(…) when you expect applause, when you do your work in order to get (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short. When your work depends on something out of your control, you have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work —the dependence on approval in this moment has corrupted it, turned it into a process in which you are striving for ever more approval.
If it’s finished, the applause, the thanks, the gratitude are something else. Something extra and not part of what you created. If you play a beautiful song for two people or a thousand, it’s the same song, and the amount of thanks you receive isn’t part of that song.
Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception. How high will you fly?, p. 71. ↩
Tags: motivation, motives, recognition, incentives, work as art, great work
The iPhone was not a low-end disruption. It was exactly the opposite. The BlackBerry and the Nokia products were striving for the low end. They observed the discipline of constrained resources. They were expanding into emerging markets. They watched every fraction of a penny on the bill of materials. The low end was manna for the whole industry. Even Microsoft with Windows Mobile was better positioned for the low end than Apple.
Instead, what Apple did was unthinkable. It entered with a high end product. It even promoted its high price ($500, subsidized!) This is why it was laughed at.
Theirs was “the Mac in a phone” idea. The reason it worked was that it was not a phone. The reason it worked is because it was the hardest disruption to spot:
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s right-hand man at Berkshire Hathaway, says about reading:
In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren(Buffett) reads — at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out”1
Reading takes time. If reading is important for you —it should be, reading and learning are closely related—, you need to allocate specific time for it. More, you need to develop the habit of reading, and nurture it. Even if you find excellent reading material, if reading is not part of your routine, you will end up with a nice, ever-growing list of unread books and articles.
Different kind of readings deserve different reading strategies
Not all readings require the same kind of attention. What you expect to learn from what you are reading also affects the equation. Are you reading for information, or are you reading for knowledge? Different kinds of reading call for different reading strategies. (A more interesting question is what kind of readings take most of our time.)
Casual reading is informative. It may ignite some ideas, but it does not require a great deal of concentration or reasoning. Most of the time, it doesn’t require taking notes. Informative reading material can be consumed almost anywhere, whenever a small amount of time is available. Interruptions while reading casual stuff may be annoying, but don’t do great harm. What is critical is to have this kind of reading material at hand, so you can take advantage of unplanned free time slots.
In-depth, analytical reading, however, is another kind of beast. Reading something above your level of knowledge requires patiently trained reading skills. Taking notes becomes a necessity, at least for me. (If you haven’t do so, you should read this excellent article by Shane Parrish, How to Read A Book, where he explains how to improve your reading skills.)
Reading for knowledge also requires finding interruption-free time, time without distractions that could kill your concentration and reading flow. Learning to say no —deciding what not to read— is also important. Your hard-earned time for reading is limited. You need to focus on what’s important, and finding quality sources of reading material.
Improving your reading skills and finding time to read is essential, but some tactics for managing your reads can help you get the most of your time. Some things I do:
When I find an online article or post that I want to read, chances are I can’t read it at that moment. I use Instapaper, a read-it-later application that lets me save articles and posts for later consumption2, be it from my desktop, tablet or smartphone.
For keeping up with blogs, I use an aggregator3 for following interesting blogs. Keep the list of blogs you follow short, and prune it frequently.
Books receive a different handling. When I find a book worth considering (usually by recommendation from friends, or colleagues, or from people I follow online), I search it on Amazon’s website and inspect its table of contents. I also research about the author, his background, and what other people think about the book. If the results are positive, I buy the book right away, usually as an ebook, and it gets added to my reading queue.
For in-depth reading, I use Evernote to take notes.
A reading plan
What books did you read last year? Are you satisfied with the list? Which topics do you plan to read about in the next months? It’s not difficult to see the importance of choosing carefully where you invest your reading time.
Three key factors in Jeff Bezos’s acquisition of The Washington Post
Jeff Bezos agreed to the acquisition of the Washington Post for $250M on August 5, 2013. As it is known, the numbers of The Washington Post are not encouraging. In the first half of 2013, The Post reported losses of $49 million, and an average weekly circulation decline of 8.4% compared to the same period last year.
This article, which appeared in The Post the first week of September, shares some insights on what Bezos has in mind. I think some of his ideas are useful for any printed media.
According to Bezos, The Post faces two business problems they have to address:
The Rewrite problem. They cannot spend weeks or months on projects that, according to Bezos, “a website like the Huffington Post could rewrite in 17 minutes.” (I couldn’t help thinking operational efficiency)
The Debundling problem: the web has “debundled” the paper so that people can read one story and move on to a different site, instead of reading one story and then passing to other sections of the paper.
