Tag Archives: work ethic

A SmackDown of the 4-Hour Workweek

My oldest son is just finishing a degree at the University of Texas.  He invested six years in the Air Force, forecasted weather for pilots from his base in Alaska, worked on education initiatives in Nepal while his wife worked in a war crime project, and he is currently spending his Saturdays shadowing a surgeon (in hopes of becoming a surgeon himself).

He is very smart, and has already built quite a diverse resumé.

So, this weekend, I was telling him about the monthly best-seller list of Hardcover Business Best Sellers in the New York Times.  I ran down the list, and got to the title:  The 4-Hour Work Week – written in 2007, still number 5 on the list.

My son gave me one of these “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks.  You know, the look that says, “what world does this guy live in?” He was speechless, incredulous, borderline angry.  He launched into something close to a rant – kind of stream of consciousness, with phrases like:

There is no surgeon alive that could function with that philosophy.  and…  You can’t forecast weather for military pilots in four hours a week, where a sloppy forecast could have genuinely dire consequences.

And then his wife (nearly finished at The University of Texas School of Law) joined in, describing how no attorney could possibly write the required briefs and do the preparation work needed for a normal work load in four hours a week.  They basically said that this is an absolute fantasy scenario for the people with serious jobs out there in the real world.

I did not defend the book to them.  But I had presented the synopsis of that book at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and decided to revisit my handout.  Here are a few “highlights” (they don’t seem so high after this conversation) from the book The 4-Hour Workweek:  Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris.

You can make more money – a lot more money – by doing half of what you are doing now.
Each path begins with the same first step:  replacing assumptions.
Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

Thoughts like these permeate the book:

You do your best work in short bursts of time – so plan your short bursts of time, and take the rest of the day (week/month/quarter) off!
You really can get your work done in 20% of the time, or less (thus:  the 4-hour workweek).

Well, I’ve thought about my son’s rant.  And I have concluded that maybe he is more than just a little right about this.  Maybe Timothy Ferris, in trying to be “cute,” and writing one of those “just go for it, use your time the way you want to” books, has done us quite a disservice.

Yes, Timothy Ferris is wildly successful.  But I bet this:  I bet if Timothy Ferris ever has to have open-heart surgery, he will choose a surgeon who works more than fours a week.  What do you think?


And let me add:  Bob Morris, my blogging colleague, and the most well-read person I know, regularly (subtly and not-so-subtly) reminds me that best-sellers and most-popular books, may not be the best, most important, most serious books. I think my son just agreed with Bob.

Thoughts on Work Ethic (With Wisdom From Doctor J)

I have a love-love-hate relationship with the concept of work ethic.  First, the obvious – without it, success is impossible.  Let me say that again – success, mastery, breakthroughs – they all require a great, dedicated, dead-serious work ethic.  (That’s the love-love part of the relationship).

Here’s the hate part.  Work ethic alone does not guarantee success.  Many people work very hard only to see their plant closed, their company go bankrupt…  So – work ethic does not guarantee genuine success.  But a poor work ethic practically comes close to guaranteeing failure.

Anyway, here are a few lines from Daniel Pink’s Drive to reinforce the “have a good work ethic” rule.

“Grit” – “perseverance and passion and long-term goals.”  (the #1 predictor of success at West Point).  In every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment.

“Effort means you care about something, and you are willing to work for it.”  (Carol Dweck).

“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”  (Julius Erving).

Business Lessons from Guy Kawasaki

Business Lessons from Guy Kawasaki (excerpted from the Corner Office Interview, NY Times)

Guy Kawasaki on one of his many adventures

Guy Kawasaki is a one-man business idea factory.  We link to his blog on our blog roll, and I follow him on Twitter, and I have presented synopses of two of his books, The Art of the Start and Reality Check (which Bob Morris called the best book he read in 2008).  Here are some excerpts from his terrific interview in the NY Times Corner Office (Note:  Bob usually posts about the pieces from the NY Times Corner Office, and will probably do so again with this one.  But I liked it so much that I decided it would be more than ok to give our readers a double dose of Kawasaki).

