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It's just important thing to understand why you are leading someone in a certain direction. I'm not sure that it's always that well thought out.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and this is another episode of the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods, mental models that help you learn from the best, what other people have already figured out. You can learn more and stay up to date on the podcast at a stop logged podcast. That's first doc blogs, podcasts.
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That's AIFS Dot Blogs newsletter. Most of the guests on the show are subscribers, the weekly email, so make sure you check it out. On the show today is Jason Free, the co-founder and CEO of Basecamp and the author of Free Work. And it doesn't have to be crazy at work when I look for examples around people running a business the way I want to run a business. Jason immediately comes to mind. In a world of VC capital sloshing around, base camp has bucked the trend and grown on profit.
And a while ago they changed their name to base camp. It used to be 37 signals. So if it sounds a little unfamiliar and you're familiar with 37 signals, it's now vazgen. We talk about everything, but we talk about why you shouldn't measure yourself against the number of goal running a business life, parenting and like everything else under the sun. And I have to warn you, Jason's philosophy is infectious. It's time to listen and learn. Before we get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor.
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Check them out at Medlab Dutko. That's Medlab Dutko. And when you get in touch, tell them. Shantanu Jason, I'm so glad to get to talk to you today. Likewise. Huge fan of base camp, huge fan of yours. And you take a very sort of different approach to things which we're going to dive into on this podcast. But I really want to start with something closer to the heart. What's one of the biggest lessons that you learned from your parents growing up?
A number of them. But I would say always figure out what the right thing to do is in any given situation. It's not always that you're going to do the right thing, but but know what the right thing is. I think that's something that I've always taken away from my folks, my folks. I've always seen them do the right thing, even when it's inconvenient. And I think that that's something that's really stuck with me.
Like, we don't all live by that all the time. But we try. We try.
So I'm always looking for like, you know, hey, it would be really nice if I didn't have to do this. But really the right thing to do is to do this or, you know, in a situation where you see something would be more convenient to look away, like the right thing to do is to stop and help that kind of thing.
Examples come to mind, either through running basecamp or growing up that you witnessed your parents do that. I saw it a lot so once so growing up, I had a friend named Freddie and Freddie, Freddie's family didn't have a lot of money. My family was OK. We're doing pretty good.
And Freddie and I used to play basketball outside. We had a basketball hoop outside on our driveway and it came time to play basketball, to try out for basketball in junior high or whatever it was.
Actually, this was not even a tryout. This is just like a junior high basketball team sort of thing. And Freddie couldn't afford to. It was like one hundred bucks or something and couldn't afford to do it. And I remember my dad just taking care of that for him because it was the right thing to do. Freddie, love basketball. We used to play all the time and it'd be you could say, like, well, his parents didn't want to do it or couldn't afford it.
Like, oh, well. But my dad's like, no, that's just not right. Like he should he wants to play. It's not his fault. The kid's 15 or whatever. Like if we can help him out, let's help him out. So that's like a one example and that's a monetary example. But it wasn't really the money so much. It was it was a thought and it was a recognition in the situation that this kid wanted to do something, that he was being held back because his folks couldn't afford it.
And let's if we can. So let's let's help. So I think that was like one specific example I can think of.
That's an awesome example. Is that sort of like the impetus behind base camp and working at shorter hours to where it's trying to do the right thing versus what the easy thing is?
I think it's doing the enough thing. So talk to me a bit like this is sort of counterintuitive, right? Because we live in this cultural pressure, whether we sort of like whether it's tangible or we just know it exists and it's to work harder to work longer. You're on a treadmill and there's like nine people waiting to take your job, sort of. And if you're not working hard, then somebody else will. Perhaps we haven't created a situation or we made sure that we've created an environment where that's not the case, where it's not about people aren't looking around to see who's working the hardest.
And as I wrote actually in a blog post about this, like, look, we're making software. This isn't hard work, really hard work to me. Is manual labor something your back is sore? By the end of the day, you're really, really beat up. We're fortunate to be able to do the things that we're doing here. And we get to sit in an air conditioned room. We get to work on the computer. There's very little risk involved with all this stuff.
So I tend to reserve the word hard work for like really physical hard work. But that's just maybe an aside. But we just we don't look at it that way. We look at essentially an output kind of which is is the work getting done if the working gets done in five hours a day and that's enough. And frankly, you shouldn't need 10, 12 plus hours a day to to get enough good work done. The reason why a lot of people are working those longer hours is not because there's 12 hours of work to do.
It's because they can't find time within those 12 hours to actually get a few contiguous hours of time to actually do the work they need to do to their work. Their work is spread across some of your things in so many different places on a given day that they can't piece it together in a relatively short period of time. So it's spread out and that's why people are working longer.
It's not that there's more work to do. I totally agree.
When I worked for the government, when one of my observations was that it was actually only working like two hours a day like everybody else. Every everything else is meetings. It's context shifting. It's sort of like non-productive time, it's constant interruptions. And it really disrupts not only your flow, but the quality of your work.
Absolutely. And there's more and more research coming out on this and studies on this and books about this. And people pay more attention to it. And we've always tried to create an environment here, base camp, where everybody gets a full eight hours a day to themselves. Basically, everyone's day is their own day and how they spend it is up to them. And if someone wants some of your time, they have to ask you for it. We don't have for example, we don't have shared calendars at base camp, so I can't see anyone else's schedule and they can't see mine.
So I can't take their time and they can't take mine. If they want some of mine or I want some of theirs, we have to ask each other for it, like physically ask like, hey, Jason, are you free or Hey Jonas, are you free or are you free at three o'clock for twenty minutes to talk about something. And she could say yes or no or whatever, but it's a negotiation because it's valuable. Time is very valuable.
