Back in ’95, I talked to my employer at the time about working for them from another location. Not from home, but from a different state. At first their response was a muted “Yes”. In retrospect, I should have drilled down a bit more into that reply. I didn’t because sometimes we hear what we want to hear. A few months later, I was ready to make that move, so I asked about firming up the details. As you might imagine, the “Yes” soon became a “Sorry no, that’s impossible for us.” Us meaning them, of course.
That “no” began my business journey. Sure, I’d cooked up a few small side hustles in years prior, but this was different. This had to be full-time. I needed the patience to build something real. I needed a plan. A random side hustle wasn’t going to feed the bulldog.
It seemed impossible.
A few weeks before the “No”, I received one of my favorite nuggets of life advice from an older guy in Jackson Hole. He said “If you want to live here, you’d better bring your own job and your own woman because we don’t have enough of either.“
When you get advice like this, it’s easy to wave off. We tell ourselves “Oh, it’ll be different for me.”
I was fortunate because he took the time to tell me his story. The short version: He’d moved his wife and kids to Jackson in the early ’60s. When their station wagon pulled into town, they had $200.
35 years later, he was doing pretty well, so I took him at his word.
We have trust issues
Distributed work has changed a bit since 1995. In early 2020, it was still “Sorry no, that’s impossible” in the view of many. Not because the technology wasn’t ready, but because we still have a lot of trust issues.
“It’s impossible to know if our employees are doing their jobs if they aren’t right in front of us.”, they said. We’ll circle back to that.
Add COVID. Stir. While our trust issues remain, we did what was necessary to get the work done.
Firms and services that never imagined succumbing to distributed work’s temptation (evil?) did so. They made it work. They struggled some, then figured it out. I watched my wife have Zoom-based doctor appointments.
Such things were “impossible” months earlier.
The impossible things
“Mark, there are lots of jobs that **are** impossible to do from home.” Indeed. It’s hard to take a CNC home. You can’t smelt iron in your backyard – at least not at scale. It’s tough to harvest crops from a distance. There are many more jobs like this.
The point of all this is not yet another rant about the pros and cons of distributed work.
It’s about how easy we whip out the word “impossible”.
We’ve convinced ourselves only Steve Jobs and Elon Musk can do the impossible. By the way, Steve’s been dead since October 2011.
Are those two guys are the only ones who can do the impossible? Or is it that they’re the only two who don’t give up before they get started?
While inertia and friction are contributing factors, the biggest issue is human nature. We convince ourselves something is too hard.
Or is it that we don’t want to do the hard things?
Are distributed workers working?
“We can’t allow distributed work. It’s impossible to keep track of what our people are doing”, they say.
Said another way, “Unless they’re at their desk, I can’t be sure they’re working.”
If you can’t be sure when they’re somewhere else, you can’t be sure when they’re at your shop. This isn’t about them. It’s about you.
Is it enough for someone to be visible to you for eight hours? That’s not work. It’s control. Except it isn’t, because that control is an illusion.
If your team’s work isn’t measurable, it doesn’t matter where they are. Butts in seats don’t change that. The folks wasting half their days can do that for months before anyone figures it out – and do so right under your nose.
It’s not impossible. It’s a choice.
Are you sure?
What else did you used to think was “impossible”?
What isn’t getting done, built, invented, or conceived because it’s “impossible”?