Hard Work Doesn't Matter

Fred Perrotta

We've heard a lot in election post-mortems about the value of hard work, especially in the Rust Belt. In an industrial model, efficiency is key. Up to a point, working harder yields more or better results.

I hear this every time I visit by hometown in Western Pennsylvania. My dad divides everyone he knew growing up into "guys who went to work" and "guys who never worked." Working hard was how you measured a person, including yourself.

Meanwhile, in creative fields and knowledge work, hard work doesn't matter.

Yes, a certain baseline of effort is necessary, but not sufficient, to producing valuable work. However, effort is not at the top of the list and not the most important factor for doing impactful work.

Working harder at a task can increase output by 10%. Working on the right task can increase output by 10x.

Execution, not effort, is what matters.

Startups make for good case studies. Working harder on the wrong idea does not make it successful. Working on the right idea can yield a $1B business.

Choosing the right idea doesn't guarantee success. Any signs of future success will attract competitors to your category. You can't beat them by outworking them. You can only beat them by out-executing them.

In The outwork myth, Jason Fried of Basecamp says:

Hours are never the differentiator — it’s never about working more hours than someone else. It’s about the decisions you make. How you spend your time, what you do and don’t do.

In an assembly line, you have a specific task to do. Working harder to do your task faster or more efficiently will yield greater results.

In knowledge work, you have to choose what to work on next from an infinite number of options. Choosing correctly will make you successful, not sleeping under your desk.