80% of the work you do is pointless

This is the story of Abby. She quit her job to start her own company, and without knowing, she spent most of her days doing useless work. She did so much useless work that she ended up burning herself out, and when the real work came along she had run out of personal funds and needed to start a normal job again.

I will show what she did, why she did it, and what she should have done instead. This is basically a mini how-to guide for anyone interested in creating their own “startup”.

Some principles and concepts

Before we move on, I’d like to either introduce, or refresh some concepts that I will mention in this article.

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

Also known as bikeshedding or the bicycle-shed example, is C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1957 argument that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Parkinson demonstrated this by contrasting the triviality of a bike shed to a nuclear reactor.

During a hypothetical meeting about planning the construction of a nuclear reactor, directors end up spending more time discussing the color of the bike shed than details about the reactor.

A nuclear reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that the average person cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions often withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone can visualize a bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that they have contributed.

TL;DR: Complex things that need more attention get ignored because they’re too complex, and simple things that don’t need as much attention get too much.

Pareto principle

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

TL;DR: 20% of the efforts make 80% of the results

This quote by David Rock from his book “Your Brain at Work” changed how I view many things, and has kept me from wasting many hours:

“We all often think about what’s easy to think about, rather than what’s right to think about.”

Applying this quote to the principles above, we can come to the conclusion that the 80% of the work that causes 20% of the results are things easy to think about. AKA Bikeshedding.

And the 20% of the work that causes 80% of the results are things right to think about.

I’m not saying those 80% should never be done, I’m saying the 20% should be done first.

What Abby did:

She had an idea, so she worked on developing the user journey, creating designs, started a blog, read many books about how to be an entrepreneur, and start thinking about complex features. Got in touch with incubators and even venture capitalists.

She discusses with some possible clients a cooperation and they start to shape the product in their own way, which just lead to confusion.

All in all, about one year passed and not a single euro was made, countless hours were wasted with literally 0 useful output(besides learning, which is priceless).

“It’s good to be positive despite making zero progress in a year” —Dave Franco in “Now you see me”

This seems like the reasonable road to take in a new project. But this is part of the 80% of the effort that only creates 20%(or less) of the results.

Abby could have optimized her prioritization by first working on the 20% that create 80% of the results.

We first need to define which results we want. I believe I speak for most people when I assume the result that matters the most is money. When money comes in, it means clients are paying for your services, which means you create value for them. Simple.

Given that realistically no project is ever at 100%, a project at 80% completion is already insanely developed.

Conclusion

Abby lacked the skills to successfully validate and sell her product.

A very good idea without sales skills is a failed business.

A very good salesman with a bad idea is in business.

Stay tuned for how it should have been done.

Feel free to follow me on medium, or on twitter @mndflp.

Strong opinions, loosely held.

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