And so you negotiate and versus a countering system where you click an empty box and you basically send an invitation through a system. And it's very rare the people declined invitations unless they truly can't make it. But the spirit is someone asked for my time, so I'll give it to them even. But it's it's this inhumane system that's doing it. So we just want to make sure that that people are talking to each other if they need each other's time, because time is incredibly valuable.
And to ask for someone else's time, you should have a good reason for it and shouldn't be just something you can fill into a field, you know, a form.
Can we get on that a little bit? Like talk to me a little bit more. But the internals of how base camp is run, how things are allocated, how teams come together, what the process is like on the inside, what does that look like and how many people are you now just to start?
Sure. We've fifty five people in the company and different teams work slightly different ways. So I'll talk about product development, which is primarily my responsibility. I guess everything's my responsibility. I run the place. But I mean, that's kind of where I spend most of my time on product development.
We basically choose work to do every six weeks and we do work over six week period of time. And I can get into how we choose that. But let me kind of set the set the framework here. So what we call six week cycles. And during those six weeks we pick off three to five ish projects and each each cycle of six weeks there's usually two to three different product teams working on the features we've decided to work on.
And those teams are three people or less. Oftentimes it's two people. And we basically decide that there's there's six weeks is enough time. A big fundamental thing about base camp is this idea of enough. And I've already talked about that like enough time during the day and six weeks is enough time to make substantial progress on something that's important. And it also forces us to make sure that we understand exactly what it is that is important in any feature that we're building.
Because if you give it three months, it'll take three months. We give it six months, it'll take six months. And the exciting thing to me is to figure out what's the six week version of this idea, and then we can really boil it down into a session. So we pick work every six weeks, assign it or throw it up for grabs to different product teams and they can decide who wants to work on it. And then they get to work.
And these teams are our. They're not checking in with anybody automatically they check in when they feel like they need to check in or they have questions, or if I want to look at something, we'll look at something. But but they're given the full responsibility to complete that work in that amount of time and 90 plus percent of the time they do. And so that's at a high level. How we work on product, how we come up with these ideas every six weeks is a different process.
That's typically three of us thinking about what we want to do next. So we don't have we don't have a roadmap. So we don't have I don't know if we're going to do actually, I have no idea what we're going to do eight weeks from now. I just don't know and nobody knows. But as a cycle is coming to an end, maybe a few weeks before that, a few of us begin to get together and think about what what do we think we should do next?
And we start to think about the things that we wanted to do and things we should do and how things are going currently.
And new ideas have come up through customer requests and through a bunch of stuff on the table. And over the next few weeks we batted around. Think about it, sketch it out, write it up, play with it and figure out if we think there's enough of an idea here that's that's solid enough, that's well-formed enough that we're confident it can be done in six weeks, that we can then hand it off to a team versus throwing teams ideas that are really barely baked.
And then they have to take a lot of their time to actually think them through. And then there's not enough time actually to do the work. So before we hand work over to a team, we feel like we've got it 90 percent of the way. Figure it out and then exactly how the team does it is up to them. But we can see a path to to the end there and then stop there, because maybe there's a bunch of talk about, oh, no, man, I want to get on this stuff.
This is interesting. If you're OK with that, how are the teams sort of like so you give the autonomy to the teams to two or three person teams. How is success or failure judged? And then in your mind, what is the difference between average and astonishing in terms of deliverables?
Like what makes somebody above average, one of those teams versus sort of like average and then what are the metrics that you sort of like do outline this is what success looks like beforehand? Or is it kind of like, hey, here's an idea, it's a little bit flush to go implement it.
We're different in that we don't have any goals or any metrics for success. We have an idea for for a feature, let's say, or a way to improve the product. And because we use the product every day, we're the number one customer of the product. And because we know our customers who use the product, we have a pretty good sense at the end if it was an improvement or not. It's not a matter of how many people use it.
It's not a matter of like this is not use eighteen thousand times, but we're aiming for twenty two thousand. So it's not a failure or like we're aiming for seventeen thousand unique use uses a day or whatever, and it's eighteen. So it's a huge success now. It's like how do we feel about how this turned out, how do we feel about how the project also went? It's not just about the output and outcome, it's about how did it feel as we went like our people burned out to people hate each other now who like each other six weeks ago.
What did this make our company stronger or weaker? Did this improve personal relationships or damage personal relationships like it's a more holistic viewpoint of outlook, I should say, on how this thing turned out, like you could technically end up with a great feature that customers loved, but it could have completely destroyed morale internally. To me, that's a that's not a good outcome. It might be a good outcome on the customer side. But if you're damaging your company internally, you can't do that very long until it actually ends up really damaging things on the outside, too.
So we look at the whole thing and this includes like individuals, too. So, for example, if somebody has been working on three really hard things in a row, essentially I'm using the word hard here. But let's just say like three challenging projects in a row, the next project might be like we might throw in something that's a lot simpler just so they can decompress a bit. So I'm thinking about like who's been working on what? How have they been doing?
What are the string of products they've been working on look like? And where do you what do I think that this next batch of work would fit in with them as a human? So we kind of look at things that way. We also do postmortems or or whatever. It's always a weird word to use, but projects are done. We look back on them a few months later and just get a sense of like after we have a little bit of distance, like how do we feel about it?
What do we think went right? What went wrong? What could we have done better? We do get feedback from customers, obviously. And so like we incorporate some of that in the review as well. And then, of course, there's like a glaring mistake, like a major.
