
    • Peter Thiel Method (I made the word up): as a founder / CEO / manager force your employees to focus on exactly one thing and ignore him/her when anything is discussed, mentioned or sent that diverts from it. As an employee religiously ignore anything outside of your number one priority.
  4. Relative awesomeness score: RAS
    • rank your projects in relative awesomeness to each other as usually all of them pass the simple “This is awesome”-test. Focus then on only the top three RAS projects
  5. Psychological strength
    • naysayerism: anywhere in the company, strive to say no when it is not a prio (see above)
    • print reminders: wall tatoo the agreed upon quarter (best case annual) broad goals onto company premises
    • coin catch phrases about priorities: they’re easy / easier to remember
    • use company buzzwords: even easier than catch phrases but kind of corny

In any case, to make it short:

You stay focused by knowing what you do not want to do.

Keep shit out and become truly great.

*Here, “stupid” or “shit” can be defined as “not making a lasting contribution” or among those actions that do so but are relatively less impactful – see 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by S Covey.

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