Let’s go through the five styles and some suggestions on how to align them:
1. Perfectionist: You know who they are … they’re your team mates that put equal emphasis on things that are urgent and important and not urgent and not important. So while they produce great quality material, they run the risk of running out of time which places strain on a team, especially when it’s low value work that’s taking precedence.
Though they can potentially drive each other insane, get your Detail Dodgers to help your perfectionists prioritise effectively.
2. Detail Dodger: This creative big picture thinker has no problem with getting things done. They fire-cracker their way through tasks and motor through their to-do lists. The problem comes in when outputs lack quality; so connecting them with the more linear styles: Perfectionist, Procrastinator, and Last Minute Racer tends to make a whole lot of sense.
Get your Perfectionists to assist your Detail Dodgers with proofreading and high detail-orientated tasks like statistics and in-depth research.
3. Drop & Hop: This is the super creative team player that has lots on the go, lots started, but nothing necessarily finished. While they are great to have on the team when it comes to idea farming, they frustrate colleagues who are waiting for them to finish things.
Buddy the Drop & Hop up with the Detail Dodger to help cut through the clutter and bring closure to partly finished projects.
4. Procrastinators: We’re all guilty of this at some point, particularly when we are tired or overwhelmed. So while most of the styles fall prey to procrastination some of the time, the Procrastinator delays action most of the time. This leads to missed opportunities.
Partnering dominant Procrastinators up with your Drop & Hoppers can be just the answer you are looking for. It’s often just by getting started that half the battle is won, and the Drop & Hop has lots started.
5. Last Minute Racer: Often seen as the rescue style for an underperforming Drop & Hop, Perfectionist or Procrastinator, this team member hangs on until the last minute before taking action because they feel they deliver a better result when under pressure. So while they seldom miss deadlines, as a team player they leave their colleagues hanging on.
Partner your LMR’s with your fast-moving Detail Dodgers or creative Drop & Hoppers. This way, even if a project is left to the last minute, at least it has been started.
* * * * *
While some teams seek a blissful environment where colleagues are the best of friends, all skipping, harps and roses, the fact remains that when we challenge thinking, fight for what we believe in and reject a clone-like mentality, we shift boundaries, learn and grow.
Quirky, focused & fun are words used to describe Tracey Foulkes, productivity conference speaker and CEO of Get Organised. If you want your team to be inspired to operate outside of the box, contact her for a complimentary productivity assessment. Connect with Tracey: Twitter or Linkedin.
When we launched a paid version of iDoneThis, we held our breath — we didn’t know if a single person would sign up.
The waiting, the sweat, the nerves.
Finally, the whoosh of a collective sigh of relief. One trailblazer of a person signed up for iDoneThis and put their credit card down.
Amidst all that “will they pay?” jitters though, we figured that if just one person signed up, there had to be at least 1,000 more people out there who hadn’t yet heard of us that would be willing to do the same. And that first month, we got $1,000 recurring revenue signups for our service.
How We Did It
1. A simple product with a straightforward value proposition.
From the beginning, iDoneThis has been simple to explain and understand:
We send your team a daily email asking, “What’d you get done today?” You reply. The next morning, your team gets an email digest with what your team got done yesterday — to kickstart another productive day.
It’s an incredibly simple way to sync up at work.
For almost every team, syncing up is a pain point, and we provide a simple solution: instead of having meetings or interrupting people who are trying to get things done, sync up asynchronously over email.
The reason that it can be harder to build a simple product is that you will always have people laughing at you, asking incredulously, “People pay for that?” This happened non-stop in the early days of iDoneThis and continues to happen today.
In fact, the developer mentality is that the simpler a product is, the less willing people are to pay. Why? Because if a product is simple, developers will build it themselves instead of paying for it.
But it turns out that what people really think when considering a purchase decision is, “Does this solve my pain point and is it not outrageously expensive?" rather than "Can I build this myself?" Most people — and this includes developers — want to focus on doing their actual work, not building and maintaining a piece of technological scaffolding.
If you address a straightforward pain point in a simple way, people are more likely to understand that you solve their problem, and are thus more likely to buy.
2. Avoid the cold start problem.
During the month that we got to $1,000 in recurring revenue, we actually did very little in the way of customer acquisition.
We could’ve gotten to $1,000 in recurring revenue by sitting around and doing nothing all day, because we’d already done the work up front to build an audience.