On the centrality and primacy of sales:

You truly have to understand how to take care of your customers.
I learned a very valuable lesson: how to sell. Sales is everything. As long as you’re making sales, you’re still in the game. That lesson has stuck with me throughout my career.

On Steve Jobs and his brilliance:

I learned from Steve that some things need to be believed to be seen. These are powerful lessons — very different from saying we just want to eke out an existence and keep our heads down.

On hiring:

The most important thing is that you hire people who complement you and are better than you in specific areas.
…make yourself dispensable — what greater accomplishment is there than the organization running well without you? It means you picked great people, prepared them and inspired them. And if executives did this, the world would be a better place.

On clear and simple, easy to understand, to the point communication:

business schools should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off.

On work ethic:

…success in business comes from the willingness to grind it out. It’s not because of the brilliant idea. It’s because you are willing to work hard. That’s the key to success.

On execution:

The issue with consulting is that if you go straight to work for a consultant (after college graduation), you develop this perspective that the hard part is the analysis and the decision. In reality, that’s not the hard part. The hard part is implementing the decision, not making it.


You can purchase my synopses of both The Art of the Start, with handout + audio, on our companion web site 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  The synopsis for Reality Check should be available soon.

The New “Zippies” — and the Growing Skill Deficit

The World is Flat• The new “zippies” — “a young city or suburban resident, with a zip in his stride.  Generation Z.  Oozes attitude, ambition, and aspiration.  Cool, confident, and creative.  Seeks challenges, loves risks, and shuns fear.”
(Describing younger adults in India — Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat)


Last night, I spent a really wonderful evening with a group of very sharp women.  We discussed the book Womenomics by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.  There were many parts of the book that were met with approval and agreement.  But they weren’t so sure about this:  in the book, the authors state that “The millennials are influencing expectations for the entire workforce…the next generation has no interest at all in the sixty-hour work week.”

The Reckoning:  A tale of two cultures as seen through two car companies

The Reckoning: A tale of two cultures as seen through two car companies

I remember reading David Halberstam’s great book The Reckoning.  In the book, he described some bad years for Ford and the ascendancy of Nissan.  The book is in storage, so I can’t give you an exact quote, but I clearly remember this:  younger Americans had become complacent, not driven, not hungry – and a little lazy and apathetic.  At the same time, the younger adults in Japan were working really, really hard because they were so hungry.  He clearly implied that hunger trumps apathy.

I thought of that when I read Thomas Friedman’s column this morning:  The New Untouchables.  Here are some excerpts:

A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.

I agree that we need to retool our education, or we will be in genuine trouble.  We are definitely growing an alarming education deficit.

But I would suggest that Friedman is hinting at another bottom line.  I would word it this way:  we’re not going back to the good old days unless we get a little more hungry, and develop a new generation of zippies right here in our country.

I don’t think that Kay and Shipman are calling for a lesser work ethic.  They are, in fact, arguing for hard work – when you are at work.  But, this desire of a younger generation to “work less” may translate into a lesser work ethic at the very time that we are in competition with people all over the world who may be ready to work harder than we do.  And if there is anything I have learned in business books lately, work ethic really matters. From the 10,000 hour rule popularized by Gladwell’s Outliers, to the call for deliberate practice in Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, it takes hard work over a long period to get really good at anything.  And that hard work has to start with working hard to learn what is available to learn in school — and then adding skill after skill after skill after school.

In Freidman’s article, he describes that a person can be a very competent lawyer with just the skills learned in school.  But then, the lawyers that survive and thrive in tough times have to develop other skills – skills not taught in school, like client cultivation, networking, the skill to imagine new ways to work…the list grows and grows.  As for the people who learned what they learned in school, and expect that that will be “enough” – well, it isn’t enough.  Not anymore.

So – here is your simple question for the day.  Do you “ooze attitude, ambition, and aspiration?”  When a person watches you walk down the sidewalk, would they describe you as a “zippie?”  If not, you’d better look over your shoulder, because someone is about to pass you.


You can purchase my synopsis of The World is Flat, with audio + handout, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  The Womenomics synopsis is coming soon.

Work Ethic and Success – A Contrarian View?