We made a major mistake when we go back and fix it immediately. Otherwise we let it ride for a while and kind of just revisited a few months later and see how it all felt.
There's two things I want to sort of tease apart in that response. The first is use the word feel. And I thought that was really interesting because we're in this sort of age of machine learning and sort of algorithmic driven insight. Can you talk to me a little bit or expand upon your thoughts around that?
Yeah, I know I put a lot of value on on feel and intuition and gut and these things. We're not a data driven company in terms of product development. We use data a lot for improving performance in terms of our infrastructure, making sure that we get back to customers in a reasonable amount of time, which is like currently about ten minutes.
If you email us, you get a response in about ten minutes and we look at data and those words. But in terms of of how does something feel to work on how how does it feel to develop it, to deliver it? How do we feel about it when it's done? I think that that that's sort of it's a difficult thing to measure with numbers. It's more of a again, like this. The problem is, is that. Again, like I said, if you deliver a product, a feature or a product that hits it out of the park on certain metrics, perhaps, but it damages the people who worked on it together and that can easily happen and happens a lot.
Not here necessarily, but I hear about it. I read stories about it where the product was great. But men like three product managers quit along the way. And someone else is like this, the last project ever doing here and like this shrapnel from these things. And there's their side effects. So, like, if you're only measuring the output in the outcome in terms of how customers felt about it, but you're not really thinking about how people actually humans felt about it.
I think you're missing a big, big picture. Now, of course, if you don't really care about the people in the company, you're like, I'll just replace them if they if they leave because there's a million people knocking at the door who want jobs here. I mean, you can do it that way. I don't think that that's a really great way to run a company. But you can do it that way, too. And then you maybe don't care about the field so much.
But we care a lot about how things feel here and how people feel about the work they're doing and who they're working with and how things went down. So, yeah, we're it maybe approaching a different age in a sense. But I think the personal touch and the human touch and the human the understanding between people is a certain specific intangible that's that's actually very valuable, especially as a manager or someone who's running a company. I think you have to understand how people feel on a day to day basis about a bunch of different things to figure out if we go in the right direction.
What are some of the lessons that you've learned in the last decade? Running a business, but not only running a business, but running a business the way that you want to? You don't seem like you're very influenced by sort of outside factors.
I try not to be I try to be quite ignorant, actually, about the trends in the industry and who's doing what and competitors and what their products are doing. I, I find that the more I pay attention to that, the less free I'm able to or the less free my mind is, essentially because you're just colored by what everyone else is doing and then you don't have as much space for your own thoughts. I think so.
I, I just like to kind of I'm aware of what's going on, but I don't like to look at those things in detail.
I much prefer to pay attention to things outside my industry, like I get a lot of inspired, take a lot of inspiration from architecture, from from art, from nature, from going on long walks like that kind of stuff, versus like looking at the hottest new app or the new collaboration thing that just came out or whatever. I think you're much better off looking broadly, looking outside of your own walls and then looking to close at the things that are really close to you.
So I just to me, like, I've always tried to run things the way in a way that makes sense to me. And hopefully there's enough people around here who it also makes sense to, hopefully enough customers out there who would also make sense to like. We've never been a company that's interested in dominating an industry or taking market share from anybody or trying to have millions and millions of customers. Like we only need to find a small number technically of customers who really believe in what we're doing.
And we see the world the same way. And we found many of them. Over one hundred thousand people pay us for base camp every month. So it's a great business. But like a lot of people would look at that and go, that's not enough. You need millions of customers. And you said, well, you do. If your costs are out of control and you have thousands and thousands of people will get fifty five people. So we can build a really wonderful business.
A lot of impact doing it our way without having to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.
I think that a lot it sounds a lot like one of your investors when you were saying that it sounds like Jeff Bezos a little bit, is that where he doesn't seem overly focused on what other people are doing?
He seems to be doing his own thing, but generally aware of things. And he's an investor with you guys, correct?
Yeah, kind of. So he bought he owns a piece of base camp. He bought those shares from David and I. So, like he he never invested in base camp. The company essentially, like his money, was never put into the business to run the business. We've always won for twenty years. We've been as long as we've been in business, we've always been a hundred percent funded by customer revenues.
Right. But he did buy piece. We did sell him a piece of the business in twenty six. Yeah. He's been someone who's forever been interested or publicly been interested in being misunderstood and I've always admired that about him, which is he's just going to do it his own way and he has different ideas and the rest of the industry and I'm sure he pays attention to things and sometimes he does. He will follow the industry another time. So he'll create a new industry.
But I don't think he's overly concerned with what other people think about how he approaches his business. We are definitely a very different perspective on how to run a business. We're going to keep our business as small as possible. He wants to build the business biggest business in the world. He's the richest man in the world.
I am not so very yet. I never will be but different.
Points of view I never would want to be either, by the way, but different points of view on how to treat people and run businesses and whatever. But fundamentally, I think we share that point of view, which is like just because other people are doing it this way does not mean that that's how you should do it.
Who are some of the people that you admire that are running businesses that you maybe don't look to for inspiration, but sort of like keep tabs on and then why?
Well, I admire anybody who stays in business for, let's say, more than five years. So I like, for example, a friend of mine runs a small grocery store down the street from from where I live. And I admire him because he has something we don't have, which is that he gets to know every one of his customers by name. I can't know one hundred thousand customers by name, but when people walk in his shop, he knows who they are, where he could get to know them, and he gets to know their preferences and he gets to know them to get to know their family.
And you can say, hey, Jim, hey, Bill, hey, Sally, whatever. And that's something that I think is really cool. You can also experiment much faster. It's funny. Like you think in technology, you can experiment really quickly with a B test and stuff, but he can experiment even faster. You can he can just like put something on the counter or you check out and see if it sells faster than it did when it was on the shelf.
