Archive for February, 2007

The Right, The Wrong and The Hopeless

I’m convinced it is addictive to work on The Wrong Thing. I see people getting hooked on it like drugs: They start working on The Wrong Thing and see some results, but not enough; so they put in more and more hours, eventually forgetting about everything else just to reach some artificial goal for its own sake.

There are three kinds of tasks in this world (feel free to add your fourth, fifth, etc.):

The Hopeless: These tasks are not dangerous, because no matter how long you keep at them, the results will invariably be (close to) zero. That means, you either do them for fun (which is perfectly okay) or you will give them up before they could do your life or career any harm.

The Wrong: These are the dangerous things to do. Why? After giving them a shot, you will see results – but they will not be enough. Working on The Wrong Thing has two characteristics:

  • You see results, so you keep at it. Seeing results is so addictive that you will devote larger and larger chunks of your time to doing what you do because:
  • The results you see are not enough. It might be great to get a 10% higher salary, but that doesn’t mean you can start working less from tomorrow…

Over time, working on The Wrong Thing can totally eat up all the time you are supposed to be doing something else. The problem with that is, that while modern society certainly allows us to specialize and do one thing better and not bother with all those other things we’re not so good at, this doesn’t apply indiscriminately to all aspects of life. You cannot (or should not) work more on costs of your mental and physical well-being, for example, as it is often the case nowadays.
The other problem with this approach is, that it is not very productive. You will see some results, but working on The Wrong Thing will not change your life from one year to the next; you will not be able to suddenly buy a private plane or a house because you kept doing The Wrong Thing just six months longer. You might eventually succeed by doing The Wrong Thing, but it takes much too long. These are the main reasons why I am a big advocate of working on The Right Thing:

The Right: The Right Thing is not easy to find; The Right Thing cannot be defined easily. The Right Thing is anything where your work pays off in multiples as opposed to The Wrong Thing where you need to invest more and more work in order to get more out of it. Working on The Right Thing enables you to have a much higher per-hour productivity than working on The Wrong Thing. Working on The Right Thing can be anything from sending out a critical memo to holding a seminar to launching a new product line. There is just no good recipe for what The Right Thing is.

Usually, finding The Right Thing takes being able to take a break from what you do, thinking outside the box, getting a breath of fresh air, avoiding the day-to-night grind of working on The Wrong Thing. Whenever I was working on Wrong Things in my life, I felt myself like a slave going on a carved path with no perspectives to fall, but none to fly either; whenever I work on The Right Thing I feel like I am just about to change the world.

1 comment February 19th, 2007


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