By that point, iDoneThis for personal, self-tracking use had grown to some 40,000 members, so there was considerable inbound traffic to the site. While the conversion rate was low because people arrived expecting to see the personal product, we nevertheless knew that people were coming to our page in the first place with a willingness to check out our wares.
Plus, we’d previously had individual members request that we build a team product, so we had a list of people to contact about the new paid version.
As Paul Buchheit, creator of Gmail and partner at Y Combinator, says, the correct order of operations is to “sell before you build.” When you launch, you want a whole list of people that you can tell to buy it. But more than that, you want to ensure that you’re investing all that time building something that people want to buy.
If you can’t build that list of interested people, it’s a pretty good sign that you shouldn’t build the product you have in mind at all.
3. Minimum viable monetization.
Before launching the paid version of iDoneThis, we had endless conversations about how the pricing plan would work. Would we have tiered plans, price per user, price per usage, etc.? It felt like we’d never launch the paid version because we’d never figure out pricing.
It’s easy to get caught up in the anxiety of selling a product for money because you never fully believe that someone is willing to pay for it — that is, until someone does. That means that the most important thing you can do with pricing is to get going with the minimum scheme you need to charge people and make money.
We chose a very simple plan of monetization of $3 per person per month, then later changed that price and grandfathered in all the old teams.
We also decided to take peoples’ credit card up front. The idea was to test the question of whether people were willing to pay in the harshest way. We felt like people must really want the product if they were willing to put their credit cards down for a free 30-day trial period. And we’d know within the first month whether people were willing to pay instead of having to wait the 30-day conversion period.
By requiring a credit card up front, we also didn’t have to build all of the infrastructure for pinging people to put down their cards during the conversion period, which was just another barrier to getting the paid product out.
* * * * *
Despite the overwhelming uncertainty that we felt about convincing people to get out their credit cards, we’d actually prepared for much of the guessing game by doing a lot of legwork, cultivating engagement and paying attention to feedback, and testing for customer enthusiasm.
When you know you have a simple solution to an existing pain point, have put in work on selling before building, and go ahead with pricing structures and processes that also uncover information about your market — the sweat and the nerves will probably not go away — but you’ll have a sense of underpinning and foundation to get the ball rolling.
GitHub + iDoneThis: Bring Your Commits Into iDoneThis
Hellooo Octocat! We’re so excited to announce our new integration with GitHub that makes it a cinch to gain motivation and momentum from seeing your progress and sharing those steps forward with your whole team.
When you’re coding all day, it’s easy to forget to take stock of the great work you and your team are getting done. We use GitHub here at iDonethis and realized that our commits are a rich exhibit of our work that often goes unrecognized. So even if you get a ton of stuff done every day, you can’t fully appreciate all your progress and accomplishments.
The content of commit messages provide pretty accurate reflections of what you get done during the workday — and it’s annoying to have to re-enter that information into iDoneThis. What happens when you don’t record those dones, though, is that you miss out on acknowledging and getting that higher level view of all your awesome work. When you fail to celebrate your amazing coding progress, you’re not fully using your potential motivation and planning power.
Plus, developer communication with other team members is a perpetual challenge and always seems to require a disruptive step out of your existing workflow. This integration streamlines that process. Now your coworkers not only get a better idea of what you’re up to, they’ll stop interrupting you with the inevitable “What are you working on?” and you can work in peace. Everyone wins!
1. You’ll start receiving some new information in your reminder email. All the commit messages you pushed that day will appear as a prompt for when you actively write about what you got done in your reply. Use the prompt to summarize or copy and paste and comment on whatever you feel are the most important commit messages to record.
2. There will also be an automatic entry recorded in iDoneThis indicating how many commits you did in each branch. So you’ll see this aggregated entry in your digest email and when you first go to the web, even if you forget or choose not to reply to your reminder email.
The neat thing is that when you click on that automated entry on the web, it folds out to show the specific commit messages and links to those commits.
We went with this two-pronged approach after testing this integration for the last few months. We discovered that there needed to be a balance between automatically bringing in all your commit messages into iDoneThis and cutting down the informational burden for anyone reading the digest.
What do you think?
Let us know how you like the GitHub integration, and if you have any questions or issues, just give a holler. Remember, first you have to enable the integration.
We want to make it easier to record what you got done in iDoneThis with apps and integrations, so let us know what tools you use and what you’d like to see!
