The Year Without Pants Gets You Putting on Your Thinking Cap (Part 2)

published on September 11, 2014 | tagged in:

If you haven’t gotten a copy of Scott Berkun’s “The Year Without Pants” yet, now is the perfect time to get one. The book is filled with nuggets of insight and wisdom applicable to today’s modern businesses.

For those who are hearing about it for the first time, check out a previous article to get you started. For those who have been following this article, here are a few more interesting excerpts from the book we think will get your creative thinking juices flowing.

The Future of Business

The Advice Paradox

  • No matter how much advice you have, you must still decide intuitively what to use and what to avoid. Even if you seek meta-advice, advice on which advice to take, the paradox still applies as you make the same choice about that advice too.

Modern Work vs Traditions

  • The problem with modern work, and one that sheds light on the future, is how loaded workplaces are with cultural baggage. We faithfully follow practices we can’t explain rationally. Why is it that work has to start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m.? Why are you required to wear a tie if you’re a man and a skirt if you’re a woman?
  • We follow these practices because we were forced to when we entered the workforce, and over time, they became so familiar we’ve forgotten they are merely inventions.
  • A central element in Automattic culture was results first. Nobody cared when you arrived at work or how long you worked. It didn’t matter if you were pantless in your living room or bathing in the sun, swinging in a hammock with a martini in your hand. What mattered was your output.
  • Every tradition we hold dear was once a new idea someone proposed, tried, and found valuable, often inspired by a previous tradition that had been outgrown.
  • The responsibility of people in power is to continually eliminate useless traditions and introduce valuable ones. An organization where nothing ever changes is not a workplace but a living museum.

On Managing Human Resources

  • 4 Freedoms practiced in Automattic:
    1. Hire great people.
    2. Set good priorities.
    3. Remove distractions.
    4. Stay out of the way.
  • The hardest part of work is what goes on between your ears and between you and your coworkers.
  • The trends and gadgets that make up most conversations about the future of work miss the point. Instead of vice presidents seeing the problem as a lack of a tool or a secret method, they should realize they’re in the way more than they realize. Granting authority is more powerful than any software, device, or method.
  • Remote work is merely physical independence, and the biggest challenge people who work remotely face is managing their own psychology. Since they have more independence, they need to be masters of their own habits to be productive, whether it’s avoiding distractions, staying disciplined on projects, or even replacing the social life that comes from conventional work with other friendships.

On Leadership

  • Being a good lead is all about switching hats: knowing which level of abstraction to work at to solve a problem. It’s rarely a question of intelligence; instead, it’s picking the right perspective to use on a particular challenge.
  • To understand who people really are, start a fire. When everything is going fine, you see only the safest parts of people’s character. It’s only when something is burning that you find out who people really are.

The Data Paradox

  • All metrics create temptations. Even with great intentions and smart minds, data runs you faster and faster into a stupid self-destructive circle. Data can’t decide things for you.
  • No matter how much data you have, you still depend on your intuition for deciding how to interpret and then apply the data.

On Creativity

  • At Automattic, the traps of trying to make things safe are resisted, although people are motivated more by their sense of independence than an awareness of a grand philosophical principle. The basic notion is that if people are smart and respect not blowing things up, too many safety measures get in the way. Instead, employees are trusted and empowered to release things fast.
  • Employees were treated like adults. By not having too many safeguards, we were trusted to pay full attention. Keeping things a little dangerous made things safer.

If you want more of Scott Berkun, make sure to get a copy of his book, “The Year Without Pants”. You won’t want to put it down.

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