The outwork myth

Enough already

You can’t outwork people.

You may be able to outwork someone.

Maybe you have a lazy friend. Or you’ve met a few entrepreneurs who talk a big game but they don’t seem to want to do any work.

They don’t represent people, they each represent a person.

The world is a big place. It may feel smaller, but it’s actually bigger — more people in more places have more opportunity than ever before. It’s hungry.

If you’re ready to work on something, there’s someone else out there who’s ready to work on it too. Someone just as hungry. Or hungrier.

Or if there isn’t — if you’re truly on to something no one else has ever thought of — then you aren’t working against anyone anyway.

Assuming you can put in more hours than someone, or work harder than someone else, is giving yourself too much credit for your effort and not enough for theirs.

Hours are never the differentiator — it’s never about working more hours than someone else. It’s about the decisions you make. How you spend your time, what you do and don’t do. Especially what you don’t do.

You’ll have more opportunities to waste time than use time. If you’re going to measure hours, the ones worth measuring are the ones you don’t waste, not the ones you spend.

Like Peter Drucker said decades ago, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

The people who’ve made it didn’t make it because they worked harder than everyone else. There wasn’t someone 100 hours behind that would have made it had they put in 101.

People make it because they’re talented, they’re lucky, they’re in the right place at the right time, they know how to work with other people, they know how to sell, they know what moves people, they can tell a story, they can see the big and small picture in every situation, and they know how to do something with an opportunity. And so many other reasons. Working harder than other people is not the reason.

So get the outwork myth out of your head. It’s not a thing.

Is Basecamp successful because we worked harder than everyone else? Absolutely not. In fact, when we launched Basecamp back in 2004, David, our one and only programmer, only had 10 hours a week to put into it because he was still a student in University. It was a side project for us too.

Is Basecamp successful because it’s great? We hope so. Is it successful because we were in the right place at the right time? Certainly so. Is it successful because it’s original and unique? We believe so. Is it successful because it’s straightforward? We’ve heard so. Is it successful because it helps other people be successful? Absolutely so.


The outwork myth was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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