Today, the competition for top tech talent is as fierce as it’s ever been, and without a high-performing team, it’s tough to survive. It makes sense that such intense competitive pressure drives startup founders to pitch their company to prospective hires in ever more grandiose terms, exaggerate how well their company is “crushing it,” and make their culture sound like the happiest place on earth.
How else can you stand out to a top candidate who’s considering offers from all of the hottest companies?
It’s counterintuitive, but Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos takes a totally different approach to hiring: he gives prospects a hiring anti-pitch.
Rather than tell prospects how happy and amazing Amazon is, Jeff Bezos would tell them that “it’s not easy to work here.” Even in 1997, during the dot-com boom, Bezos’s anti-pitch was stark and to the point: “You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”
Bezos’s anti-pitch certainly made it tough to hire in Amazon’s early days, and it frustrated his management team who were desperate to staff up.
But it had a powerful, intended effect — there was no disillusionment over what Amazon was when the prospect eventually joined. Those who chose Amazon in spite of the anti-pitch knew what they were getting into, and had in fact self-selected for the challenge. Amazon became known as a company whose engineers were intense and elite.
Moreover, it turns out that negative information can actually make a pitch more appealing, and the anti-pitch is a technique that some salespeople recommend. Stanford business school professors Baba Shiv and Zakary Tormala have even observed what they call the “blemishing effect”, where negative information about a product “may actually strengthen a consumer’s positive impression.” The contrast provided by receiving negative information about something accentuates the positive information even more.
Although the blemishing effect doesn’t take place in all decision-making circumstances, the anti-pitch tactic is also an expression of a company’s commitment to transparency and practice of appreciating context rather than jumping to simplistic conclusions.
The right candidates for a company value a conversation around the whole truth and appreciate that eye-opening window into not just what problems may exist but how they can contribute and help. What’s more —with an anti-pitch, you’ll stick out from the hiring crowd.
Draft + iDoneThis: Celebrate your writing progress
We’ve joined forces with Draft to make it incredibly easy to track your writing progress and share it with your team. When you’ve written up an awesome piece in Draft, record your accomplishment as a done in iDoneThis with a single click inside of Draft.
We do a lot of writing here at iDoneThis for our content marketing efforts, so we’re always in search of better writing tools.
We used to use Google Docs for collaborating on writing pieces, but it’s not great at dealing with versions and merging individual edits. I used to use WriteRoom for distraction-free writing, but it’s designed for single-player writing, not for collaboration.
We found the solution in Draft, distraction-free version control for writing.
We use it every day at iDoneThis, and we found that we were always sharing our drafts in our company iDoneThis. We found that it was an awesome way to keep the whole team in the loop on the marketing and messaging efforts that were happening, especially for team members not part of the direct draft-edit workflow. Also, it was a great way for the content marketing folks to show, not just tell, what they were getting done.
The problem was that we’d have to find the share link to our draft in Draft and copy it, then go back into iDoneThis and paste it with a brief description of the draft. Or we were just describing what we wrote, not showing what we wrote by linking to the actual piece of writing.
Coincidentally, we know Nate Kontny from 2008 and he is an awesome guy. We reached out to him and in 1 day, he had an iDoneThis integration live on Draft, that makes it dead simple to mark a draft in Draft as a done in iDoneThis.
1. Login to Draft or signup if you don’t have an account.
2. Go to the Places to Publish tab in your settings and click on iDoneThis under Places to Add.
3. Type in the email address that iDoneThis sends you emails from. The email address format for teams is firstname.lastname@example.org and for personal, the address is simply email@example.com. Hit create and you’re set up to publish to iDoneThis.
Note that your email will send from the email address that you use for Draft, so make sure the email address you use with Draft is the same one you use for iDoneThis. For example, both my registered email address for Draft and for iDoneThis is firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. When your draft is done, just click on “Publish”, type in your done message, and click publish—it’ll go into iDoneThis as a done!
What do you think?
Let us know how you like the Draft integration. We’re working on making iDoneThis work well with our apps and integrations, so let us know what tools you use and what you’d like to see!
Guest columnist James Chin is a professional poker player who has previously written about flow, having the courage to change, and the importance of self-awareness. In today’s post, he examines the often overlooked components of success.
When people talk about success they often focus on the qualities of persistence and resilience. As Woody Allen would say, 90% of success is just showing up.
But to be successful at anything requires four personal qualities, not two: persistence, resilience, reality-testing, and adaptability. These roughly correspond to 4 components of the evolutionary process: repetition, survivability of failures, variation, and selection — which is to say, showing up isn’t the whole story.
