It takes a brave founder to say that their company is changing the world. It takes an even braver founder to say that their company isn’t.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are very brave.
In their new book, “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work,” the founders of web app company Basecamp proclaim that their business is “making it easier for companies and teams to communicate and collaborate” — but it’s “not exactly rewriting world history.”
Fried and Hansson call out the rise of executives who are suffering from a case of “ambition hyperinflation,” thinking that their businesses are revolutionizing life on earth — or at the very least, “disrupting” a particular industry.
The problem, the authors write, is twofold. Not only do you sound, well, ridiculous; you also convince yourself that it’s worth working 23 hours a day. Indeed, the problem of overwork in Silicon Valley — where claims of forthcoming “disruption” are rampant — has been widely documented (though we’re starting to see some pushback).
Read more: Elon Musk says he works 120 hours a week and doesn’t leave the factory for days at a time — but experts say that kind of work ethic is dangerous
“If you stop thinking that you must change the world, you lift a tremendous burden off yourself and the people around you,” they write. “The opportunity to do another good day’s work will come again tomorrow, even if you go home at a reasonable time.”
Fried and Hansson’s philosophy recalls a 2014 column by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times. Kellaway writes that everyone today seems to demand a “higher purpose” from their job. But in fact, most companies are doing less-than-world-changing things like, ahem, selling software.
Kellaway goes on: “If companies want a higher purpose all they need do is say they produce things people want to buy, provide jobs for people and treat them nicely.”
Interestingly, in a 2018 Medium post, Hansson writes that “most companies that actually end up changing the world rarely set out with that as the explicit mission.” Hansson calls out Twitter, which “started as a way of telling your drinking buddies by SMS which dive bar you were hanging out at.”
As Fried and Hansson advise readers in the book: “Set out to be fair in your dealings with customers, employees, and reality.”