Like you can play around, I think in the physical world a lot better, a lot faster, in fact, than a technical world. And you can also pick up on things. You can see things you can't necessarily see the technical world. We all, again, like think there's so much data available to us as far as customer preferences and whatnot.
But like, I don't think very I would say very few things, but just paying attention, just looking and picking up all the subtle nuances of how someone pick something up and looks at it. Do they turn it around or they hold it to they like why do they put it down? How long do they think about it? All those things. So they got to work in a grocery store. When I was growing up and I used to work in the produce section and I used to love to watch how people would choose fruit and vegetables, like some people take a cantaloupe and they and they like knock it and they listen to it.
Some people smell a cantaloupe. So we will look at the colors of the cantaloupe, like, I don't know what the right way is, but I've always I was always fascinated to watch people make their own decisions about why this one. And I think he has that. So I love that there's a shop down the street also for me, that sewing machine repair shop, it's been in business for like eighty years, which just blows my mind, you know, then there's technical businesses and I pay attention to I really admire what Stripe is doing and kind of how they're doing it.
And then there's people like Charlie Munger, who I don't know, but who I admire greatly for his his clarity of thought, his steadfast commitment to value and to being straightforward and common sense and in all that stuff. So I take inspiration from a whole bunch of different people. A good friend of mine runs a gym personal trainer. He's down the street from me and it's just him. And I'm jealous of the fact that he gets to run a business and it's just him, like I love my employees, but it's kind of nice not to have any two, to be honest.
Right. Like, if I were just being honest about business, it's like it's nice to truly do your own thing your own way. Right.
And so I really admire that, too. But of course, at the same time, like, if he's sick, he's out of business for three or four days.
I don't admire that. So, of course, having employees and having a process in his company, there's huge value in that, too. But I just like to look at all sorts of different businesses. But as long as you're staying in business and you're making more money than you spend, I respect you. I have a hard time, though. Sometimes with tech businesses that are, quote, successful, are held up as successful examples of businesses that are actually fundamentally terrible businesses.
I think like things like companies like Uber is an example. Of course, they have some maybe some more moral issues, perhaps, too. But like for a while at least. But I don't I think they're losing they continue to lose my last of billions of dollars. Talk to me a little bit about that.
But I mean, just in the sense of. So you've been effectively bootstrapped from cash flows since day one. Yes.
How do you feel about competing against people that seemingly can take unlimited losses because they're funded by people willing to gamble a lot of money on an ultimate outcome?
Yeah, I mean, I, I don't care basically because their their their performance or their lack of performance or their success doesn't really necessarily affect mine in the fact that I said earlier, I only need some customers, they need all customers and so they can take as much as much as they want. And there's probably going to be plenty enough left over for me anyway. And not only that, like at some point they will go away to one of the great ways to to, quote, win in business is to just to stick around.
And the best way I found to stick around is to be profitable because that if you're profitable, you get to stick around as long as you want.
Of course, that's not to say that we couldn't be beat one day or something could go catastrophically wrong. Like, of course, every business dies, every single one of them die. They kill themselves, though, they don't change, they don't do something right, they don't pay attention to customers, they get cocky, they get greedy, whatever it might be, it's usually those things. It's not that a competitor has more money than you and outspends you.
It might be true in a in a specific market where it is really winner take all. But I don't think it is in our industry. And that's why there's hundreds of companies roughly doing kind of similar things that we're doing. And many of them are going to do quite well and some of them won't. But it's not that there's no customers left to take.
It's not that. It's just like some people's products don't fit the market or some people's prices don't fit the market or they give things away for free and they run out of money because they can't pay their employees or whatever it might be. So I've never I've never looked at how much money someone has raised as like a thing to be afraid of or anything like that. And in fact, I always think like and I don't envy you the position you're in.
You have you've raised fifty million dollars. The expectations on your shoulders are enormous. There are no expectations on my shoulders other than to continue to develop a good product and take care of our customers and take care of our employees. But those are expectations I can manage versus a billionaire who put a bunch of money into into your company, who wants to make more billions off of you and you're on a certain schedule of growth that has to be sharply up and to the right.
Otherwise you're not going to be fulfilling the investment requirements and criteria and therefore they could choose to push you out or take you public when you're not ready or sell the company when you don't want to. Like, I would never, ever want to have those expectations on my shoulders. So I don't envy those kind of companies. And I'd much rather be in my position. I would frankly, honestly not trade my position with anyone else in the world.
As far as anyone else running a company, what are your expectations of yourself?
I just want to do the right thing and do the best work I can. On balance, not every day is going to be that day and not every decision I make is going to be the right one. I'm going to make mistakes and screw some stuff up, whatever. But on balance, I want to make sure that that I'm trying to do the right thing as often as I possibly can and making sure that that I create an environment where other people who work here can do the best work of their careers.
I think if someone decides to work here, they're saying no to a million other opportunities. And so I feel like I have to respect that and to create a place where they can do their best work because that's that's their career. Like, they should be able to do their best work and flex their muscles as best they can and flex their mind as best they can. And part of that, again, is getting back to the point where I want to make sure everyone has full amount of time to themselves, do their best work.
And I also want to be supportive and provide enough autonomy and all those things. So those are the expectations I have for myself. But I don't have expectations or run growth. I don't have personal goals. I don't want to be seen in a certain way, like I don't need to be in the media. I don't have that kind of stuff. I also don't have any interest or desire to change the world or anything like that. I just want to make a good product.