It’s those last two qualities of reality-testing and adaptability that are necessary for finding the most robust strategies for success. Basically, don’t just work hard; also work smart.
So how do you work smart? By continuing to test assumptions even — and especially — if you already have robust strategies, so that you recognize where the gaps in your knowledge are.
The Optimal is Not Enough
For poker, the four requirements for success translate into (1) going to work every day to put in the reps, (2) bankroll management, (3) creation of different strategies based on poker principles and theories, and (4) selection of the best of those strategies after testing.
Finding the most robust strategies and working smart have become increasingly important in poker, as an interesting divide has emerged between the playing styles of live and online poker players. Although that divide has narrowed as live players have incorporated more strategies that were first shown to be robust online, a line remains.
Live poker will always be based more on reading your opponent, while online poker will always be based more on math. In a live game, you’re at a single table face-to-face with your opponents. You have a wealth of physical information and time to decipher it, whereas online, you could be playing upward of 24 tables at once and need to play a style that’s more standardized, can be implemented with less thought, and yet still wins over many iterations.
Thus, live play tends toward “exploitative” play, where you identify the leaks of your specific opponents and attempt to exploit them, while online play tends toward “optimal” play, where you try to play a better fundamental game than your opponents, based on math and game theory about what the optimal play would be if the same situation were simulated over and over again. Another way of putting it is that online play is less about exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses and more about making sure your own standard game isn’t exploitable.
What’s telling is that in online poker forums where people have asked for advice on what to do in specific hands, in the past few years, top players have gone from replying “It depends.” and asking for more context to a more dismissive response of “That’s a standard spot to [x]. LOL.” That dismissiveness is shortsighted.
Knowing the optimal strategy for common situations is not enough to succeed long-term if everyone else also knows it and implements the same strategy.
Under Shifting Conditions
High frequency trading bots on Wall Street have grown less and less profitable because now everyone has them and, more crucially, has them doing more or less the same strategies. That’s why it’s important to study the fundamentals of your field to the best of your ability: not only so that you know what the standard thing to do is in common situations but also so that you know what is considered an uncommon situation.
Life is similar to poker in that it’s not necessarily the case that the standard thing to do is better than what your gut is telling you to do. We don’t live in a vacuum in which the simplistic default can be the “optimal” play.
Be able to put things into context, and never being afraid of asking for more context. As we move into an era of big data and even more automation, it might be more important than ever to know where the limits are to our common understanding, what is considered non-standard fruit and therefore ripe for human intuition to feast on before everyone else (including the robots) arrives.
This story is inspired by this week’s Startup Edition question: How did you raise money for your startup?
“Email Dan Pink.”
That task sat on my to-do list, undone for weeks. I somehow managed to move everything else around it to my done list while that one task languished. I was too scared to reach out.
If you don’t know who Dan Pink is, he’s a five-time bestselling author and thought leader on the changing world of work. His latest, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which gives a definitive look at modern sales, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller.
I had to sell to the guy who had literally written the book on selling.
I finally worked up the courage to send Dan an email, and we set up a call. Then, I gave him a horrible pitch — I fumbled my words and my nerves paved the way to tangents that made no sense. When we were done, I hung up, dejected and I felt sure that I’d blown it.
Even nerds like me have to sell in this new world of selling
No longer is selling the province of a specialized sales department. (Imagine if a startup had a team dedicated solely to fundraising!) We’re all selling now, and this is a point that Dan drives home in his book To Sell is Human.
It’s absolutely vital that our skill sets are “elastic,” that is, flexible and stretchable across functional boundaries and disciplines, because our jobs are neither as segmented nor discrete as they were in the past. Dan writes that “[a] world of flat organizations and tumultuous business conditions — and that’s our world —punishes fixed skills and prizes elastic ones.” Because business conditions are constantly shifting, companies need to be organized in nimble and agile ways, and they need to be comprised of people who can make adjustments on the fly.
Dan points to business software company Atlassian whose entire company is organized around this notion of elasticity, from the way the company is organized internally to the way that it interacts with customers.
Atlassian is totally different from other enterprise software companies in how their product is bought and sold. At your typical enterprise software vendor, the relationship begins with a visit from the vendor to the potential customer, prospecting for new business. But at Atlassian, they don’t even employ a single salesperson to source customers or pay those kind of house calls.
