Only They Can Do “Deep Work”
Cal Newport, author and associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, has coined the term “deep work,” which he describes as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” In other words, the kind of work that only 10xers can handle.
With a PhD from MIT, five books to his name, and a gaggle of academic papers and blogs under his belt, Newport knows a thing or two about productivity. (For the record, he’s married with two kids and almost never works on weekends.) Newport defines “deep work” as those activities that can “create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate.”
What’s important to note about Newport’s discovery is that it has a grim counterpart, which he calls “shallow work,” activities that are not cognitively demanding. This deceptively simple discovery offers what we think might be the starkest lesson for those who balk at the very idea of 10xers: On the whole, Professor Newport notes that shallow work activities “tend not to create new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” In other words, if you don’t go deep, even work executed by relatively smart, skilled labor won’t get you where you need to go.
They’ll Thrive in a Results Only Work Enviroment
For those in the know, 10x tech talent are frequently nocturnal creatures and often do their best work, their “deep work,” in the wee hours. That’s why flexible work hours and work location are important to the 10xer.
Newport’s work mirrors what psychologists have long called “the flow state,” a term first coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975 to describe a mental state in which the participant is fully immersed in the act of problem-solving.
Along with Jeanne Nakamura, Csíkszentmihalyi defined the following characteristics that make up a powerful mind flow:
- intense and focused concentration in the present
- merging of action and awareness
- loss of self-consciousness
- a sense of personal control
- the distortion of one’s subjective experience of time
- and last but perhaps most important, a sense that the activity is rewarding
In a recent CNN Business article titled “These employers don’t care where or when you work,”7 writer Kathryn Vasel explores ROWE, a new company modus operandi that stands for Results Only Work Environment.
In a nutshell, ROWE “gives workers complete autonomy, but to be successful, workers need to have clear and detailed goals and metrics.” In other words—work anywhere, anytime. Just get the job done right. It’s a basic day-to-day policy we’ve always held here at 10x Management without knowing there was a name for it. As Vasel points out, ascribing to ROWE can be a company-wide management challenge. “It means giving up the deeply ingrained notion that the best employees are the ones who are always at their desks.”
Jason Rubenstein, currently CTO of Table.Co and a Python / DevOps maven who has worked as both talent and manager, understands the need for this game-changing freedom.
He says he knows a 10x employee when he sees one. “They have the personal discipline to sit down and get the work done, it’s a joy to them. Plus, they always have a subjective level of professional integrity to match their technical ability. I know I can trust them both technically and personally.”
An Outdated Work Model Won’t Work for Them
A former Google engineer who started programming at age ten by teaching himself FORTRAN at his grade school’s lone IBM terminal, Rubenstein has experienced the schism between the old world and the new firsthand. “In the old culture, everyone wanted you in a meeting. And every time you tried to launch a new initiative that involved using remote talent, it was, ‘We don’t do those things. We hire people.’ Even now, if I’m working with larger companies, a big part of my job is explaining how the best 10xers work and managing expectations. Some of those companies are still so stuck in the old world bottle, I’m talking a 1950s, ’60s, ’70s model, where you have a CEO completely freaking out, micromanaging the crap out of everyone.”
A 10x company understands that flow state and deep work trump every other consideration when it comes to productivity. It only requires talent to be involved in essential meetings. Otherwise it lets them do their thing.
The new book Game Changer: How to be 10x in the Talent Economy is your guide to understanding the 10xer. You’ll learn how to identify, attract, employ, and retain the game-changing talent that will make a difference in the work world of tomorrow.