Earlier this year, I was writing a book called Start Finishing. It was a guide book for professional creatives who understood that what separated successful creatives from unsuccessful ones boiled down to something that was fundamentally under their control: successful professional creatives wake up every day and start finishing their great work. The rest merely start or finish stuff that doesn’t matter.
I didn’t finish writing the book, not because it wasn’t worth finishing or because I didn’t have a lot to say, but because the way I was going about it was wrong. One of the tenets of momentum is “find the flow” and the project itself was anything but flow-y. Rather than fight my way upstream, I did something more useful and started finishing the Small Business Lifecycle. While the story I tell myself about the switch up is sometimes the one about it being embarrassing that I didn’t finish the book that stressed the importance of finishing, most of the time I remind myself that what I did was a better job of modeling the process than merely spending another 7 months in an authorial quagmire. Between a stalled project and a best-selling book, I’d advise the latter any day.
I still haven’t decided how I’m going to proceed with the book project, but there are concepts from it that I want to start sharing anyway. To understand why we need to change the way we’re working, we first have to understand why and how the world of work is different.
Jobs in Project World
The world of work has shifted from careers to projects. In career world, you went to school to get a job in a company that you’d work at for the rest of your professional life. That employer would issue a pension or retirement and you’d spend your idle years in some post-work, pre-death twilight. Probably in Florida.
Even when that wasn’t close to reality, that was the myth that was told about the world of work. School led to a job which led to a long-term employer which led to retirement. Somewhere between the job and retirement was a house and kids.
Project World is different. It’s unlikely that you’ll work for the same company for longer than 5 years, even when that’s a company you create. While an employer may contribute to your retirement in some way, no one under 40 that I know starts working some place thinking that they’ll retire from there. Whether it’s the cause or the effect, the amount of time an employee is trained, mentored, and cultivated has changed dramatically, not to mention the fact that a new generation of leaders and managers are coming of age and they tend to build cultures who favor self-sufficiency and individual accountability as opposed to organizational practices.
In Project World, no matter how well you do your “job”, you’ll be on another one in three to five years because:
- If you don’t do your job well, you find yourself without it. The better the job, the better you have to do to keep it.
- If you do your job really well, you’ll find yourself fast-tracked to do more jobs you’re not trained for without the budgets, resources, and manpower you need to do the job.
- If you hang onto your job long enough, you’ll find yourself under the direction of a new leader or from another company entirely. The people from #2 are shuffled through leadership positions so quickly and the people #1 get shuffled out so quickly that, though your desk and chair might never have left a 10 foot circle on the floor, your work environment dramatically changes faster than you change computers.
The only thing that you have to take with you in any of the cases above is what you’ve accomplished. You don’t get credit for all the things you half-started or half-finished. An entire generation of kids have been set up to believe that being a part of a bunch of groups counts for something. Perhaps it does for a college admission. But in the world of work as it relates to professional creatives, you build, sell, or manage – and likely all three in different ways. (Yes, this applies to academics and government workers, as well.)
The very worst thing you can do in Project World is only have time-in at a company or an organization to show for yourself. Great, you’ve worked at Acme Organization for thirteen years and you can’t show me one significant project where your contributions were absolutely vital?
Entrepreneurs and Small Business In Project World
This pressure is even more significant for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Innovation cycles went from hundreds of years to years in less than a hundred years. We experience this in subtle ways that add up.
Just about the time you get your website upgraded, the Next Big Thing hits. That marketing strategy or social media platform you’ve just got dialed in? Replaced by this year’s trend. That project you’ve been working on to lower costs and overheads? There’s some business that started in the Philippines that’s using manpower to solve those same problems – and once they figure that out, another company in the Philippines will start working on solving the problem using cheaper manpower and tech to compete with them. (And before you write that off, keep in mind that it is the guy you talked to at the last conference that’s starting one or the other of those companies.)
Being remarkable, if I may follow my long habit of riffing off of Seth, is the only way to thrive in business. And while shipping isn’t sufficient to be remarkable, it’s absolutely necessary. People will only buy your words for so long if they can’t buy and experience your product. (Click to tweet – thanks!)
Success in Project World Requires That You Start Finishing Every Day
Shipping requires you to stop shuffling, lying, hedging, talking, and scheming and to start finishing. Which means, no matter whether you’re an employed professional creative or think you’re your own boss, your success depends on whether you’re able to consistent start finishing the stuff that matters.
But here’s the deal: we are the most fulfilled when we are making progress on meaningful goals. As Dan Pink has pointed out in Drive, we actually don’t need carrots and sticks – autonomy, mastery, and purpose go a long way. The Progress Principle shows that it’s actually setbacks that make us have lousy work days rather than the nature of our work itself. The upshot of our ever-evolving professional lives is that we have unprecedented autonomy, adventure, and chance for impact via network effects.
Our stress is that actually finishing the work we’re meant to do is even more important than it’s ever been; our salvation is that we’re happiest when we’re actually finishing the work we’re meant to do.
Welcome to Project World.
Since you’re here, you might as well learn the ways to be successful here. The rest of this unfolding conversation is about exactly that.