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Month: January 2012

On Free Work

On Free Work

I’m starting to see a worrying trend with free work, especially in the US: It’s become “obvious”, as if expecting money would be crazy. This is sustained by a couple of so-called realities:

  • Many people are able and willing to do your job. If your expectations are too high, you don’t even compete because there are thousands out there that can do the work for free.
  • You have to prove your worth. Hiring is very risky and expensive, so free work is a practice employers have to do to lower that risk before committing to someone who may not be a good fit.
  • Money is tight. The business doesn’t have enough resources to pay a salary.
  • Technology can do it cheaper/faster/better.

These realities may be true in some cases, but not as many as you would think. I know it’s not true for many businesses where free work is still the only kind of work coming aboard. Some of my responses to the points above:

  • There’s a terrible assumption that qualified candidates are all in some sort of bag where a recruiter can just grab someone who’s a fit and put him/her to work. It overlooks the fact that the competence, skills, chemistry and values required for each job are not easy to define, find and persuade to join.
  • When there’s money, it’s easier to get accountability and dedication. People don’t fuck around with their salary as much as they do with everything else that you can offer.
  • Paying shows you are serious about your commitment as an employer. It will make people trust you and commit to you as well. For example, Josh Kaufman was serious about paying me as soon as possible, and acted accordingly. That meant a lot to me, and I stuck with him for a long time because of that gesture (among many other things, of course).
  • Another wrong assumption: money is a good way to filter motivation. I’ve done great work for free, and unmotivated work for money. It’s not a good way to measure someone, because the context of a job is composed by many other things that can also increase/decrease output.
  • Money is rarely that tight. If you really think that you’re in a position to get help, it’s because you’re creating enough value that you know you can create even more with some assistance. There’s no need to start with a full-time salary, but some cash signals a lot and you can probably afford it.
  • The work technology can do better/cheaper/faster is the work no one grows much by doing. This type of work, and the work people are willing to do for free are pretty disconnected. Expecting technology to fill this void is a delusion.
  • It’s an opportunity to stand out as an employer: Be the one who pays!

Here’s my theory: The free work mindset has become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in the US. Everyone says candidates have to accept it, and so they accept it. Everyone says employers can/should ask for it, and so they ask for it. And in many cases, both sides get hurt by it. I believe that this trend will only encourage qualified people to take their talents elsewhere (a trend that has already started, with Latin America and East Asia as good examples), and the US needs those talents now more than ever.

I told my father, a fairly conservative Argentinian, about a small project that I accepted to do almost for free for someone in the US, because I believe in the project and the people involved. His response was interesting: “Seems like the US has taken money our of the equation…” He has a point: Every project or position that I’ve been offered in Australia, China and Argentina in recent times involved payment from day one. I no longer believe this is an economical circumstance, but a cultural one. The economy in Argentina hasn’t been in a great shape for a long time now, but people still expect and offer money in most professional agreements.

Let me be clear: This is not an all-or-nothing stance. Free work makes sense in many cases, especially the ones where learning and/or connecting are the main goal. We should analyze each case in isolation. But it’s the tendency to assume free work what worries me. There’s a limit to how much risk someone can take, especially at a young age (and in debt in many cases). And free work is one heck of a risk, since it demands time and focus for no tangible results. Don’t young people in the US have it hard enough as it is?

In fact, the idea of “learning as payment” is widely overrated, IMO. I’ve done free work for some people in exchange of “learning” which didn’t teach me shit. It was just a waste of time, except for knowing to accept less free work in the future.

Look, I don’t mind doing free work under the right circumstances, but I’m in the privileged situation where I can do free work if I want! My finances are good enough that I can devote some hours to work without being remunerated. But that’s not the general situation, and it’s not a good idea to assume otherwise.

Personally, I’ve decided to slowly move away from free work, whatever the conditions. At a practical level this means moving away from a lot of work in the US, so I can explore other markets. I’m doing this because:

  1. I want to do amazing work, and I need the best motivators (money included) for me to perform at my highest level. I have many ideas that would create tons of value for society, and I need funds for that.
  2. It’s a stance against the ubiquity of the “free work” agreements in the US. I know I won’t be the only one in the near future to look abroad for paying opportunities, which leads me to the third reason…
  3. I’ve learned enough from the good and bad things of free work in the US. I now feel I can create meaningful change in other parts of the world where I’m needed more.
Book Review: Caught in Play

Book Review: Caught in Play

This is a well-researched and powerful book about a topic that is not discussed, from a scientific standpoint, as much as it should: entertainment. I enjoyed this book in a way that I rarely get a chance nowadays with most books: facing the opportunity to explore a relevant topic in many new ways.

