At some point or another, I’d imagine virtually all of us have answered some form of the “money is no object” question. Essentially this: If you didn’t have to worry about money at all, what would you do?
My standard reply is to open some form of bookstore and coffee shop.
There would be no WiFi, and we’d stack the whole place with good old-fashioned physical books. If we want to get really specific, I’d name it “Penny University,” a callback to English coffeehouses in the 17th and 18th century. Oh, and we’d have monthly discussions where we call in experts to debate both sides of a “hot topic” (education, politics, poverty, future of work, etc).
I’ve thought about this a lot!
As much as I love this idea though, I’m probably not going to open a bookstore. The whole thing just feels so risky, especially as we talk about a worldwide pandemic (setting aside the ebook vs. physical book discussion).
Imagine my shock and delight when I read about Ryan Holiday’s new bookstore outside of Austin, Texas—The Painted Porch. He wrote a piece for the Texas Monthly aptly titled “Opening a Small-Town Bookstore During the Pandemic Was the Craziest Thing We Ever Did.“
The whole experience was fascinating, but one piece stuck out, what I would equate to a version of red teaming:
Whenever I’m considering an idea I’m excited about, I like to ask friends to talk me out of it.
It seems like more people are reading actual books these days. Admittedly, I have no data to back this up outside of my observations of friends in-person and on social media. However, more people I know are posting reading lists, book reviews, and photos of their physical library.
I love this trend! I’m a big believer in the power of continued learning. Books are one way (and my preferred method) of learning. There is a trap lurking though.
It’s easy to quantify the number of books we read in a year. As with anything else quantifiable, the total number emerges as some sort of status symbol.
Today’s post deviates a bit from the norm. I’ve been reading quite a bit about history and Stoicism in particular. A few concepts are sticking out like this idea of a moral ledger. So, let’s explore and start with a story!
In September of 1855, John D. Rockefeller landed his first job after spending weeks searching high and low for work. Shortly therafter, he purchased a small red-covered notebook referred to forever after as “Ledger A.”
The eventual business titan kept scrupulous notes for every transaction and tracked everything down to the cent. Many years later, he acknowledged the importance the book held:
I haven’t seen this book for twenty-five years. You couldn’t get it from me for all the modern ledgers in New York and what they all would bring in.John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
One can posit many reasons why Ledger A held such importance. Rockefeller was fascinated by money since a young age. The book also marked the start of his professional career and his self-sufficiency in life.
More than that though, ledgers represented a hedge against fallible emotion and a tool to aid in decision-making. They grounded the idea of business in a firm reality of additions and subtractions.
We can appreciate Rockefeller’s attention to detail when it came to bookkeeping, but this attention to detail expanded beyond accounting into the moral realm. I found the moral aspects far more interesting and applicable to the present day.
It feels like a gross understatement to say that the pandemic has changed the future of work.
Unemployment, remote work, shifting industries…you get it. I’m not saying anything you haven’t heard about many times over already. I do want to drill down on a particular aspect of leading remote teams though. How do you know when anyone is getting work done?
In an in-person office, we start with the assumption that if you’re at work, you’re getting work done. Rightly or wrongly. Even if you accomplished nothing during the week, you could say, “I was here.” (Bad) Leaders can therefore fall back on “butt-in-seat management” wherein visible attendance equals valuable output.
This obviously gets trickier in a remote environment! There isn’t an “office” to show up to on Monday morning. Sure, most companies have some kind of communication tool like Slack. Unless your leader is really nosy though, they probably have little idea when you’re actually around.
So, what do leaders do? And, how can we, as teammates, help?