The customer relationship begins when they learn about Atlassian, visit the website, and are immediately able to sign up for a trial. Afterward, the customer might have questions or reach out for help, and Atlassian’s support team is there to answer questions and their engineers are there to fix bugs. What they don’t have is a sales team that badgers you to commit.
As Dan puts it, at Atlassian, sales “isn’t anyone’s job. It’s everyone’s job.” And that transformation goes hand-in-hand with the inversion of the sales process: don’t sell, serve.
How We Sold to Dan Through service
As happens with Atlassian, our relationship with Dan began two years ago, when something simple and amazing happened — Dan signed up for iDoneThis, tried it, and loved it.
He became the kind of supporter young startups dream about. He blogged about us, talked about us at conferences, and recommended us to his loyal following. He even took time out to talk with us on the phone a couple of times, and it turns out that he’s not only a tremendous writer, he’s also a keen product guy.
But there’s a huge gap between loving a free product and paying for a product, much less investing money in the product. That’s what had me daunted, and after the pitch on the phone, I thought I’d blown an incredible opportunity to get Dan on board.
But then, Dan started following up with questions.
He wanted to take a deeper dive into the terms of the convertible note, because he had never angel invested before. I knew this was important because Dan was trained as a lawyer — at Yale Law School, no less — and his wife is also a DC lawyer, and for lawyers, legalities can be a major hesitation point.
Fortunately, in our corner, we have probably the best early-stage lawyer in Silicon Valley, Yokum Taku at Wilson Sonsini. Yokum kindly offered to get on the phone and discuss the terms of the investment until they felt comfortable with it. After their conversation, I could tell that the legal question had receded as a hesitation point, thanks to Yokum.
I didn’t hear from Dan for a few weeks. Then, he emailed me. He was in. Dan wrote, “I figure a product I’ve used every day for 2 years has something going for it!”
A Modern Sell
Every fundraising announcement contains a list of famous investors who’ve come on board, but I’ve never seen a fundraising announcement that lists the people behind the scenes who helped make the round happen. I thought I had to be that kind of polished, untouchable fundraising magnet of a founder I could never even hope to be.
Yet it wasn’t me, the pitchman, that was the focal point of this deal. In fact, Dan invested in spite of my ability to sell and instead, because our engineers Rodrigo and Tony built the product, our support guru Ginni offered support, and our lawyer Yokum explained the legal issues.
From the beginning, we’d set out to move people through service and to put people first — from our customers to our own employees, and we saw the kind of modern selling that Dan writes about in action. It wasn’t me, the silver-tongued salesman who persuaded Dan. Rather, it was empowering and gratifying to feel that it was the force of the whole organization working together that convinced Dan to join us.
Learn how other entrepreneurs raised their money for their startup at Startup Edition.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. Follow him at @smalter or Google+.
Announcing the iDoneThis Newsletter and A Hammy, Bookish Giveaway
We put a lot of effort at iDoneThis into our content, because we write about what we care about: productivity, teamwork, creativity, and happiness at work. But as we quickly found, while quality content is vital, its life is incomplete without distribution, the pumping of publishing’s heart.
In these busy times, it’s as easy as blinking to miss one of our pieces amidst the fast current of content and an ocean of a squillion blog posts. We knew we could do a better job of delivering the best of our content to people who care about the same topics we do. So for us, the newsletter is the missing piece of the content network puzzle that somehow got lost under the couch cushions.
We’re particularly excited about the prospect of doing a better job of developing an iDoneThis community. The thing is, email is people. While spammingly and carelessly abused as a communication method, email can still be done well. And when it is, it can be a quieter channel that knocks on your door and leaves some homemade muffins for you if you’re not home.
And since we’re pretty hammy (and not spammy!) here at iDoneThis, we’re giving away some awesome prizes for new subscribers who sign up for the newsletter by Sunday, August 18, 11:59 pm EST.
One very lucky subscriber will get La Quercia Collezione Grande— a collection of the best American charcuterie, including prosciutto, pancetta, and bacon, 10 types in all — hand-crafted by the amazing artisans at La Quercia. La Quercia is a slow food company with values that align with our slow web beliefs, and they happen to be happy iDoneThis customers!
One lucky subscriber will win a smaller Charcuterie Collection, and La Quercia has graciously offered to throw in a La Quercia T-shirt!
(The La Quercia prizes are limited to U.S. shipping addresses only!)
Three lucky subscribers will get signed copies of:
Official rules: La Quercia prize limited to U.S. shipping addresses only. Open to those who are 18 years or older. No purchase necessary. Winners will be chosen using random.org and notified via email.