The author starts by giving us many examples about how entertainment plays a fundamental role in our lives, which will get you excited about the message of the book. These are elements that we see everyday, but with a perspective that we rarely consider. He then proceeds to explain the history behind the industry, a colossal objective, although Stromberg does a great job. This part may be slower than the rest of the book, but it’ll be very interesting for anyone that always wondered how we became so obsessed with this part of society. Finally, as he takes us through case studies that he dissects for our comprehension, he reaches the very important conclusion of how entertainment may be hurting us more than we think. Stromberg suggests to adopt some caution when embracing entertainment, because the consequences of the industry are still somewhat of a mystery.

Entertainment is all around us. This is a fascinating book with many ideas and conclusions that will make you think about your relationship with entertainment.

I strongly suggest you to watch my video call with Peter Stromberg, or let it play in the background. The conversation is full of great thoughts and insights by Peter. I’ve added notes to the page so you can take a quick look at what we talk about on the call. Watch it here.

Below are some of my favorite excerpts of Caught in Play: How Entertainment Works on You…

On the ubiquity of entertainment:

“As Darwin argued for the survival of the fittest, we now have survival of the most entertaining: those forms that are not entertaining lose out to those that are. The entertaining politician gets elected, the entertaining class gets the enrollment, the entertaining car is the one that sells, and over time a competition emerges to enhance entertainment value wherever possible. Thus it is not just that there is more entertainment going on in our society; it is that entertainment begins to dominate over other standards of value in the society.”

On the origins of entertainment’s relevance:

“Just as Weber argues that through Protestantism religious energies were eventually channeled into the secular realm of labor, that Campbell maintains such energies were also channeled into the secular realm of leisure activities. In this realm it was above all one’s emotional reactions that were cultivated as a sign of moral value. Gradually, the groundwork was thereby laid for “emotional hedonism,” the idea that it is good to indulge and enjoy one’s emotional reactions to the world.”

On the similarities between fashion consumption and romance:

“The basis of the consumption practices underlying the fashion pattern is that in fact consumers do not seek fulfillment from products. Rather, they derive pleasure from longing for products and for what they represent, those realistic worlds of fantasy. Thus Campbell sees modern hedonism as a direct parallel to romance in sexual matters; the pleasure is in the longing, the fantasy of fulfillment. Once the product (or the romantic partner) is actually obtained, its value begins to deteriorate. It is no longer the object of fantasy; now it is an object of reality, and like all real objects it can never measure up to its correlate in the realm of the ideal.”

On entertainment’s predictable unpredictability:

“The manipulation of feelings (and there is absolutely no need to distinguish between real and fictional feelings) is a prominent aspect of most entertainment. We players have learned to make our own emotions into a plaything such as a ball. We can largely, though not completely, control a ball when we throw it or shoot a free throw. It is the interaction between players and not-completely-predictable balls that makes for the fun and challenge of games with balls. The same is true of our own emotions. We can put ourselves in a situation in which we know we will have certain kinds of emotions, and as the situation proceeds we can influence our emotions, but they also lurch about somewhat unpredictably.”

On society’s contradiction between values and desires:

“We live in a society in which it is very important that people sustain two rather contradictory streams of motives. There are the motives of the daylight-those of work, production, and responsibility-and the motives of the night-those of leisure, consumption, and enjoyment. We might be inclined to call the former stream of motives values and the latter stream desires. What I have been saying here is that, roughly, as an initial generalization these desires of consumption are often reinforced through play.”

On the feeling of certainty during play:

“In ecstatic experience, the characteristic quality of human consciousness-that is, its self-consciousness-collapses (at least in part). With collapse comes compelling evidence of a dimension of existence lying beyond the imperfections and doubts of the day-to-day. This is surely one reason trance experiences are so often sought out; in trance, we can experience a level of certainty and unity that is elusive in everyday consciousness.”

On boredom and capitalism:

“Our powerful lust for consumer goods seems to us like a manifestation of human nature, but both reflection and the available evidence suggest that in some societies being acquisitive is neither adaptive nor held in high esteem. Similar reasoning tends to persuade me that boredom, like our versions of competition and consumption, is associated with the rise of consumer capitalism; what better way to fuel frenzied consumption than to foster nagging feelings of emptiness and discontent whenever one is not being stimulated by something new and exciting?”

Fundamental vs. Subordinate Goals

Fundamental vs. Subordinate Goals

My friend Nicolás and I were talking about a girl. I was interested in her for a while, there was a story between us, but because she lived in the US, we didn’t have a chance to see where it could lead. We met up again recently but by now she had a boyfriend, and even though there was a spark and some tension, it wasn’t enough to make it work.

