hard is not valuable

1 minute read

The math says the measure of the outcome is proportional to the difficulty of the work times the amount of the work. That is, the more challenging the problem and the harder we work to overcome the complexity, the bigger the reward. From personal experience it rings true; I owe any success I’ve had to an inordinate amount of work on increasingly challenging problems, amongst other things.

I’ve spent my career working at startups. As we all know, startups are an experimentation lab. It’s some wins but mostly losses. Products fail all the time in the market, that’s the game we love to play. However, each product required substantial work. And many a time, it didn’t amount to much of anything.

After years of my hard work paying off (albeit on well-defined paths) in my personal life, it was a lesson well learned. Hard problems, and the required effort to solve them, are not inherently valuable. We love to talk about “solving the most challenging problems” and often believe the magnitude of effort correlates to its value. But mother Earth and the market do not care about effort, only value. As the old adage says, “it’s better to go slowly in the right direction than go speeding off in the wrong direction”. It is true only for the fact that the direction is as important as the work.

While many will take this as me saying “make sure the direction is right”, I think there is a substantially more important lesson: don’t be afraid for work to amount to zero. The truth is, we’re always taking risks. We never have certainty if our hard work will pay off. Just ask Spotify. We’ve got to get comfortable with trying, with just doing the work. That does not mean be negligent, we must believe in the promise of our effort, but if it amounts to zero, it is fine. There’s no shame in attempts. We try again.