Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Productivity Cycle

Tim Ferris described the above diagram as representative of the number of states a person goes through while running a business. In my opinion, the diagram is not only representative of entrepreneurs but represents a broader class of people who venture on doing something completely new. Anyone doing anything solely based on uninformed optimism would go through these stages.

We need to define what uninformed optimism is. As Cal Newport describes in detail in his blog post:

"Passion = Uninformed Optimism"

People go on adventures, change jobs, start businesses etc based on a false notion of passion. Speaking in plain terms, passion is nothing more than dumb decision making based on incomplete information. My personal experiences have taught me lessons which are difficult to forget about the dangers of "passion". Passion is a term which is extremely over rated in modern pop culture. Colleges and business school look for passionate people. Managers hire workers that are passionate about that line of work. In the long run it is all horse shit. Anyone making a decision based on incomplete information would feel even worse when he realizes that that decision was incorrect. It would feel even worse when you would realize how different your feelings were about something at the start and how totally reversed they are when you are in the middle stages.

Similarly uniformed optimism could also be equated with motivation, which happens to be another hackneyed and overused term. Simply put, your emotions are not your best guide. Although they do help you moving forwards but they should be carefully managed and in most cases feared all together. A number of young people cannot face the prospect of failure and give up all together.

In my first job, after experiencing the first two phases i simply slid down the slope and burned out. It was my first job, hence the optimism was sky high. It wasn't long before the challenges lay in front of me became painfully obvious. This lead to a deep and dark pessimism which convinced me that I was a failure and it is difficult for me to face those challenges. My problem was that I had a fixed mindset (Carol Dweck) and failure was therefore difficult to digest, quitting was much more acceptable to me. Subsequently, a day came when i stopped showing up. I was extremely depressed at all levels and my self confidence hit rock bottom. It became harder for me to believe that I could ever do something with my life.

One of the reason for quitting my job was that I thought that i was deeply passionate about some other field. I was basically informed pessimist about my current field and an uninformed optimist about this future other field. In one field i knew what was being thrown at me and in the other i had no idea what was about to come. I did make the switch, and performed exceptionally well for the first few months until the challenges became clear and I longingly looked back at the opportunity I had left. I was a failure who was completely lost as my flame of passion quickly blew out.

One learns the most from one's failure. It definitely applied to my case. The experience i got was amazing as you learn what not to do when on the steep side of informed pessimism. This time i refused to crash and burn. I devised strategies to just keep me going. I started focusing more on the process rather than my emotions, but this strategy had an inherent problem. Emotions and Method are dependent on each other. You cannot move forward if anyone is missing. Emotionally i was a wreck but i knew now how not to crash and burn. My methods did work but left me deeply unhappy. I knew that with this rate i was going to crash and burn eventually. It was an improvement from my previous experience as i was able to extend the time before i burned out. 

I have now turned the corner and i am starting up the last slope of informed optimism. The problem this time lay with my methods. My methods were too hard on me which left me with no emotion to be optimistic about. High intense work and more rest have created the necessary balance required for climbing this difficult slope. Tim Ferris' 4 hour work week and Cal Newport's (MIT postdoc) strategies for increasing productivity and creating a more balanced life/work equation has done wonders. Less is truly more. Hopefully i will for once climb this last slope.

Read Tim Ferris' post about productivity cycle here.

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