My friends thought (and some still do) that I was gonna take it very hard. So many years waiting for a second chance, one would think that was going to be a tough pill to swallow. I thought so too. However, it was surprisingly easy to move on. And I think during that conversation with my friend I understood why:

She was a Subordinate goal, and I only care about Fundamental goals. Subordinate goals are problematic, because of their multiple applicability. Many experiences have led me to behave this way, but I think I’ve been on this path for a while, I just didn’t notice it until now. Let me explain…

I define fundamental goals as the ultimate purpose, the underlying objective behind every step and decision one makes. On the other hand, subordinate goals are objectives that can serve multiple fundamental goals. They are steps that we make on our way to our Fundamental goals, and should never be seen as Fundamental goals.

Some examples:

  • Wanting a job, or a higher paycheck, are subordinate goals. Create meaningful work, change the world, help others, support your family, express your creativity, these are all fundamental goals.
  • Wanting to get a girlfriend, or get laid, are subordinate goals. Have a family, create a dynasty, are fundamental goals.
  • Vacations are subordinate goals. Have a life that balances hard work with relaxation is a fundamental goal.
  • Clothes, make-up, credentials and resumés are subordinate goals. Wanting to impress someone, and communicate them your value in order to connect in a certain way is a fundamental goal.
  • Looking buffed is a subordinate goal. Being healthy is a fundamental goal.

Subordinate goals can be pursued for many different reasons. If you think that looking buffed means being healthy, then how do you explain the people that want to look buffed to be more attractive to the opposite sex? Being healthy means being healthy. Looking buffed can mean many things.

The key problem of not seeing the difference between fundamental and subordinate goals are:

  1. We may be on a path that leads nowhere.
  2. We may be unaware of other paths that could help us get to our fundamental goal (a decision-opportunity-cost, if you will).

In the case of the girl I mentioned, there were many elements that made it easy to move on: she lives in the US and I have no desire to move there soon, she doesn’t want kids ever, and it’s ridiculously hard to make a long-term relationship work, (not to mention a boyfriend at the moment). Trying to be with her was clearly a subordinate goal, but one that didn’t lead to my fundamental goal of having a family, or creating meaningful work, because I would have had to redirect a lot of energy and focus into relocating to the US.

For me, my shot at doing something interesting in life far surpasses the value of a fling.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with dating people that may not be your future wife, but when you know for sure that she is not the one, get out! Otherwise, you’re following a dead-end path, unless your goal is actually to get laid a lot or whatever, in which case there are more serious things to re-evaluate…

Subordinate goals are good. Making more money, getting laid, looking pretty, all fine things. But we need to be careful about how much energy and focus we put into them. Just because we consider them ultimate goals won’t make them so. The only thing achieving them will do for us, is confuse us, because we’ll be on the middle of a path with an unknown destination. A destination we may hate once we arrive.

Bottom Line: Focus your efforts in discovering your Fundamental goals first, and make sure that your following objectives are aligned with them.

Book Review: Ikigai

Book Review: Ikigai

Sebastian Marshall put together a brilliant set of philosophies, ideas, recommendations and statements for anyone that’s serious about becoming a better person. This is not fluffy self-development. It’s serious stuff for hard-working people that can take an honest look at themselves. Ikigai, which was marketed as the “one-week book”, is not original work, but a compilation of Sebastian’s fundamental posts of his blog. The book is divided in chapters such as “Be Principled”, “Empire”, “Rationality”, and “Dealing with Shit”, and each chapter has a series of posts and Sebastian’s answers on that particular topic.

I loved the book, and read it in a couple of days. Sebastian succeeds at making you want to do amazing things with the time that’s been given to you. The reason that Sebastian gets to you is because he’s real. He’s had a weird life, he’s kinda crazy, and he truly acts on principles. The book combines three elements very well: practicality, unconventionality and reach. Anyone can grow from reading Ikigai and applying its lessons.

The biggest criticism is that what was gained in compilation speed, was lost in tidiness. Some concepts appear many times in the book, and it can get tiring to read them over and over again. However, to be fair, it’s very easy to just skim what one has already read, and it doesn’t make the book any less powerful. This is life-changing work, I’ll recommend it often from now on.

Below are some of my favorite excerpts of Ikigai…

On people’s opinions:

“As you become excellent, you show them what they could be, and it hurts them. Viscerally. So don’t be too upset, your excellence hurts people to some extent. Expect constant discouragement from normal people. Eventually you’ll build a social circle of high-achieving, ambitious, expansive, cool, worldly, giving, encouraging, awesome people, and then you’ll be successful and normal people will envy and hate you, but you won’t care because you’ll have transcended it. So yeah, discouragement and warnings and crap? We all get it on the road to success. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t hate people for doing it, but don’t give in either.”

On ethics:

“I put my ethics and values together slowly. I think most people struggle with getting an ethical system or value system because they’re looking for one overarching principle that makes everything else make sense. Frankly, I don’t think there is one.”

On low and high happiness:

“Low happinesses like contentment, sensory pleasure, etc. I don’t think those are important to pursue. High happinesses – triumph, camaraderie, epiphany, wisdom – those I think are worth pursuing.”

