Discover more from Productive Flourishing
The Content Delusion Rides on the Scalability Thesis
Editor's Note: Jonathan invited me to share this post as a riff on the Good Life Project podcast. <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span> My bud Jonathan Fields recently published "The Content Delusion (Or Why You Still Need to Hustle)", a post that every entrepreneur should read. The "content delusion" he's referring to is the idea that content is "the end-all-be-all" and "content done well is all you need to do." He rightly points out that content is one piece of the puzzle, with hustle being the other piece. [Update 2/7/23: since 2016, 'hustle' has taken on a new meaning that both Jonathan and I want to distance ourselves from. What we both mean by hustle is the courageous + proactive + #NotWhatYouLove work you need to do. I'm leaving 'hustle' in to acknowledge the original conversation and the evolution of our thinking.]
What I'd like to add a bit more to in this conversation is the other fear that the content delusion plays on. Aside from the fear of getting out there in the flesh, which he mentions, the other side of the content delusion is that content done well is the only path to scalability. Without content, you're going to end up in that less-than space of "trading time for dollars" that no entrepreneur wants to be in. Because real businesses are ones that can and should scale. (That's a given, right?)
The Content Delusion, then, also rides on the Scalability Thesis, which conjoins two premises:
Scalable businesses are better than non-scalable businesses
"Trading time for dollars" isn't scalable
Thus, "trading time for dollars" isn't a good business model
The thing about the first two premises is that they are both false, which makes the argument valid (it follows reasoning rules) but not sound (it's not true). I'm aware that a) there needs to be a bridge premise between #2 and #3, and b) your patience with Philosopher Charlie teaching logic probably isn't that high. Old habits die hard. Of course, if #3 were true, then any service-based business would be a bad business model. But I've already shown why the bias against service-based businesses is myopic and rests upon placing a higher value on freedom than on service.
It is true that scalable businesses are better for investment purposes because they create a scenario where the more money you invest, the more you get back. In such a scenario, the most rational thing to do is to invest as much money into it as you can until that business reaches a growth plateau. Traditional economists and investors thus love scalable businesses.
Some businesses exist for more reasons than to spit out cash for owners and investors, though. Some exist to feed us creatively, spiritually, socially, and emotionally. Some exist to effect change in the world. Some exist solely to scratch an itch.
Since businesses exist to accomplish certain goals and the people who start them have different goals, before we can say that one type of business is better than another, we have to look at what the business owners' goals are. To be clear, I love building scalable businesses and not just for the economic dynamics of them. Scalable businesses are typically able to impact more people than non-scalable ones across all dimensions; they're able to provide jobs worth doing to more people, a place for people to get what they want and need, and a bigger tax and social footprint. But there's a place for solo shops, side hustles, weekendpreneurs, boutique micro-agencies, and other arrangements, too. If it advances the goals of its owner, it's just as good a business as any other kind. From Jonathan's post:
[Content and Hustle] both matter, and both operate most effectively over different time horizons. Hustle is your now game. Content is your medium to long game, with the occasional now-game hit.
In a similar vein, building a scalable business might be your long game, but hustle is your now game. Too many entrepreneurs focus on scaling it over nailing it. And when you get into the nailing it game, it's going to be a lot of what looks suspiciously like hard work. Thus, the paradox: to create a scalable, sustainable business requires doing non-scalable, non-sustainable work (hustling). As you nail it more, the requirements to do non-scalable, non-sustainable work lessens. I'm not sure that it ever really goes away. The Content Delusion rides upon both the Scalability Thesis and the fear of rejection. Both foundations lure us into bypassing the hard work of facing possible rejection OR trading time for dollars. What Jonathan and I are both asking, in different ways, is, "What would happen if you embraced the work of growing your business by trading time for dollars (or time for nothing), AKA service or getting out in front of people?" Once you accept that you're always trading time for dollars and will always need to get out in front of new people, you can move on to figuring out the best ways (for you) to trade time for dollars and get out in front of new people. And that can be beautiful, fun, satisfying, and profitable at the same time that it's stressful, uncertain, and hard. Life and business are rich that way.