Earlybirds who have already subscribed have been entered automatically. If you’d like to opt out of the giveaway, please email janet[at]idonethis[com].
The entrepreneur’s journey can be a bumpy one, with thrilling peaks and stressful valleys. It doesn’t help that the startup world is aswarm with hype and misconceptions, which can worm their way into rookies’ heads and lead them down a wrong road or two. Take, for example, the misperception that scaling is imperative in the early stages, which leads 70% of startups to fail.
We decided it was high time to do some startup mythbusting, so we asked founders and leaders this one question:
What startup myth do you hate the most and why?
With a wide range of wise words from hard-earned experience, on aspects from accountability to how you grow to what really matters, here are their responses:
MYTH: Most people relate success to fundraising.
Many think that once a startup is able to raise funds, it’s considered successful. It’s definitely not true. Raising money is just a means to an end. It simply gives the startup a shot at building a company. Period.
MYTH: Being a founder means you don’t have a boss and you’re only accountable to yourself.
Part of being a founder is being accountable to everyone, from your newest hires to your partners and investors. I haven’t found a greater responsibility than convincing someone to leave their stable job to join your early venture, and needing to make sure you pay them (and give them opportunities that justify the risk) every month.
Once you start seeing that incredible, out-of-control growth, you’re accountable to your team and investors in a different way — taking advantage of the momentum and doing everything in your power to keep the business accelerating. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but people who pretend it’s a free pass from accountability are kidding themselves.
MYTH: You need to work 80 hours per week to succeed.
That might be true when you are 20 and inexperienced, but the reality is that if you work those many hours, you’ll either lose your hair, have a heart attack or get a divorce. Exercise, playtime and socialization are all important to maximize your brain power and imagination.
Truth is, if you are passionate about your startup, you’ll be “working” regardless because that great idea or relationship can come up at any time.
Running advertising may or may not be the scalable way for you to grow your business. But as a startup, it’s actually really important to get feedback on your product right away so that you can iterate quickly. When you have no traffic initially going to your site, running ads is a great way to get your first users in the door for that feedback.
MYTH: If you build a great product, a great company (and business) will follow.
You have to build it all simultaneously. You can build the most elegant, powerful product ever, but if no one ever uses it or it can’t be monetized in a sustainable way, does it really matter? If you don’t focus on building a company people want to work for, who is going to execute your vision?
I’ve seen companies with far inferior products with a better go-to-market strategy and strong company culture win again and again. Building a sustainable business should not be an afterthought.
MYTH: All it takes is a good idea and a deck to attract investors.
I’m often astonished that many tend to overvalue their idea. Paraphrasing Steve Case/Thomas Edison, vision without execution is hallucination. Execution is the hard part. Shipping the right product at the right time to the right customers — even harder still.
MYTH: A startup needs to have a unique idea for a product that doesn’t yet exist.
I’ve been involved in startups that have created new markets. It’s incredibly difficult and it takes a very long time. Find some segment that’s not being well-served. Many of the best startups are based on a meaningful tweak to how business as usual is conducted rather than on a unique idea.
Amazon didn’t invent the bookstore, they simply changed what it meant for a book to be “in-stock”. In the early days, Amazon was much less likely than your corner bookstore to truly have physical possession of a given book, but they were able to create the world’s biggest inventory of books by making their definition of in-stock match everyone else’s definition of out-of-stock. If they knew they could get a book from the distributor, it was in-stock. That idea led to the creation of one of the most successful startups of the last 20 years, but Jeff Bezos didn’t have a unique idea for a product that didn’t exist; he started a bookstore.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner's Unconventional Meeting Technique
Silicon Valley is all about metrics, metrics, metrics. The numbers tell us what’s wrong, and then we fix them. That’s why I was surprised to learn that the CEO of one of the Valley’s flagship companies has a different perspective on what’s important to discuss at weekly staff meetings.
While Valley dogma says that meetings must be kept as short as possible and that discussions must focus on hard numbers and data, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner avoids talking about metrics at all when starting off meetings. Before getting down to focused business talk, Weiner actually requires every person in the room to share something that’s soft and mushy, not rigorous and quantifiable. He asks each of his direct reports to share their “wins” — “one personal victory and one professional achievement” — from the past week.