I want to work with great people. I want to be intellectually challenged. I want to be able to to put my ideas out there and see if they stick or not. And then also, of course, I have a good life outside of that certainly family and the whole thing. So that's kind of it for me.
That's a really sound philosophy.
OK, so it's it's what I've got.
So I hope I hope it's sound, but is it's less common than you would want and maybe or less common than I would like to believe that sort of people you seem to have a very inner scorecard and take a lot of satisfaction out of just doing good work and craftsmanship. And it's sort of like harkens to a different era almost than the one that we're in.
I try to just understand what enough is. And I've told this story before, but I think it's a good one to bring up here, which is like I remember once I was trying to run, I used to run a line outside a Rentrak and stuff. And after college, I couldn't I wasn't good enough to go to the Olympics anywhere close enough to.
But I always enjoyed running. And I remember like trying to to to run a certain time, like, I don't know what a six minute mile or whatever it was at the time because I was more of a sprinter. I was never a good long distance runner. Anyway, I remember like running for run and not not getting that.
And I remember like feeling like I was disappointed. I ran a six ten instead of a six. And then you think about like, why would I be disappointed with that? Like quite different questions. Like, did I enjoy the run. Yes. Do I get fresh air. Yes. Did I feel like I worked my body, my heart. My mind. Yes.
Did I see things as I ran that I was excited about? Yes. That I breathe some fresh air. Yes. Like, how are any of these outcomes? Negative. But if you measure yourself against a number or a goal like six minutes and you don't hit that, then you can feel disappointed or you feel like I got to work harder next time. But like. Why do you actually have to work harder next time? What was wrong with this time?
And I just kind of came to these conclusions that I continue to come to these conclusions in business. There was a time when we tried to set some goals, like we hit this number and we start doing things that weren't us. Like we started advertising. We don't advertise. We started buying ads on Facebook, try to move the needle and we feel like, you know, we don't like Facebook. I don't like their company. Why are we giving them money so we can hit some number that we made up?
Why, why? Why again, why we don't have to do this.
And we just kind of realize, like we're going for something that we thought we were supposed to do and try to do and whatever. And we eventually realized we don't need to do this. We stop doing it. Everything's just fine still.
So I just think that my experience with setting goals and hitting numbers and hitting targets, you either you either do it and then you do it, then you set another one.
So it's like this never ending quest to keep setting numbers or you don't do it and you're disappointed. How about just not doing it at all and just doing the best you can? Like, I'm going to try to do the best work I can every day, regardless of if there's a target or not. If you need a target to do your best work, it feels a bit artificial to me that that's just me, I don't think is just you.
I mean, I have a couple of friends who run sort of fairly large software companies, and it's it's really interesting for me to watch their sort of psyche year over year. And it's a constant state of failure.
And then the moment where they hit an objective, usually a revenue target or something, it lasts for like a day. And then it's always like, oh, well, next year we have to do 30 percent more. And it's like this perpetual state of stress. And you can see it in terms of like how they age and sort of how they feel about themselves and their self talk changes. And it's just a really interesting sort of way to live, right, where you're perpetually not achieving something that you you've convinced yourself perhaps that you want to achieve, but maybe wrongly, I see it in our industry is sick with that.
I think primarily I would guess because it's a high growth industry, first of all.
So there's this expectation you're supposed to live up to. And when you look at all that, let's say the great companies in the industry that people consider great on the outside, they're all growing rapidly and want to be one of those kind of aim for that. There's that. There's that. There's also investor pressure. I don't know if these folks that, you know, have taken investment outside investment, but if they have and they have to deliver and they have to deliver for someone else, they're not really delivering for themselves.
I mean, they you can say they are in some respects because maybe one day they'll make a lot of money off the deal or whatever. Fine. That's totally cool. But for the most part, you're trying to deliver for someone else. And I just for me, it's just not a satisfying way to go through life.
I don't I don't think that aiming for things is really like we like we aim to do a good job because because that's like the satisfaction of putting in a good day's work and you line up a bunch of good days in a row and you have something there and you're excited about the work and and sometimes you think you're really onto something and you're motivated by that. But that's all intrinsic motivation. It's not like some some numbers, some target you're supposed to hit for someone else or for some other reason.
I just I've never been driven by that, really. I don't I don't think it's really healthy. And I do see a lot of people who, if they want to take a step back and look at what they actually have, they should be really proud of it. But instead, they're disappointed because they or they're disappointed or like always teetering on disappointment because they're setting these really difficult targets to hit.
And why are you being so hard on yourself? I don't see the reason for it.
I don't think a lot of those people will look back favorably on this period of life. It's kind of like the Ebenezer Scrooge, right? You want to be the most successful, widely known person and then you get what you want, but then at the end of your life, you just want to redo.
Yeah, that's true. I mean, there's certainly things I want to redo in my life.
I'm sure to as you get to the end, you maybe you reflect to want to spend more time here should have done this or should be nicer to this person or whatever it might be.
But I wouldn't want to regret my career that kind of because you how you treat people. You're really. Yeah, of course.
Yeah. Of course you're going to do that for forty years of fifty years of your life. Maybe someone of that.
Like I want to look back and then go I did my best. Yeah. Versus like I didn't do well enough for someone else and that that's not how I want to measure it. By the way, I don't even think of measuring like I don't think I'll look back on my career. I just don't think I would actually look back on my career and evaluate it. In that sense. I how do I feel on a day to day basis is kind of what I look at.
How do you switching gears just a little bit here, like how do you feed your brain? What sort of books do you read? Do you read magazines to you sort of like keep your eyes open to what's around you? Like how does how do things crop up in the.
