An Open Letter From Fab’s CEO: Advice From a Year of Hard Knocks

Jason Goldberg, Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Fab, has learned a lot in 2013. A series of very public layoffs and upheaval is not generally followed by such candor, but that’s what Goldberg laid out in his blog, the Betashop Quarterly. In it, he pens an open letter about 2013′s fumblings and the hard lessons he learned, summing things up for us in 16 lessons that go far beyond the workspace to become great advice for any industry, entrepreneur, or worker.

Here’s a few of our favorites:

2. Control Your Own Destiny — Cash Is King. . . Never ever let yourself get into a position where you are desperate for cash. When I made the difficult decision to cut expenses at Fab in mid-2013 I had essentially two options in front of me: keep growing at the pace we were growing and hope I could raise even more money down the road, or scale back and control our own destiny. I chose the latter. Yes, it is my fault for getting us in such a position in the first place, but the go forward decision was rather simple. I didn’t want to ever get in a position where we were desperate for cash. . .

4. As the CEO, it’s all your fault because you set the tone for the entire business. . . If you ever, ever find yourself in the position where you are pointing at one of your executives and managers and saying to yourself, “If only they made better decisions we wouldn’t be in this situation,” STOP. Point that finger right back at yourself. . . The reason it’s all your fault is because you set the tone for the business. At Fab in 2012 and into the first half of 2013, for instance, the tone I set was to grow grow grow and create a billion dollar company. All decisions flowed from that. So when I looked back in the second half of 2013 and asked why did we do x, y, z, the easy thing to do would be to blame managers for making poor decisions. But that would be wrong. The absolute truth is that the CEO — me — set the tone and all decisions flowed from that. This is a tough lesson for any leader to internalize, but it’s so important. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of believing that things would have been better if you had just insisted on it being done your way vs. listening to someone else. I can think of countless times over the past couple of years when I knew the right answer but allowed the team to pursue a different direction. . . By championing growth on the one hand while questioning efficiency on the other, all I was doing was confusing the team, not leading them. And, everyone — including myself — was too busy focusing on growth to even take the proper time to figure out the tough problems in front of us. Leadership is all about setting the right tone.

Read the rest here.

Relevant: Jason Goldberg: You Can’t Iterate Yourself To A Business Model

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Richard Feynman: What Counts as “Worthwhile” Work?

Problem Solving designed by Rob Maslin from the Noun Project

Problem Solving designed by Rob Maslin from the Noun Project

How can we know which projects are worthwhile for us and which are trivial? At Hotel Genius, a letter from the late quantum physicist Richard Feynman explains why the humbler projects are also some of the most important for us to work on:

The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to…

I would advise you to take even simpler, or as you say, humbler, problems until you find some you can really solve easily, no matter how trivial. You will get the pleasure of success, and of helping your fellow man, even if it is only to answer a question in the mind of a colleague less able than you. You must not take away from yourself these pleasures because you have some erroneous idea of what is worthwhile…No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.

The advice Feynman gives is simple enough, yet how often do we feel like we need to work on something colossal in order to feel validated and purpose-driven?

While you may feel pressure to revolutionize the race to mars, to write a #1 best-selling novel, or to start a business and sell it for billions of dollars, the real worthwhile work to be done is any work that you can realistically do now. The problems you solve and the work you do now may not be work “close to the gods” (to use Feynman’s words), but that doesn’t make it any less important.

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Avoid Playing Email Ping Pong With “If…Then” Statements

Ping Pong by Janina Reinhard from The Noun Project

Ping Pong by Janina Reinhard from The Noun Project

Scheduling meetings over email is like playing ping pong, where a simple “Can you meet at 4:00 pm?” could easily turn into an endless volley of back-and-forth replies. 

In The 4-Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferris suggests a simple strategy to streamline things:

Email communication should be streamlined to prevent needless back-and-forth. Thus, an email with “Can you meet at 4:00 pm?” would become “Can you meet at 4:00 pm? If not, please advise three other times that work for you.”

Get into the habit of considering what “if … then” actions can be proposed in any e-mail where you ask a question.

The “if…then” statement preempts follow-up questions and prevents them altogether. By avoiding separate dialogues, you dramatically reduce emails sent. Let the other person give you some options while you get back to doing real work.

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Weekend Reads: Should We Only Work 4 Days a Week?

Calendar designed by Phil Goodwin from the Noun Project

Calendar designed by Phil Goodwin from the Noun Project

As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our best stuff from the past week for your weekend reading pleasure.