Weiner observed that weekly status meetings are often dour affairs that “devolve into a round robin of complaints.” By beginning his meetings with wins, Weiner had an interesting insight: making people think and talk about accomplishments established a tone of positivity for the meeting and for the company. That set the team up to delve into metrics and discuss them with a positive frame of mind instead of one focused on what’s going wrong.
This unconventional technique actually harnesses a fundamental key to motivation that managers so often get wrong. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile interviewed over 600 managers and found that 95% of them incorrectly thought that what motivates employees at work is financial incentive or pressure. Rather, after analyzing over 12,000 employee diary entries, Professor Amabile found that the number one motivator for employees was something soft and mushy but absolutely vital. Professor Amabile called it the power of small wins: employees are highly productive and motivated to do their best work when they feel as if they’re making progress every day toward a meaningful goal.
Negativity and setbacks at work happen to be quite effective at robbing that motivation. Not only do they interrupt and detract from the feeling of progress, but they also have a tendency to stay much longer on your mind. It’s no wonder why status meetings can devolve into grumbling sessions.
You can combat that negativity by celebrating your small wins and training yourself to inject more positivity in your day, and as Weiner does, by helping your coworkers to do so. As mushy a practice as talking about personal and professional wins in a meeting can sound, that positivity can have a real impact on productivity and creativity. And that impact will eventually make a difference on those ever-valuable metrics.
Just because something is not quantifiable at the start doesn’t mean it can’t shift your future.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
What’s the point of work? What are you working towards? Some people would say towards a paycheck, others might even say towards glory if they were being honest, but there are not so many who would say towards value and meaning.
In an illuminating TED talk about motivation at work, behavioral economist Dan Ariely says that people know that meaning is important but don’t grasp just how important it is. And for some reason that makes me think about how one of the most common deathbed regrets is wishing that you’d worked less, because at that stage, I’m guessing, what’s on your mind, what you’re reaching back for is the stuff that mattered.
Meaning, that connection to something larger than ourselves, is essential. But it is pushed aside in the often superficial yet tempting notions of self-improvement, that you’ll be better and happier, you’ll be a winner, when you’re fitter, faster, richer, thinner. And it slips away like a breeze from the principles of efficiency and productivity that continue to dominate the modern workplace despite persistent, crushing degrees of disengagement.
Getting motivation at work right seems like it will unlock success, but we pay a heavy price in not understanding that meaning is the master key.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Wrong
In 1943, Abraham Maslow came up with his hierarchy of needs to explain human motivation. His theory was that when you satisfy the first level of needs, you can progress to the next one up. Starting with the most basic, physical needs for survival at the bottom, you advance through increasingly abstract levels — next is security, then love and belonging, then esteem, and then finally at the top, self-actualization, in which you are fulfilling your human potential, finding meaning in life. That progression seems to make a kind of sense — you must eat to survive first, right?
The level-by-level hierarchy reads like a roadmap, and there’s probably nothing more a manager likes than a sensible roadmap. You know what to do with that handy triangle — hey, we just have to work our way to the top. Yet the actual value in Maslow’s motivational pyramid is not the hierarchy but the reminder that human motivation is multifaceted. It’s a useful framing tool to figure out how to engage employees, a balloon of structure to fill up with your breath of ideas.
Take another look at the bottom levels of Maslow’s motivational hierarchy, which are more about carrots and sticks, the kind of incentives that have been proven to be ineffective and misguided. What the hierarchy misses entirely is that the search for meaning is intrinsic and deeply essential. It’s not some layer you put on later to fully become Human 2.0 like a superhero costume. Meaning is the point of another day. As Tony Dokoupil writes, that point is rooted deep within us:
When people see themselves as effective—as providers for their families, resources for their friends, contributors to the world—they maintain the will to live. When they lose that view of themselves, when it curdles into a feeling of liability, the desire to die takes root.
In his TED talk, Ariely also brings up the example of mountaineering, an activity that is “unrelenting misery from beginning to end”. Those most basic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy — hunger, thirst, pain, trouble taking another step, taking another breath, life itself — are threatened. And still, mountaineers keep climbing, and when they reach a peak, they come down, and then climb again. They do this because they find meaning, a shift in perspective, something that matters, in the activity.
There’s a newer order than that assembly line image of productivity, where if you just keep ticking off boxes, keep wrapping chocolates, all’s well with your job as your shift ends and it’s time to go home. Seventy years after the publishing of Maslow’s paper, the nature of work, which is increasingly knowledge work, is amorphous. Likewise, Maslow’s anatomy of needs serves us better if it reflects both that formlessness and our own human nature, we amorphous blobs of needs.
