Recently a cool venture called, The Work Revolution interviewed me for their blog. “The Work Revolution is the collaborative effort of a few passionate people who contribute purely out of excitement for the cause.” What’s the cause? To re-energize our experience at work. To make work fun and meaningful. Here are my answers to their questions.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
Cubicle living just wasn’t for me. I found that although I was considered a “knowledge worker” in the “creative class” that my daily experience had little to do with knowledge or creativity. So getting laid off (twice) was the best thing to ever happen to me because it forced me to really look at what I enjoyed doing, how to really work with and grow my knowledge and creativity.
Now that I run my own company, I make sure to allow the people I hire to actually make creative decisions and to fully express their talents. I hire up. All of my writers are better writers than me. All of my trainers are better trainers than me. Even my sales team are better than I could ever hope to be. They enjoy their craft and are good at it. This is fulfilling to them, and provides enormous value to the company and to our clients. They don’t want to do my job, they see their craft as a means in and of itself.
I don’t think aspiration to management is the ultimate goal, despite what society tells us. There is no golden fruit up top the proverbial ladder. The golden fruit is loving your craft, and enjoying and getting lost in the amazing creative work you do now.
Most of what corporate America calls “knowledge work” is little more than following someone else’s procedures and making choices pre-determined by some consultant looking to optimize profits and reduce risk. That’s not creativity! And I think we need to be critical of the work deemed “creative” when it’s actually not.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
All of my employees are 1099 contractors. I don’t want to be their sole source of income or fulfillment. That’s way too much responsibility! At the same time, they chose to work with me because I don’t hold them hostage to just my projects, my industry nor my policies. This mutual freedom works amazingly well.
On one hand, I can scale up and down based on my actual sales. On the other hand, they are welcome to take on as much or as little work with me or with other clients. Now that healthcare is no longer a major motivator for employment, the 1099 freelance economy has a real chance.
Why do you do what you do?
I’m not a good employee. I know that. My managers in the past certainly know that! I admire anyone who can keep a job longer than 6 months, I’ve not been able to do that. So in a very real sense, I don’t have a choice but to be an entrepreneur and business owner. And I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country that makes this so easy.
At the core of what I do is the notion of challenging convention for the purpose of helping people improve their lives. Everything I do revolves around this. I challenge people to look at job search differently, then give them tools to find better jobs, faster.
When I’m on my deathbed, I want to look back and think, “I’ve helped thousands of people live better.” I won’t look back and say, “I’ve been a great marketer,” or “I’ve built a great company that’s given me freedom to pursue my other interests.” Although these things might or might not be true, it’s the impact I’ve been able to have on others that drive me. Profits just help me keep doing that.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
I don’t have much talent. But I’m a fast learner and I enjoy learning. Currently, I’m learning to play the ukulele. I suck. But I enjoy playing. I’ve dabbled in drawing and photography as well. More than anything, trying to learn these things, although it hasn’t been fruitful from an artistic point of view, has given me huge appreciation to the artists who do it well (and who make a living at it).
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
I believe in democracy, quite literally. I think my employees can make way better decisions than I can. So I let them do that. My three favorite words to tell them are, “Up to you”. If they need help after that, I’ll help. But I trust their inherent intelligence about solving problems. Even with my writers, when a client comes in and wants us to write a LinkedIn profile for them, I’ll let the writers decide who’s the best fit for that client. This approach has worked very, very well.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
I’m a huge fan of E. F. Schumacher’s work from “Small is Beautiful” which he published in the 1970s as well as his other essays. The premise is about how small economies are preferable to larger, global ones. As a royal economist in the UK, he was sent to Burma to “teach them modern economics” to the developing world. But what happened instead is that they taught him the value of communities that support it’s members and that keep their wealth within their craft guilds. He saw happy people and villages completely immune to the oil crisis happening at the time.
Schumacher talks about the three fallacies of our economic system. The first is the fallacy that our sources of energy are unlimited, this promotes hyper consumption without much foresight into the predicament of our next generations. The second is the fallacy that technology will solve all of our problems. Human problems can only be solved by humans. Technology has managed to shift things around, but the core of what we need to work on, as a society has pretty much remained the same for thousands of years. I forgot the third fallacy. Ha! Shoot me.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Easy. So many companies now hire the cheapest labor they can find. All decision-making happens at the top, and the unskilled labor just following the rules. Basically, management has taken the conveyor belt from a Ford factory and applied it to knowledge work. It’s recipe for boredom, unfulfillment, non-loyalty, and high turn over. More and more actual creative decision-making is get relegated to a fewer minority at the top.
Despite the immediate increase in profits this approach might get you, it’s not sustainable in the long-term. And it hurts our society, as fewer and fewer people are tasked to innovate.
Instead, put your exponential (and ludicrous) growth targets away and give your employees a chance to refine their craft, to exercise real decisions, to truly take part in innovation. Give up SOPs and start saying, “up to you.
What is one surprising thing we should know about you?
I lived in Nepal for three years, and was very close to becoming a Buddhist monk.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
When I was in highschool, I went through a depression and slouched a lot. This bad posture has caused me a lot of pain, even after the depression lifted. Though I don’t slouch any more, my back and neck are very susceptible to soreness and pain. And when there’s pain, it’s hard to work well, and be positive. Chiropractic only seemed to solve the problems for a few days, and got costly.
While training in Crossfit, I discovered mobility, which is a way of manually changing the nature of your physical tissues with everyday objects. I mobilize my back and neck daily and have been virtually pain-free for years. So I won’t go anywhere without my lacrosse ball. There is no reason to be in physical pain, and there’s no reason why you can’t use low-cost solutions to accomplish that.
What do you do for fun?
I love growing my own food! It’s been extremely liberating to pick my dinner from my backyard in the summers.
Also, since I stare at a computer for living, getting my hands dirty in the garden is very grounding.
How do you stay productive throughout your day?
There are three things to consider here and one caveat.
First, everyone suffers from decision fatigue. The more little choices you have to make, the harder it will be to make the more important choices later. Maybe that’s why Mark Zuckerberg only wears gray t-shirts. This phenomenon has been studied quite a bit. So I make my most important (and creative) decisions early on in the day.
Second, I change my mental state my changing my physical state. Taking a walk or doing some push ups can get me out of a mental fog extremely quickly.
Third, I chunk my work up into smaller segments. I wrote my book, Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies, in 25 minute chunks over the course of seven months.
Now the caveat. I don’t think it’s good to be at 100% productivity all the time. I go through phases of amazing productivity. I write thousands of words a day, launch products, build marketing funnels etc. at a high rate, waking up at 4 or 5 am. Then I go through weeks, sometimes months, of waking up late, languishing, gardening and hiking the Pacific Northwest. Producing all the time is not the optimum human condition, no matter what our protestant work ethic tells us. And there’s no reason to feel guilty about not being productive!
Where in the world are you?