In last week’s Sunday Review, the New York Times published an article titled “In Silicon Valley, Working 9 to 5 is for Losers’. The article probes the glorification of the ‘outgrind, outhustle, outwork’ ethos that the author sees as characterizing today’s Silicon Valley culture. As he argues, forget working smarter, the only thing that matters in Silicon Valley is working harder. This ‘nerd commando’ culture, which the Sunday Times article calls an organizational ‘perversion’, is not new. In fact, I wrote a research paper on the subject in 2004. Here is but one paragraph…
“In this frenetic, action-oriented environment, success for start-up technology companies is a sprint, a short distance race of speed rather than a long-distance test of endurance. Energies are externally focused and those individuals and/or organizations working the longest and the hardest expect to win. A technology sector version of the Protestant work ethic becomes a virtuous badge of honor. As stated in one of the many recent books written on Microsoft, “we hire only Type A people because they like working their asses off” (Cusumano & Selby, 1995, p. 94). Speed, urgency and drive are mapped onto every facet of a tech business. In product development, reducing ‘cycle time’ becomes a key imperative, and fad design methodologies such as ‘extreme programming’ emerge to minimize time to market. In this environment, companies with a faster response time, as measured from the construction of the first prototype to commercial shipment, are perceived to outperform those with slower response times. And make no mistake, ‘fast’ means that employees not only work with haste, but also with focus and prolonged effort.”
Today’s dreams of innovation, disruption, riches and glory intoxicate unprecedented numbers of tech sector entrepreneurs, investors and acolytes alike. And while the industry and its digital wares evolve at a breakneck pace, the price of admission to work within this game of skill and chance remains largely unchanged over time. Simply put, achieving improbable goals demands improbable levels of commitment and effort. Note that I said commitment and effort rather than ‘workaholism’. This is because the tech sector has carefully sanitized its language around work using bromides such as ‘motivated’, ‘passionate’, ‘action-biased’, ‘dedicated’, ‘resilient’ and ‘single-minded’ to describe the attributes it seeks and values in employees.
Unfortunately, while some will succeed many others will die in battle fighting the good fight. And as they reflect on the Kool-Aid they drank, the sacrifices they made and the price they paid, let’s hope it nets out to more than just a nightmare featuring foosball, massages, buffet lunches and concierge service.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.