Sucking the Meaning Out of Work is Too Easy
Nothing steals meaning from a job more quickly than when you work really hard on something but it never sees the light of day. The whole idea behind the progress principle — that making progress is the most powerful motivator — doesn’t hold if the work is not meaningful. If at the end of the line, the progress you make is for naught or thrown away, then it can’t be progress.
Progress, the existence of this life of wins, big and small, is inextricably tied with what matters to you. Meaning may not be sweeping or grand, but it is significant. A study by Dan Ariely uncovers how meaning makes a difference in even trivial tasks. Participants were paid 55 cents to find ten instances of two consecutive S’s on a sheet of paper with a sequence of letters. After completing each page, people were asked if they wanted to complete an additional page for five cents less, and this continued until they wanted to stop.
The participants were separated into three groups. If you were in the Acknowledged condition, you were told to write your name on each sheet. Upon completing one page, you handed it to an experimenter, who would examine it while nodding positively and then place it in a folder. If you were in the Ignored condition group, there was no instruction to put your name on the sheet, and upon handing your completed sheet to the experimenter, it would just be placed in large stack of papers without a glance. And if you were in the Shredded condition, your experience was much like the Ignored condition, except that your paper would be put right into the shredder.
Here’s what happened: the Acknowledged group completed the most sheets and so earned the most, while the Ignored and Shredded groups clustered near each other in completing less sheets and earning less.
The surprising discovery was that people in the Ignored condition (no name, no examination, no acknowledgment) behaved much more like the people who saw their work shredded before their very eyes. Meanwhile, “almost half of the subjects in the Acknowledged condition were willing to work until the wage dropped all the way to zero.” Even in a task as tedious as finding a repeating pattern among letters, the feeling that there was some sort of meaning to the activity, that it had some value, was sufficient to motivate people to basically work for free.
There’s a finer line than you might think between disregarding someone’s work and actively destroying it. The lesson, Ariely points out in his book, Predictably Irrational, is that “sucking the meaning out of work is surprisingly easy.”
The Search for Significance in Your Work
As Amabile and Kramer write in The Progress Principle, “What matters is whether you perceive your work as contributing value to something or someone who matters (even your team, yourself, or your family).” Meaning isn’t necessarily lofty, as in some unattainable, fairy tale magic bean thing, but it is something larger and greater than ourselves. The function of meaning is that it forms a bridge, extending yourself to a point somewhere beyond. And that might be as close as contributing value to the person next to you.
Meaning comes in many shapes, sizes, forms. While it’s easier to find in certain types of work where it’s easy to see a direct impact on other people or when you’re already in for the greater good, you can still seek something that matters in most types of work. Look to co-workers around you or your customers to gain meaning from a product you’re helping to build, a service you’re helping to deliver, the problem you’re helping to solve.
Connecting with real people causes a significant shift in what you may find worthwhile. Take, for example, the findings of Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, on the impact of that personal connection. Call center workers raising money to fund scholarships met and heard one student talk about how he’d benefited from his scholarship. In one month, the employees spent 142% more time on their calls and increased their fundraising amount by 171%, even though they were still using the same script.
As much as you can, avoid cutting off ownership and autonomy, avoid not trying or refusing to contextualize work and divisions of labor, and avoid ignoring and thus effectively destroying people’s work in front of them. When a project meets the unfortunate fate, for whatever reason, of having its plug pulled, understand that the people who worked on it will, at that project’s deathbed, reach back and really look for what the hell the point was. Don’t let that purpose, value, and investment be shredded and go to waste. Consider how that work could be redirected into new opportunities and add value to future projects or provide learning opportunities for other members of the company.
To echo Umair Haque, meaning is a hunger for transformation, one that we still feel day-to-day alongside our more prosaic need for calories. We feed that hunger by continuing to ask the supremely basic question of why, why something matters, asking like a child a string of “why?”s throughout your days until it is like a mantra that is helping you dig deeper and seeing if you’re building that bridge outward and upward.
This isn’t to discount the undeniable fact that you need the basic security of things like money, food, and shelter to survive. But to consider meaning as irrelevant to how you spend your time and energy, as some final level to attain or last step to take care of, to dismiss that hunger for meaning, for transformation, that is a much poorer life.
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis and keeps the wheels of the iDoneThis blog turning. She is not a morning person. Follow her tweets at @lethargarian.