Yeah, it depends right now. The last four years have been more challenging. We have two kids who just had another baby a few months ago, so like a lot of you don't have a lot of personal time at the moment, like I do go home at five thirty, but like no family dinner, kid in bed at seven, kid gets up at five, 30. So I got to go to bed by eight thirty or nine. So I'm not a complete waste.
So I haven't had a lot of free time lately. I do enjoy reading books, but because I don't have as much time, I find that listening to books more frequently because I can I find like I can listen for 20 minutes in the car on the way into work and like kind of audio books or podcasts or that sort of thing. So I'm consuming that. But I hate to use the word consuming. Consuming content is like the worst thing I can imagine.
I listen and try to learn and pay attention to things that are interesting to me. So mostly nonfiction stuff. I like autobiographies. I like learning about people. I like learning about history. I like nature. So I pay a lot of tension to that. And then there's also things I'll do like I have. I like to go on walks. I like to pay attention to nature, like, like I said, pay attention to architecture and that kind of stuff.
And so in any given experience, I'm trying to look around and pay attention to the details of how something came together and why it is the way it is. And so it's sort of that perpetual low grade paying attention. And then when I have those moments of downtime or whatever, I'll I'll listen to something or read something occasionally. I wish I had more time to dig into a number of books. And hopefully in a few years I'll have a little bit more of that.
But right now it's been a little bit challenging.
Are you like a one X audio guy or you like to X?
How does A I've experimented with speeding things up and I've decided to come back to one X, so I used to be I would do like one and a half or two podcasts, sometimes audio books, and it kind of depends. Some reads are some authors who read books. They seem like a two speed. It's fine, but others are so fast. But the point was, is that I'm like, what am I rushing? Why am I why am I trying to pack everything into my head like there's time to get to these things and if I don't get to them, I don't get to them.
So I've gone back to one X.
I also think it's I don't think it's necessarily a good thing to have information come at you that fast because you're in a hurry to get it. I think it kind of creates this expectation of everything coming at you fast. I don't think that that's necessarily that healthy either. So I've just come back to want to go. That takes nine hours to listen to this book instead of five or whatever, like, oh well that's fine. I'll get to yeah, I could have say five hours, but like over the course of my life, like big deal.
I'd rather just listen to the author's actual voice and just take a take at that speed.
It's always interesting when I meet people who've listened to the podcast and they think my voice sounds weird because it's not a one point five or to find that interesting.
Yeah, I could imagine, like training your mind to be able to listen even to three speeds or people down the road reading books at a slower pace, a different cadence or something to like. But again, it all comes down to like what's the rush?
Why are we why do we need to pack all the stuff in is because we don't have enough time.
That's maybe OK then maybe maybe because there's external circumstances but still like so if you just don't get to everything in life then you don't get to everything in life. And by the way, like that book, you're speeding up reading like you have enough time for that. Yeah. So anyway, that's my current, my current thing.
I've gone back to one X, but I had experimented with faster reading what sort of things that you do that are maybe counter-intuitive or not widely done amongst your peers in terms of how you raise your kids or how you think about raising your kids. I've decided not to ask people about parenting so much because I don't like I don't know, it's hard to evaluate. So it's like I don't know how to compare. Basically, I'll just say, like, for the most part, we've with our four year olds or three month old, we can't do anything.
And of course, we're like our four month old our four year old sorry.
Kind of really believe in child led learning. And he's in on a story school. It really seems to enjoy that. We kind of let them get into whatever he wants to get into. And I'm actually a fan of a book called Self Things called The Self Driven Child, and that's sort of our style. But it's not for everybody.
And I don't want to be preachy about it or anything like that, but for us, it works pretty well. Like our particular kid, he he seems to want to go into a bunch of different things and we just sort of let him go where he wants to go and let him play a lot. And I'm not like someone who's academically has never been there's my English is not so good there. I've never been. So it has been academically focused in terms of like it's so important that you learn these things by these times and these topics, whatever.
So, you know, I think it's important for kids to play and to just explore and be creative and whatever. And and if he gets into this or my daughter gets into that, like whatever they get into is fine with me. I'm not into pushing anything on anybody.
So I think I'm going to dive into this academic focus a little bit, maybe with a going to think a little bit loud here. But it seems like there's increasingly a system whereby were driven to pass the test to demonstrate knowledge. But that success is often pushed by parents as well, who view their success as a parent tied up to their child's sort of like academic success. But it seems to be missing the broader point about what really makes for a successful life.
I'm wondering, can you expand on that with some of your thoughts?
I've seen sort of two two groups of parents around that, like there's the parent who was very academically successful growing up, went to maybe an Ivy League school and feels like their kid needs to do that, too, because they understandably like that's how they went through life.
And they've been successful in terms of some of the doctor now or some as a lawyer now or someone to whatever now.
And so that's their path. And I get that. And I'm bringing my path to the picture because, like, I was basically a C student. And so, like, I'm like, it doesn't really matter that much. And that's my perspective and not theirs. And their perspective is not mine. So there's also, of course, a situation where someone's someone's parents maybe didn't go to school ever. And and they want their child to to to to be educated and to to have a better life than they did.
And they see education is the path for that. And I totally get that, too. So there's just different different approaches. I think it's more about what I try.
What I what I don't want to do, I guess, is to apply unnecessary pressure, saying, like, you have to be this way or you have to learn this thing or you have to do this or else you won't X, Y, Z.
I don't like that or else you won't X, Y, Z, angle. Right. And if you don't go to school and don't get good grades, you won't X, Y, Z. I don't like that part of it. I think education's important. I think it's important to be creative and to to pay attention and to be curious and all those things. But you can not enjoy school and be very smart.
