Second-timers know something, too

Ev Williams responds to a piece by Mr. Gutman:

I firmly believe that the extreme imbalance so pervasively assumed to be a required component of startup life is detrimental to effectiveness in the long run. What I think is much more key is focus. ..Another trick to this theory is that it’s harder to demonstrate focus to your people than it is to demonstrate willingness to put in insane hours. And all this is not to say that, endless hours can’t make up for some lack of focus. (Although, at a certain point, you have decreasing returns and start making bad decisions. I wonder how many of Blogger’s bugs were put in after midnight by me.)

This in response to what I think is a typical perception of a startup life, where Gutman says:

…can you win in business, on your own terms?

Experience says no. To win you have to submit to the lunacy of the crazy world we live in. If you won’t push the pedal to the floor, you can bet your competitors will. And while you may be motivated even with cushy surroundings and shorter days, the people you hire will take it as a signal that they can relax too.



Whose experience says that? Yes, you have to work hard, but I’m with Ev on this. Being smart does not mean killing off the rest of your life to make a company “succeed,” alienating your family and destroying the personal lives of your employees and partners is going to translate into a sustainable team capable of capitalizing on all that fabled hard work. Perhaps that’s why founders and early employees retire early, because they’ve got nothing left to put into the company. But I’d rather have their experience later than every shred of their humanity today; nor do I think that I am preserving their humanity by giving them absurd perks to make work more palatable, which is just another way to misallocate funding, if you ask me.

We’re building Persuadio on the idea that the company will thrive by having our people involved in the world they are seeking to describe, whether it’s at the side of a soccer field or through the habit of blogging late at night. Living gives people insight that can’t be purchased. All the whacky benefits of working at a bubble-era startup can’t replace the time when the mind idles during a meal with the family or a good not-related-to-work book, delivering some work-related insight that is flavored by the whole range of human experience.

Does that mean I am for laziness? No. There are plenty of times that you have to pull an all-nighter or give up your weekends in order to make progress on a product or to satisfy a customer (there have been a couple of those in the last two weeks for Persuadio). But there are also times when it is a good idea to take the afternoon and spend it with your kids, because they need you, too. If work subtracts from society, which it does when it is conducted as a frantic mission, the results can damage the world. Daniel Pink‘s new book, A Whole New Mind, does a good job of exploring how much of ourselves we’re leaving behind when we think narrowly.

When a company preserves its people, allowing them to bring more and more experience to their work each day, it is far better positioned for success than one that perpetually drives people to distraction, exhausting the mind and body without granting the intellectual and physical benefits of a day’s work well done, such as a walk or an evening with a spouse. People who live and work well stay, everyone else either is too lazy to last at a company or burns out. There is something to be said for the middle way.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.