Sunday, January 11, 2009

what matters, who cares?

You should. I remember when I got my first job out of college and one of the techs in my group asked me if I was happy with my salary and I said it's ok and it depends. If I'm learning and growing and my time is being used effectively, than I'm happy. If I'm going to have my time wasted then you could pay me ten times as much and I'd still be unhappy. I basically said, there is no such thing as a time lottery, I can get a ton of money very quickly, but I can't get a ton of time with lucky numbers. It's all about return on time. It caught him by surprise, and I was a little cocky. But there was a lot of truth to my words. There's been times where I haven't made a cent and been incredibly happy and productive. There have been others times where I've been paid well and seen my life disappeared.

This is an awkward segue to a post by Tim O'Reilly called "Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles" And in it he explores three rules for determining what is "Stuff that Matters"

1. Work on something that matters to you more than money.
2. Create more value than you capture
3. Take the long view.

He expounds on these points quite well, with room for discussion. These are great guideposts, but how do you get to do stuff that matters. If you have been reading my blog you get that I have an odd combination of interests, and one is business. I read the Harvard Business Review at the library, and every so often something doesn't suck. One was an interview with the slashmaster Robert Redford who talked about getting the right to experiment (stuck behind a paywall, Dear HBS consider creating more value than you capture and after a period of expiration release your content. The professors who wrote those articles aren't getting royalties, nor in most cases were they paid, and if any of their funding was government funded you really should publish those out in the free.) In it he said that you need to negotiate the two picture deal in life. " you need to be prepared to "horse-trade with the devil" by trading "a sure thing for the right to experiment."

Now you don't often get to do that at work because most of our work isn't piecemeal like a motion picture. But it is a model for you to get the right to experiment.Or the right to do "stuff that matters"

Personal finance experts recommend 3 - 6 months of savings which I think is ludicrous. You should be thinking in terms of 3 - 6 YEARS. I know people who have done it without striking it rich. FY money is powerful, it gives you control. So how do you do it?

First off, develop a love of freedom. If you can internalize the love of freedom you will save because money does not translate only to stuff, it translates to control. Companies love their employees to be in debt with a mortgage and car payments because it makes them pliant. Hiring is a pain in the ass, and if your talent can walk out at a moments notice it causes them problems. That's why HR talks about retaining talent with all the mamby pamby stuff, but behind the scenes they want to socialize you to debt. It is so part of our American psyche we don't have to try and it does explain some of our productivity. The Chinese have no idea how to get into debt. It's not human nature to want to be in debt.

You can't control top line revenue all the time, but there is usually a way to manage your bottom line. Choose your spending well. Make sure you spend for you not to impress others. They won't be impressed by you, they'll be scared by you and just buy something nicer the instant you buy something nice. Structure your spending so your reserves go a long time.

Think deeply, what matters is usually what is old. Social networks have great power not because they answer an new need, they address an old need, the need to feel part of a community and connected. The office water cooler would have to be created even if every desk had a water fountain.

Lastly, think about how do you play with the house's money. One thing that has helped me is figuring out ways to have your FY work for you. Keep the principal solid, don't put it at risk but use the proceeds of your principle to make money for you.

It's tough times to say "do stuff that matters" but you can do it.


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