You can not enjoy school and and do something new that no one's done before. I mean, school is a means to certain ends, but it's not the means to any end. So I just don't want to apply that kind of pressure. I think what's more important perhaps, is just like seeing things through, knowing why you're doing what you're doing, finding the things that you're really interested in, learning about those things and just getting building some self awareness and knowing yourself, I think is maybe the most important lesson ultimately, which is, of course, like a lifelong lesson because your self changes over time.
If I was to maybe encourage or instill something in our kids, hopefully it would be like find your path, figure out what you what you like, find out what what drives you, what you're really curious about and go into that. And there's a lot of depth in anything. So I think that's my take on it. I think as far as by the way, I think getting to your original point about like parents wanting to do something or parents wanting to see their kids do something to make them make the parent feel better, I think we all do that in one way or another.
It's a matter of pride in some cases. It's a matter of of maybe I didn't do well in life, but my kid can. And so, like, that makes me feel better, that kind of stuff. So I wouldn't criticize any of that.
It's just there's no judgment on my parents. Yeah, no, me neither.
But it's more about like at the end of the day, like why are you it's just an important thing to understand why you are leading someone in a certain direction. I'm not sure that it's always that will. What are some of the things that you see as the CEO of people coming out of school who might have good grades but ultimately are ill positioned for success in the workforce versus people who might have had mediocre, like both you and I or C students?
I was a D student. I mean, like different grades, but they're well positioned for not only a long career, but for much success. However, they want to define that.
Yeah, the thing that surprises me most about people coming out of school is how poorly school teaches people how to write and communicate. Actually, I read cover letters and whatnot, and I'm just surprised that you can graduate college and not really know how to explain yourself. Well, not really know how to get to the point, not really understand what it's like to to make your case or to make a case. And that just surprises me. And I think it's it's unfortunate.
And I don't know if it's a matter of writing not being taught properly or the type of writing that's being taught in school, being very academic based versus actually communication. You write a lot of papers in school. You're not really communicating to other people. You're kind of writing something to a teacher that's another person. But it's more about trying to show your subject, your awareness or knowledge of a particular subject, versus like trying to persuade a number of people to to listen to what you have to say or try to make a point or share an idea or put something in a certain light or people go, yeah, that's a good idea.
Let's go that way. You just don't see a lot of that. So I'm surprised by that. I think when I look at people and consider hiring people, looking at the writing is the first thing I actually look at. Right. And then I kind of look at their general curiosity in the different. You can look at it in different ways, depending on the person in the role and stuff.
But are they really curious about what they do or are or are they just trained in it?
You tease that out? Well, in some cases like.
If you're a programmer, you could say like and this isn't always the only way to do it, but it might contribute to open source in their spare time because they just kind of like that.
But that's not always fair because no one has time to do that and everyone's been exposed to that. But that's one way. If someone's into into design, like, for example, one of our designers, a guy named Jonas, I remember when I was looking at his application, this is, I don't know, seven years ago or whatever when we hired him or however long it's been.
I was impressed because he was a tinkerer. He he was a designer, but played with the like, just played with design in his projects that he showed he had like a lot of personal products. They weren't just client products or personal projects, and they were sort of creative and interesting and and abstract and experimental and that kind of stuff. And like this guy just likes to play with design. And I like that, you know, another designer we hired, she she's not with us anymore.
But she she one of the things I liked about her is when we were looking at her work together, she would say, you know, I'm not so sure I like what I did here. And to get the job, we were like looking at her, her body of work, basically. And she's like, I don't know if I like this that I made.
And I liked that because that's a certain sense of introspection and like self critique that I think is really valuable. So there's a curiosity there, too, is that like here's my best work. People put their best work forward, like, this is my best work. And she's like, this is good. But like, I don't know if I would have done it this way if I had another chance. Like, I like that. So it depends on the person and depends on the situation.
But you can usually tell who has just like work to throw on the table and say, my work speaks for itself and other people who say, like, I just like to do this stuff. And so I tend to gravitate towards the people who just like to do this stuff.
Of course, they have to be capable and they have to do great work also. But that they would kind of do this anyway. I like that and somebody like that a lot.
You've written two books now. What did you learn from writing the first book and then what was the need for the second book?
I'm assuming you're referring to rework and perhaps it doesn't have to be crazy at work. Yeah. Was there more books in that? Others also just one called ologies. That's OK. Totally fine. I just wanna make sure I'm talking about the right thing for you. Remote and then getting real was another book that we did a while back. But rework, it doesn't have to be crazy at work or the two big books that we've written, Rework, which we wrote almost ten years ago now.
Was a book that was about like how we run our business at the highest levels, like how we think about marketing, how we think about product development, how we think about hiring, how we think about the industry, how we think about press, all of the the sort of you can say it's our cookbook, essentially.
It's like these are our recipes and how we how we make our our dish. So our business essentially.
And then it doesn't have to be crazy at work, which is our most recent book, is really more about pushing back hard on some current trends, which we don't think are very healthy, which is this idea of people working 80 hour weeks, always available, always available, instant, instant, everything.
Everyone being everyone's saying they're super busy. Everyone's super busy all the time. Like, I'm not busy. I don't want to be busy, but everyone's super busy all the time.
People are working weekends like whatever. And it's OK to respond to an email, a work email on Sunday at three o'clock, like, I don't know if it's actually OK to do that, but people do it. So pushing back hard on this trend of like overwork, the hustle mania like this, all the stuff that's going on out there, we don't run a company that way.