On having kids:

“Y’know how hard it was for people to have and raise kids throughout history? When I hear people saying they don’t want kids, not because they’re working on world-changing stuff like Albert Einstein, but just because they think they’d be happier without kids … . I don’t know man, it shocks me. There’s been a chain of people brutally struggling and striving forwards throughout history, and you’re comfortable breaking that chain? That’s … that’s … well, that’s something I’m not comfortable doing.”

On duty:

“If I’m duty-bound in a situation, I’ll aim to perform my duties as best as I can, happiness be damned. A lot of times, the best solutions aren’t necessarily the largest number of happiness solution. (Again, trying to explain this to a person who grew up in a happiness-is-most-important culture risks making you seem off your rocker, just like a modern Westerner trying to explain that happiness is more important than duty and loyalty would seem crazy to a samurai.)”

On wealth:

“Wealth is anything that’s suitable to humans that humans want. Reshaping matter and energy into forms more suitable and desirable to humans produces more wealth. There are near unlimited possibilities to reshape energy and matter into more and more suitable forms. Thus, there is near unlimited wealth available.”

On the right role for each of us:

“A captain, not a general, not a king. If one of my sons has the ability, drive, and desire to be a general or king, so be it. He’ll be learning lessons at age 5 that I started learning at age 19. When he’s 14, he’ll know much of what I knew at 24. But not me–no over-expanding, no going too far and losing it all. I’m fit to be a captain, an advisor, a high-ranked servant, but I don’t aim to rule. There’s still too many screwed up low born ideas in the back of my head.”

On wanting to do too much:

“Be careful about over-expanding–you don’t have to do it all in one generation. Have children, raise them well, have your son take over where you left off. There’s only so much a person can accomplish in one lifetime, whereas even a modest dynasty can accomplish much, much more.”

On consolidation:

“You know, the victors – the ones who build the really enduring victories – they’re often not the most brilliant or charismatic or brave. They’re the ones who are most patient, who are most rational, who have the most self-control. You can win 10,000 battles, but have it all undone in one rash misstep. You could perhaps lose 10,000 battles, but still win at a decisive moment and then consolidate intelligently.”

On knowing how to receive:

“Most people feel like they should be martyring and sacrificing themselves more, but they also don’t like to do it. Anyway, why cover all this ground? Because I don’t think it’s possible to be as gracious and helpful and friendly as a martyring self-destructing guy. Overwhelmingly, the most gracious people I know are comfortable receiving as well as giving..”

On embarrassment:

“Keep in mind you’re going to die. It puts things into perspective. Mild discomfort? Who cares, you’re going to fucking DIE at some point. DO SOME COOL STUFF BEFORE THAT HAPPENS. As far as I know, you get one bite at the apple that is life. Embarrassment? Dude, eternity stretches before and after us. Embarrassment is your neurochemistry in a mildly uncomfortable position. It doesn’t matter at all. None of us are such a big deal that we can’t be embarrassed.”

On oblivious people:

“You can plan around lack of skill or ability in many areas, or avoid those areas and key in on virtues. Really, I think there’s room in the world for people of people of all smarts and lack-of-smarts. Intelligence is overrated, and there’s a dozen or so traits I’d look for before intelligence in someone in my life. Stupid people aren’t a problem. Oblivious people, though? Oh, they break all kinds of shit. Oblivious people are a big, big problem. We gotta watch out for them.”

On Guiding Structure:

“A lot of people give up. You can reduce the chances of this by making the environment more supportive of your success, getting emotional support, and the old fashioned “burn your boats behind you.” Costs: I think if you’ve clearly identified the payoffs, it shouldn’t be too tough, but the road can get weary at times. Persistence can be hard and tiring. The most expensive cost is doing the right thing when you need to, but you’re not in the mood to do so.”

On death:

“The question is, were you spending your life right, doing all the best things you could, searching out the most meaningful things, taking the best courses of action, training yourself, building your talent, spending your time well, serving people, appreciating life? If you were, it’s no shame to go when you go. The bell rings for all of us at some time.”

On finding your passion:

“Your interests flit around to different stuff? Yeah, me too. But more and more, I’m looking to build/produce/ship things when I have a passing interest. Obviously you can’t do that for everything, sometimes you can just be a consumer and be happy with that. But if you have a sincere interest, then why not try to write an analysis or critique or user guide or quick-start manual or observations or … something? Producing, shipping … it’s cool. I think it’s basically the way for people whose interests jump around to achieve lots of good stuff in the world.”

On excellence:

“If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of stuff. If you want to make a lot of stuff, you’ll make a lot of crap. If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of crap. And my personal opinion here: And that’s okay, because you get judged by your best work, not your bad work.”

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