I have written before (Work Ethic is Always at the Center of Every Success Story — Just Ask Joan Rivers) that work ethic seems to be one of the nonnegotiables for success.  Both Malcolm Gladwell and Geoff Colvin trumpet this, with emphasis on the 10,000 hour rule – it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything.  People who work hard, really hard, and then practice what Geoff Colvin calls deliberate practice, have a much better chance at success.

Now comes word that the folks who founded Flickr are saying that work ethic is overrated, and not all that necessary.  Here’s an excerpt from an article titled Hard Work’s Overrated, Maybe Detrimental (read the article here):

Caterina Fake, who, with her husband Stewart Butterfield, founded Flickr, knows a thing or two about bliztkreig work schedules. But she points out that late nights are seldom very useful in the grand scheme of things. Hard work? Overrated:
When we were building Flickr, we worked very hard. We worked all waking hours, we didn’t stop. My Hunch cofounder Chris Dixon and I were talking about how hard we worked on our first startups, his being Site Advisor, acquired by McAfee–14-18 hours a day. We agreed that a lot of what we then considered “working hard” was actually “freaking out”. Freaking out included panicking, working on things just to be working on something, not knowing what we were doing, fearing failure, worrying about things we needn’t have worried about, thinking about fund raising rather than product building, building too many features, getting distracted by competitors, being at the office since just being there seemed productive even if it wasn’t–and other time-consuming activities. This time around we have eliminated a lot of freaking out time. We seem to be working less hard this time, even making it home in time for dinner.
Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing. Working hard, even, if that’s what you like to do.

I don’t disagree with this.  (And, to state the obvious, I haven’t founded anything as successful as Flickr).  But I do think that it takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you can “know the right thing to work on.”  It might even take quite a bit of “freaking out,” in order to learn just what does and does not work, what does and does not matter…

The article is actually a call to have “dream space and time,” a concept that I wholeheartedly endorse.  Here’s the last paragraph of the article:
Modern office design is actually converging upon this idea, without any prodding from neuroscience–for example, Facebook’s new offices seem to be organized more around living rooms and DJ booths than cubicles. Elsewhere in office design, conference rooms are quickly being crowded out by lounge spaces. In other words, the very types of places that Watson and Crick found so useful.

And maybe the article hints that when you have learned a few things, you can then work a lot smarter as well as harder.  And I certainly endorse the idea that someone whould be able to be home in time for dinner.

But I’m not really sure this makes the case that success does not come from hard work.  I think it takes hard work to learn how to work smarter. There is still no substitute for work ethic.

Work Ethic is Always at the Center of Every Success Story — Just Ask Joan Rivers

You learn and re-learn the great truths in the strangest places.  Here’s the truth I speak of in this post:  work ethic really, really matters.

The quote comes from a short piece/interview on Huffington Post with Joan Rivers. She is a perpetual and repeated success story, in spite of her oddities and her persona.  She won “The Celebrity Apprentice” and now she’s got a new show debuting, “How’d You Get So Rich?”

Here’s what she said in an interview with AP:
AP: Is there a secret to success?
Rivers: It’s having an idea that you totally believe in and then working at it. Not one person that we interviewed did not have a great work ethic. These people don’t say, “Boohoo, poor me, it’s a recession and I can’t do it.” Absolutely not. (emphasis added).

It’s that little, short sentence that affirms what the business books say:  work ethic matters.  Here’s Malcolm Gladwell from Outliers:
The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.

But it’s not just work ethic – it’s work ethic with time invested in getting good/better/the best at what you do in a discipline labeled “deliberate practice.”  Here’s Geoff Colvin’s description from Talent is Overrated:
The factor that seems to explain the most about great performance is something the researchers call deliberate practice.  (This) definitely isn’t what most of us do on the job every day, which begins to explain the great mystery of the workplace – why we’re surrounded by so many people who have worked hard for decades but have never approached greatness.  Deliberate practice is hard.  It hurts.  But it works.  More of it equals better performance.  Tons of it equals great performance.

Work much, much harder…tons of it equals great performance. It sounds like it takes hard work to succeed, in business, and in life.

Say what you will about her, this much is sure:  Joan Rivers works very hard.  And she is set to tell us in her new program that the most successful people all work equally hard.  It is the non-negotiable on the path to success.