Why You (And Your Employees) Have To Work

“Whenever it is possible, a boy should choose some occupation which he should do even if he did not need the money.” 
William Lyon Phelps, American Author

Work Hard PLay HardGrowing up, I dreamed that one day I could say, “I don’t have to work.” My parents were both government employees of modest means and thus the goal of retiring as a relatively young person was a fantasy to nearly everyone I knew growing up – everyone but me. My father passed away when I was in my mid-30’s before he had a chance to enjoy the fruits of his lifelong labor. My father’s premature death further solidified my desire to retire early.

After an exhausting and exhilarating 13-years as a senior startup executive, I looked back on my career with satisfaction, having helped several companies create significant wealth, including:

Computer Motion: IPO and later sold to Intuitive Surgical $148 million

Expertcity: creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, sold to Citrix for $236 million

CallWave: IPO, initial market cap ~$200 million

At the age of 43, I decided that I would retire. I was convinced at the time that I would never work again. At the outset of my retirement, I shared this thought with a CEO whom I respected and without hesitation replied, “You will be back in the game once you take a breather. I guarantee it.” Boy, was he ever right…

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Finishing The Sentence

My “retirement” tuned into a two-year victory lap in which my primary responsibilities were getting the mail, going to the gym and picking up my children from school. My hiatus helped me understand that simply saying, “I don’t have to work” was not a complete description of my childhood dream. Over time, I realized that my true desire was to create enough personal wealth such that I did not have to work solely “for money.” I eventually realized that my true aspiration was to be able to say, “I don’t have to work to feed my family, keep them healthy and maintain a cozy roof over our heads.”

Maslow's HierarchyThere are numerous reasons someone has to work and only one of them is money. My sabbatical helped me realize that I had to work for reasons beyond survival. This concept was something I had read about repeatedly in college (e.g., Maslow’s hierarchy, etc.), but it was still a revelation when I experienced it firsthand. For those who may have slept through Psychology 101, Maslow argued that once man has fulfilled his basic physical and safety needs, he seeks to satisfy his more esoteric and emotional needs, culminating in satiating the innate desire for self-fulfillment. Defining your unique self-fulfillment needs is paramount to living a content and rewarding life.

How To Get Someone To Hate What They Do For Fun

The following is an apocryphal tale which illustrates the detrimental consequences of turning play into work. I would cite the source, but I have been unable to locate its origin. If anyone knows the original author of this story, please alert me via a comment below.

Once upon a time, there was a farmer whose crops were adjacent to a makeshift baseball field. Homeruns routinely flew into the farmer’s field, damaging his produce whenever the boys retrieved their ball.

The farmer initially yelled at the boys, but they simply ran away and returned as soon as he was out of sight. The farmer bought guard dogs, which the boys quickly befriended. He notified the police, who decided they had higher priorities. He even called the boys’ parents, who assured him that they would discuss the issue with their children, while reminding him that, “boys will be boys.” Everything he tried failed - the boys continued to play baseball, and his crops continued to suffer.

Frustrated, the farmer decided to try another tactic. One hot afternoon, he approached the boys. As soon as they saw him, they began to run. He calmly called to them and explained that he wanted to make them a proposition. They were suspicious, but the farmer’s smile reassured them. When the boys had gathered around home plate, the farmer said, “I just love seeing you boys play, it reminds me of when I was young. Tell you what, I’ll pay each of you $1 just to let me watch you all play for an hour.”

The boys cautiously accepted, and after the farmer had made good on his word, they were thrilled to be paid to play. The farmer then told the boys to return the next day at 9:00 sharp.

The boys usually did not start playing until early afternoon, but the allure of the money prompted most of them to show up at the appointed time. Any boy who played from 9:00 to 5:00, was paid $8. However, if they were late or left before 5:00, there were not allowed to come back the following day.

This continued for several days, with fewer boys showing up to “play” each day. After two weeks, the farmer had completely rid himself of the boys. Like many unenlightened employers, he successfully turned their delightful play into distasteful work.

Why Most People Work

Drive AnimatedIn the following video, Dave Pink discusses the three factors which motivate knowledge workers. It is well worth the 11-minutes you must invest to watch it.

Dave makes it clear that once a professional is paid enough money to assuage their basic needs, the factors which motivate them are; mastery, challenge and an ability to impact a meaningful mission. Such a sense of purpose is generally not derived from simply making a profit, as described more fully in Peace & War Corps. Your primary responsibility is to maximize your employees’ ability to pursue these three tenants of professional satisfaction.


You can view the video below or via this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

During the early stages of a startup, entrepreneurs typically cannot afford to pay their employees a market-rate of cash compensation. However, you can mitigate the downside of this reality by helping each employee define their version of self-fulfillment and then remove any roadblocks keeping them from scaling the top of Maslow’s pyramid. Provide your employees challenges that they can master while making an impact, and they will put forth an effort that far exceeds what they would do if they were merely “working for money.”

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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