Thoughts on working smarter (vs. harder)

I think about how I can work smarter every day.

Only working harder just doesn’t work. It doesn’t actually help you reach your goals faster. When I have children this will have to be one of the key discussions we have. I’ll say, “Son (or daughter), look at that man doing job x over there. He’s working very hard at that job. He can work even harder but it won’t get him very much more in return. Yes, he’s better off working hard than he is loafing off and we certainly need someone doing that job but his life options are limited in that role. Adding more force will do very little to change his quality of life. My point: There is a very low ceiling to how far you can go exclusively with hard work.”

Then I’d say that the greatest value comes not from the application of more force but from the very focused, strategic execution of smarter actions. If you wish for a bigger life — and to have a great positive impact on the world — you have to consider how you can scale your value. Entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley people talk about “scaling” ad nausiem, I know, but it’s a pretty good word. And the simplest way I can think of what I mean when I think of the aim of “working smarter” is to work in such a way that I can scale the value I add to the world.

The most successful people in the world are experts at scaling value. Every self-made wealthy person has, at one point, taken one idea, then made millions of copies of it and sold it to everyone. Entrepreneurs do it with technology, they do it franchising, they do it with creating funds and then “funds of funds” and writers do it with writing publicly accessible blog posts like this or with the publication of books and, of course, entertainers do it with the global distribution of their songs and films.

Scaling value requires the creation of efficient systems that work. In a complicated world where we want to sell our wares to millions of people, we need to have great systems in place and the people with most abundance are people who are “systems thinkers.” Creating these systems isn’t easy. You do have to work really, really hard to figure out the right process but it’s the only way you’ll be able to create something that’s bigger than you are. It’s the only way to escape the very low limits of the “man doing job x over there.”

Footnote 1: Hacking the current system is just as important as creating new systems  

Chris Sacca can be, apparently, be a little arrogant and his response to a question in a recent Tim Ferriss interview is no different. Chris says: “… in my case I was always just smart as hell. I went to college for math starting in seventh grade … and I have always known that if there is a system somewhere I’ll figure it out. I’ll hack it.”

I liked this. If you’ve spent time as a computer programmer you do start to think more about how things interact and how you can hack existing systems. From this, it seems important to note that when thinking about how to work smarter one should be just as thoughtful about how to hack existing systems as to how to create new systems. 

Interestingly, Chris goes on to talk about the myopia he thinks is prevalent in Silicon Valley given the number of people who, he thinks, don’t experience the same anxieties and hear the same “voices in their heads” that others do. It starts here around 29 minutes.

Footnote 2: Not everything must scale and sometimes too much scale can be harmful

I’m in Hong Kong right now. There are so many people here and there are so many people working hard at their respective street-side shops each day. These people do add value to the world and I don’t think everyone can be a systems thinker and “franchise their enterprise.” In fact, I really love small, locally-owned businesses and really think many of these business owners do okay for themselves and love what they do and that’s amazing! This post, like anything I write, is a brain dumping. It is, however, also a true reflection of my consumption with thinking about how to create systems.  And I related to the fears Chris expresses at the link below about how, in effect, systems can become so freaking big and efficient and powerful that they create a potentially unhealthy imbalance in the world. You could argue that some of the large tech firms out there have reached this level of “potentially problematic scale.” But maybe this is another post!










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