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“Make meaning not movement”

I was having a discussion about entrepreneurship yesterday with a friend and I mentioned that I can see one of entrepreneurs at one of the startups I’m consulting for really starting to get anxious about money.  I mentioned that I could see their anxiety manifesting itself in pushing for more…more time, more phone calls, more emails, more stuff.  But at the end of the day when I look back all of the things we / they have done as a company over the last 4 months, there are really only a few high value activities, and none of them seemed to come from “doing more.”  There is a lot of chatter, particularly email and skype chatter, but very little of it seems to translate into real value for the copmany.  It just yields more chatter, but it feels like doing something, and when people start to get anxious they feel they can solve the anxiety by just doing something.  It doesn’t work.

In my discussion yesterday, my friend told me he has seen this time and time again in startups, where entrepreneurs think the cure for their problems is by making more movement.  Instead, my friend suggested, “make meaning, not movement.”  This is certainly easier said than done.  And you might say “well the only way to know what creates value is to try lots of things.”  I do think that is true to some extent.  But often times what I see and do (I’m very guilty of this) is sort of a blind blur of activity in hopes it will make something happen.  Amazingly people (me included) take very little time to take a step back, and really evaluate the situation.  It is only within this “meta” perspective that you will be able to spot opportunities to “make meaning.”

So I was pleased to stumble upon this blog post today from Caterian Fake titled “working hard is overrated.”   My favorite section of the post was a quote  from a book titled “Smart World,” about Watson and Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA:

At times the two central protagonists behaved like people whose day job was working up skits for Monty Python….they had distinctly lackadaisical work habits. Watson played several sets of tennis every afternoon and spent his evenings alternately chasing ‘popsies’ at Cambridge parties and going to the movies. Crick, who rarely showed up at the lab before 10 AM and took a coffee break and hour later repeatedly appeared to lose interest in the problem of DNA. On more than one occasion, vital piece of information were obtained not through hard work but as a result of chance conversations in the tea line at the Cavendish laboratory.

I love the last paragraph of her post to summarize:

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.

Make meaning not movement.


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