About twice a quarter, Velentium offers its staff the opportunity to read & discuss a business-related book together. It’s a chance for us to take a break from chopping firewood and sharpen our proverbial axes by studying how to become more efficient or proficient at our work.
Matt Leaverton & Jason Smith contributed to this post.
Our book this time is It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, AKA the co-founders of Basecamp. It prompted great discussion, including the opportunity to revisit some favorite lessons from Deep Work, but before we get into our takeaways we’ve got to start with a couple caveats.
First, the book uses non-traditional structure (audiobook readers, take note!). Each short chapter feels halfway between a more typical, non-technical business book chapter and a collection of proverbs.
Second, a lot of what Fried and Hansson prescribe is possible, or at least more easily achievable, because of their business model. Basecamp is privately held, has never raised capital from outside investors, and generates 100% of its revenue through recurring subscriptions. That situation automatically gives their company a more predictable financial cadence, as well as more managerial freedom and flexibility, than most. “Most” includes us at Velentium as well but, that said, we still found plenty of common ground and useful insights we could glean from It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work.
In this three-part series, we’re going to look at correlations between Fried and Hansson’s recommendations and Velentium’s core values (Results++, Honorable, and Humble Charisma) as a means of organizing their content and applying it to our context. First up: Results++
Calm is Profitability
Fried and Hansson ground their thinking on two main ideas:
- Crazy is counter-productive
- Calm is profitability
That second assertion is interesting. The first one--where “crazy” refers to long work weeks, constant meetings, always-connected conversation from colleagues both in-person and on the company chat, unrealistic deadlines, quick-response communication habits and expectations at all times, including after-hours--has been pretty well established by research (for a good introduction to the research, we recommend Cal Newport’s book Deep Work).
And if that first assertion is true, then the second one does seem to follow. But what makes it so?
● Less Waste. When staff are properly incentivized to “do the job and then some,” which is how we define Results++ at Velentium, and discouraged from looking busy for appearance’s sake, they’re able to focus better, thus accomplishing higher-quality results over fewer days.
● Better Solutions. As Fried and Hansson put it, “creativity and insight don’t yield to brute force.” So, “put in a day’s work and go home.” There’s plenty of research to back up the idea that working longer days and longer weeks, without adequate downtime, results in worse output. Our brains practice problem cycling: when we disengage from a problem we’ve been focused on intentently for a long block of time (3-5 hours), our brains shift the topic to our subconscious and keep working on it in the background, which makes our best tomorrow and our best next week possible. People need established rhythms of deep engagement and deliberate disengagement to do their best work. Reaping the benefit of those rhythms depends on a lack of interruptions.
● Effectiveness > Productivity. Emphasizing ‘productivity’ biases workplaces and workers toward busyness metrics. Quantity over quality, high availability over deep concentration, fast responses over thoughtful communication… these subtly-encouraged bad habits will creep in and take over. But as Fried and Hansson say, “depth, not breadth, is where mastery is found.” Aiming at effectiveness will get you there.
● Quality Hours. It’s hard to accomplish much worth doing with fractured hours, Fried and Hansson point out. An hour split up 2x30 or 4x15 is many times less conducive to quality output than 1x60 (or better yet, 1x120 or 1x240!).
● Fewer Distractions. Most major distractions at work are from work-related conversations with coworkers and from meetings. Interrupting SMEs should be taboo. Taking people’s time should be difficult. Expecting instant responses is unreasonable and almost always unnecessary. Fried and Hansson suggest that experts limit their question-answering obligations to pre-set office hours, and time-respecting expectations be placed around communication and calendars. (In fact, they suggest abolishing shared calendars entirely. That’s a step too far for us, but we agree in principle).
These are all ways that steering toward Calm produces better outcomes (Results++), both for workers and for the quality and time input of their work. And better results over less time leads to profitability.
So while it may feel like continuous hustle and outworking the competition is the only way forward, Fried and Hansson make a strong case for the opposite being true. Serving your customers well is what matters. If you’re doing that, you can afford to ignore your competitors’ grindstone work habits (especially since you know now them to be counterproductive!) and focus instead on making the best product you can. That’s how you get to Results++.
In our next posts, we’ll slice the It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work cake a bit differently to see where Fried and Hansson’s advice lines up with Velentium’s other core values, Honorable and Humble Charisma.