What We’re Reading

The 2nd richest man in the world thinks you should only work 3-4 days a week (and his employees are testing it out for us).

How creative hobbies make us better at, well, basically everything.

If we constantly think “failure is good” what does that make the CEO who cuts over 10,000 jobs?

From 99U

In the “Information Age” everything gets measured. So how can we stay sane? “The real work,” Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova says, “is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on numbers.” Read the rest of our conversation with the internet’s hardest working curator.

Post-its made for your phone, a Stay Home Club tee, and the best headphones for those 12-hour days. Every now and then we round up our favorite tools that make us want to get to work. Get your wallets ready, kids.

Catch more links like these by signing up for our weekly newsletter below, which features our best content, delivered fresh every Sunday.


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Headphones Are Shortening Your Career

Headphones designed by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project

Headphones designed by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project

It’s said that the average “prime” of a creative career is just 10 years. After that, the ideas dry up and with them the motivation to work outside the box. How can we extend our creative potential to last 20, 30, or even 50 years? Over at Wired UK, John Hegarty shares his insights on the matter:

Remove the headphones. Inspiration is everywhere — you just have to see it. If you accept that creative people are “transmitters” — they absorb all kinds of stimuli, thoughts and ideas and they reinterpret them and send them back to the world as pieces of inspiration — then it’s obvious that the more you see, connect and juxtapose, the more interesting your work will be.

The more you stay connected and stimulated, the greater the relevance of your work. By walking around in a digital cocoon you push the world away; great creative people constantly embrace it. You need to nourish your soul and your imagination.

Headphones—whether metaphorical or literal—block out the very stimulus that keeps us inspired as creatives.

While blocking out the world and focusing on our work allows us to accomplish more, it also hinders our ability to receive new input and utilize the world around us for generating even more creative ideas.

Hegarty explains how taking off your headphones isn’t the only way to strengthen (and lengthen) your creative career though. If you want to have a long and productive career as a creative, you need to avoid cynicism and its ability to undermine belief in your work, Hegarty explains. It’s also important to mix with the best creatives around us, to not hide our work or ideas.

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Pixar: How to Create a Creative Culture

Pixar_Wallpaper

Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar, shared with Harvard Business Review how to create a work environment that encourages creativity in everyone. The interview is long, and well worth the read, but his three main takeaways are:

Anyone can talk to anyone: Individuals from every department should have the ability to speak with each other without having to ask for permission. Keep the communication lines open so people can learn and be inspired by each other.

Everyone has ideas: Learn to give and receive feedback in a positive way on unfinished work. Early criticism provides the freedom to try new things because it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Ensure that every department, regardless of discipline, has the opportunity to comment.

Build subcultures: Break up formal departments by creating new ones. Pixar University offers classes for people to try a new discipline or something unrelated (like pilates or yoga). You never know what may come from a chance encounter with another department.

Barriers between people can easily spring up in any industry. Catmull warns that, “in a creative business like ours, these barriers are impediments to producing great work, and therefore we must do everything we can to tear them down.”

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Related: How to Build a Collaborative Office Space Like Pixar and Google

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Get More from Your Day by Using 90 Minute Blocks

Tetris designed by Emily L from the Noun Project

Tetris designed by Emily L from the Noun Project

On photographer Chase Jarvis’ blog we get a look at how to best schedule our days in order to utilize what Tony Schwartz calls “strategic renewal.” It’s the concept of participating in short activities throughout the day in order to energize us both physically and mentally:

The theory boils down to the fact that we can’t increase the hours in the day, but we can increase the energy with which we make the most of those hours. Taking short, scheduled breaks throughout the day rejuvenates and restores us physically and mentally, helping us plow through those assignments and to-do lists in a third of the time.

Inspired by Schwarz and the studies he cited, I created a Daily Schedule that broke up my day into 90-minute Work Blocks, separated by 30 minute Breaks and, in the middle of my day, a 2-hour lunch. I know some of you just spit your coffee out. But you read that right.

While your Daily Schedule blocks may be different from what is set in the article, the concept remains the same: break your day into 90 minute blocks (which research has shown is the ideal length of time for any focused activity), then sprinkle in a few short chunks of restorative activities. Activities can include everything from walking, working out, a short nap, or anything that gets you away from the work for a short while.

For more information on how to schedule your ideal day to achieve strategic renewal, read the full write-up on the concept over on Chase Jarvis’ blog.

Related: How to Accomplish More By Doing Less

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