Why Give a Damn:
As entrepreneurs, we often fall guilty to the pleasures of productivity. But productivity in and of itself is a quick road to an end not worth caring about. Read this post to ensure you are climbing the right mountain.
The author of this post, Daniel Epstein, has founded and run 9 companies, including the Unreasonable Institute and Unreasonable Group. Along the way, he has started to pick up a few patterns… Particularly involving key things not to do. This is one of them.
When I started to take entrepreneurship seriously in my freshman year of University, I was obsessed with “moving quickly” and being as efficient as possible. I saw productivity and my ability to grind through work as my edge. Today, I can say confidently that my focus point then, although important, was misguided. Nearly a decade later, and after having found or co-found 9 companies since, I’ve come to believe something different. It’s best explained by this equation: effectiveness > efficiency.
After having found or co-found 9 companies since, I’ve come to believe something different. It’s best explained by this equation: effectiveness > efficiency.
I used to scoff at the belief that working smart trumped working hard. From observation alone, I’ve never met an entrepreneur who has done something historically significant without pulling routine all-nighters. A big part of me has always agreed with Thomas Edison who said: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” However, today, I now believe it’s not that working hard trumps working smart. Instead, it’s that as a team and as an individual, you must first work smart, then hard. Working hard first is an empty sense of productivity to an end not worth caring about.
I’ve learned how to articulate this best with a story that a dear friend of mine (a truly savvy entrepreneur), Matty Dorey, recently told me. It involves mountain climbing.
Let’s pretend for a minute that you have the aspiration of breaking a new record by climbing a mountain faster than anyone else in history. You are striving to be one of the fastest alpinists on earth. So you train painstakingly and relentlessly for years on end. You shape your entire life, your priorities, your sleep schedule, your friendships and your relationships around your singular goal. You spend your life savings and to afford the actual climb, you raise sponsorship and borrow money from friends and family. Finally, after having spent a small-fortune and many years of your life, the day comes for you to prep for the big journey. You reach the base of the peak and you push forward with focus, precision, and unfettered ambition. The weather is perfect and everything is clicking into place. Eventually, as fate would have it, you reach the summit. You look down at your watch and you realize that you have set a new world record. You have climbed that peak faster than any person before you! You just made history.
The most important question, far more important than the pace at which you reached the summit, is whether or not you climbed the right mountain.
That said, the most important question, far more important than the pace at which you reached the summit, is whether or not you climbed the right mountain. Today, I believe one of the most common causes of failure in the startup world is simple: you climbed the wrong mountain and you felt great the entire way up because you were moving at an incredibly fast pace. I am the first to attest, I’ve done this time and time again. I’ve raced for the summit before I considered fully the context, our resources, the competition, or market timing. Today, at Unreasonable Group, we now ask ourselves once a week, “are we climbing the right mountain?” Climbing the right mountain is a new core value of our team. We live by it. And in my limited experience as an entrepreneur, I’m willing to bet that living by this value is going to allow us to live much longer.
CANDID NOTE: I also think that making a fortune isn’t necessarily the right mountain. If you are a gifted engineer or designer and you build out a mobile game that is downloaded millions of times and you in turn make millions of dollars, I’d challenge whether or not that was the right mountain. (i.e. is the problem you are solving worth caring about?).