We run what we call a calm company called Company. We wanted to kind of talk about how we do it. And it felt like this is the right time to do that, because I feel like things are going really in the wrong direction quickly, actually. So it felt like the right time. But we write books because we have something to say and there's no reason to keep it to ourselves. A lot of businesses seem to be they're afraid to share.
They think they have a special formula, a secret, the secret formula. And why tell everyone our internal and proprietary ways we work? It's like whatever. You know, I've always been inspired by chefs in this regard. So chefs, great chefs will write cookbooks and they're putting their recipes in a cookbook and they're not afraid of someone taking that cookbook, reading all the recipes and opening a restaurant next to them and putting them out of business. That's just not how it works.
They want to share the recipes, get the word out about them. Maybe when someone comes to town, they try to cope with what? But the X, Y, Z has a restaurant in town. I'll try a restaurant or her restaurant. Try that, because I really like making the recipes. And so for us, like our books are our recipes. It's how we do things, how we think about things. And we don't have a marketing budget.
We don't spend any money on advertising. So for us, the books in a sense, are a way to get the word out about our points of view and our ideas. And indirectly they promote our company.
But we really do it just to share the ideas to thoughts on sort of the constant state of work these days. When I was with my kids, I think it was a couple of weekends ago and we were in a coffee shop and we just they were reading and I was just sort of observing somebody next to me like, quote unquote, working. And it was just like a constant tab change. Looks like it just it looked from my point of view and I wasn't trying to read the screen or anything like that.
It was just sort of like watching, like how other people work, because it's so rare that we get to see other people actually in their in their environment doing work. And I was just amazed. And it's like, oh, my God.
Like, do I work like that?
Because if I do, I'm not really doing anything. And it was this sort of like this realization for me that I was like, oh, man, I got to be more conscious about, like, how how that looks like. I pay a lot of attention to myself. And the other is the state of your BlackBerry goes off or your cell phone goes off at five and you're eating dinner with your family and you're like texting, you're responding. I have a thought, which is that it's signaling and it's signaling in the sense that you're signaling to your family that you're important by like taking yourself out of that moment with them, which is almost inverse signaling when you think about it.
Right. And you're saying, oh, well, somebody at work needs me, so I must be important. And that's sort of the message that people want to convey with that. And I find it really interesting because I always whenever I had demanding jobs that were sort of like more than outside of the regular hours, people would send messages. And often it was the people who are unhappiest in their relationships outside of work that were sending messages at 11:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. or and you were expected to respond.
So it almost creates like this this virus of unhappiness, because the more you respond, the more you get taken out of your moment with your family or your life and it gets interrupted. So the less happy you get. And then if you have people who are working with you, you do the same thing.
Yeah, well, it's funny the first part, especially about watching people work, because I do the same thing when I go to a coffee shop or whatever, and it's manic. It's like switching and tabs and this app and that app. And I'm like, what are you in my head? I'm like, what are you actually doing? Like, what do you what do you actually what do you do all day? Because it looks like you're skip you skip you just skip around and maybe by the way.
Maybe it's unfair because maybe they're just having coffee and that's what they do on their break, or maybe it's hard to know. But but I do see that behavior all the time. This is actually one of the reasons why I use a laptop. I don't have an external screen, so have a 13 inch laptop. And that's my only screen because I think screen real estate is actually like you don't want a lot of it. I think you want a little of it.
Otherwise you end up like you'll walk by people in offices and there's like seven screens up. Yeah. They can watch their chat all day and like, this is not good.
You don't this is not like a NASA mission control or you need to pay attention to like critical systems.
I'm like a one screen at a time kind of person and I try to stay focused. I can and I find that to be valuable. But that's just the way I work. But I do see a lot of switching and an attention deficit disorder essentially when it comes to work. As far as signaling, I think that's a really interesting point. And I think you might be on to something there. I think also, sadly, I think it might signal like I'd rather be at work, right?
Yeah. That might be the other thing.
And like there are moments in everyone's life I'd rather be here. I'd rather be there, like, whatever. But I mean, essentially it's like I'd rather be there. And that's it's probably a subconscious thing. But it's unfortunate, I think. And as far as like the expectation of immediate response, like to me, this is a cultural issue, broadly cultural issue, which is really unhealthy, which is this idea that because communication is speeding up faster and faster and faster, the expectation is, is that someone's response should be faster and faster and faster.
The fact that I can text someone just because I happen to have a second right now to text someone does not mean that they should get back to me in the same amount of time that it took me to write them, be able to get back to me whenever they're ready to get back to me. And so, like in our company at base camp, we try to think the expectation is of eventual response, not of immediate response. And if someone doesn't get back to you quickly, it's because they're working.
They're doing something more important than what you had to say. And if someone gets back to me in three hours and that's how long it takes to get back to tomorrow or two days later, and that's how long it takes if it's an emergency. Different story, but there shouldn't be many emergencies.
And if I'm really waiting on something from somebody, maybe I'll ask them one more time and then I'll just back off and that's fine. And there's other things to do.
In the meantime, there have to be if you're always waiting, it's like work is so delicate that you need that one thing right now or you can't do anything else, like something else is wrong, too.
So the other thing I like about the idea of eventual response versus immediate response is that in many ways it forces you to go figure out yourself like I need this answer from this person. Well, like throwing get back to me. I just got to figure it out on my own. And that's a better outcome.
Ultimately, I think that's that's a great place to end this conversation. I know the time is up, so I want to thank you. Hopefully we can do it again and have a million more questions for you. This has been a phenomenal conversation. Thanks so much.
You bet. She thinks any time and I'm happy to do it again.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dot com slash podcast. That's fair. And am s t r e t blog, dot com slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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