Also interesting, according to the article, Bezos’s decision to buy the newspaper was based on three key factors, what he called “three gates”:
Despite its problems, The Post is still influential and remains an important institution.
Bezos is convinced the company can be successful, among other things, because The Post retains a talented staff of journalists.
The third gate: he asked himself, can I personally make a difference? He thinks he can.
These three1 questions are pretty obvious. That’s why it’s amazing how many times we forget to ask them when one of our reports is having performance problems, or when we want to help someone perform better.
Does she know how to do what is expected of her? (lack of knowledge, or skills)
Has he been given the necessary resources to do it? (lack of resources)
Does she want to do it? (lack of motivation)
The answers lead to three more questions:
Can she learn to do her job better? Is teaching her how part of our responsibilities?
Can we provide him with the necessary resources? If yes, why haven’t we done so?
What is her motivation? Is her lack of motivation a consequence of our leadership style?
Thanks to ManuelAlcázar for framing the questions some years ago and providing numerous examples. The original questions, in Spanish, are shorter: ¿no sabe? ¿no puede? ¿no quiere?↩
You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
If you could work in whatever you wanted, what would you do? The question is not what we would love to do now, at this moment. Paul Graham1, says that the work you love must be, at least, something that you like more than ‘improductive pleasure’. Something you like so much that the concept of free time blurs. Something were ‘free time’ is not the reward for having worked hard all day, but work itself is rewarding.
What to do
Not everybody knows what they would love to do. What should you do?
Finding what you love is a quest. Not a one-path-only quest, or a narrow-path kind of quest. As Gardner says in The Art of Fiction that the writer gets to known his characters as he writes2, you get to know what you love as you work.
So, work on something you like, even if it is not what you would like to do in the long term. But there is one condition: you have to put the effort to do a really outstanding work. Showing up every day is not enough. You have to work as if it were the work you would love to do.
Working with this focus in mind will help you develop habits and acquire skills that are useful in any kind of work. Specially, the habit of doing the best work you can with disregard of external circumstances. It will also help you distinguish what you like and what you don’t, and what your abilities are.
Not doing your best because you are not in your dream job is the fool’s errand and a sign of immaturity. Most of the time, an excuse for laziness. Believing that if you could work in what you love, then you would give your best effort, or you would be more proactive, or you would not have difficulties with your boss… is just wishful thinking. Experience shows that if you are not giving your best effort now, you probably won’t do it even if circumstances change.
You need to be skillful, because good intentions won’t get you far. Demagogy is sometimes that: great motivation, without skills.
Loving what you do vs. doing what you love
Pablo Ferreiro, a teacher of mine, explains that what you should focus on is not so much on doing what you love, but on loving what you do. His point is that if you put love in what you do, regardless of how attracted you are at first to the work at hand, in time it will become something you love to do. Anyone who has worked hard to achieve a worthy goal has probably experienced something similar, even if the tasks at hand were not so attractive at first.
Dave Ulrich3, in a recent workshop in Lima, Perú, said something related. How do you get commitment from the sceptical or the unsatisfied employee? By asking him to do things that require him to behave as if he were committed. In time, commitment will come.
Passion helps, motivation is required
In life, sometimes people mistake passion for love. Something similar can happen with work.
Being passionate about your work certainly helps in getting things done. The problem is, passion does not always responds to our summons. Even if working on your dream job, there will be times when the things you have to do in order to finish the task at hand are dull or even boring, but it has to be done.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant someone is or how much potential someone has, finishing anything worthwhile requires overcoming the lack of the enthusiasm4. Realizing this and doing it every time separates the amateur from the professional.
Being passionate about something is not the same as being motivated. Being passionate is about the emotion that empowers your actions. Motivation is about the order of importance of the motives that drive your actions. Motivation should be rational, passion is not. In order to do great work, passion helps, motivation is indispensable.
For example, maybe what motivates you in your job are the skills you develop. Or you are attracted by the challenges it entails (like beating an aggressive sales quota, or developing a new market). Maybe having the chance to work with talented people is what makes you tick. Having a competitive salary may not be your primary motivation, but certainly doesn’t hurt. Your motivation, in any case, comprehends a series of motives.
The most powerful and lasting motivation comes from doing things that have a positive impact outside of us, be it in people, or society… Companies and organizations with great misions have always attracted the best talent.
Most of the factors that makes you love what you do and do it well are inside yourself. That’s why there are persons who make a difference with independence of the task at hand.