According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, hustling is ‘the ability to obtain by energetic activity.’ An alternative definition is ‘to sell or promote energetically and aggressively.’ Overall, there’s consensus on the use of energy to push forward.
After spending years in the space of startup, and decades of reading up on the topic, I’ve come across the term hustling very often. This term has become so common that I find its use everywhere - from social media to popular media. It’s as if we were placed in an age of hustling.
Hustle refers to the culture of grind and exertion at full throttle - every single day - to accomplish goals and dreams at lightning speed. Somehow, this is assumed to be the bypassing of time-consuming activities or the adding of working hours to a day or week. It glorifies the idea that 'busier is better.' Some could also argue that hustling means hacking - to be industrious and figure out innovative ways to solve problems. To each their own.
Do hours at work truly result in output?
About 20 years ago, I found myself working on a radar simulator with my team. We believed in long nights, ‘saving time’ by not learning existing frameworks and rather choosing to write our own lean and mean framework.
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We also felt that if we avoid the rigmarole of quality assurance, we’d save several arduous hours that could be put to better use. Two decades later, I’d admit to having committed similar follies with 5 startups, of which I was a founder of 3!
Aversion for a ready framework
I realized that as an application grows, you keep expanding your framework. The hard lesson eventually is that a week invested in learning the framework goes on to save months in troubleshooting later. New generations of startups are relatively smarter on this front. Although they have learned from our mistakes, they go on to commit unique ones now.
If you’re part of a tiny setup, your product manager most likely doubles up as your QA and developer as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if you keep losing face and confidence each day as you unearth new malfunctions or bugs.
Everyone, but a designated QA, consider bugs to be a developer’s fault. Imagine the chaos that ensues when a customer discovers a bug - a catastrophe of the highest order. Incorporating QA on day one never hurts.
Despite being a citizen of the startup world myself, I can’t help but ask one fundamental question: is work output just a function of the hours put in? In the early years of our business when things weren't clearly defined, we suffered from moments where multiple viewpoints were blurring decision making. Back then, we hustled towards having a structure in the entire process. We wanted to understand our customers, the segment, and our team as well.
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We've all been there
For a long time, we lived with the myth that increasing work hours from 8 to 15 hours a day meant better productivity. In reality, most of those increased hours were spent bonding and understanding each other. It didn’t take long to acknowledge it was ludicrous! If you want the job done, you will get it done. More than time, intent drives results. Adding an hour or two a day twice a week is understandable, but adding 7 hours and weekends! We got to be kidding, right?
Over time, it became evident that all the hustle eventually blurs focus and productivity. Besides, numerous specialists caution us and studies prove that burnout isn’t just cutting our career short, but is also destroying our mental and physical health as well.
So what should a startup zero in on and how to split away from the hustle culture?
The culture of learning
As an organization extends and develops, learning becomes important for both the organizer and the group. We need to look at a startup as a pool of thoughts and concepts shared between the business and its talent. Thoughts that need to be channelized in an organized manner to help you accomplish goals and better understand the service, customer, and employees.
Having a learning culture is going to help the team identify solutions to problems, innovate better and focus on service and quality giving the company an edge over its competitors.
Versatile to change
With so many ideas brought to the plate and the race to bring structure to the process, change is inevitable. The early startup days are normally spent having a go at testing, falling flat, and standing up again till you find what results in success and failure. The process can be frustrating, but knowing that it takes a lot to break the inertia and internalize things will help you cope with uncertainty better. Streamlining the process makes the feedback process a whole lot smoother.
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Surrendering to the process
As humans, we are prone to complaints and judgment. I continually hear CEOs, COOs, and Product Managers speaking of delays and lagging despite allocating adequate time to the job. So what is causing the delay?
The answer is simple: not planning well and a limited understanding of the process. In reality, purpose drives consistency. The ideal process is like a checklist that ensures the right things get done by the right people at the right time. Learning to commit to the process without judgment or doubt pays off well.
Often it helps to take a step back and look at the system and the process from a distance. It is prudent to write the task down until everyone understands the larger objective. If you think you can create a better process, put it to ink and paper, point by point, and commit to it.
In every milestone, there are several ambiguous yet essential tasks before a goal can be accomplished. If we take software as an example, we may know the problem we are trying to solve for the customer. But we may still be in the process of identifying modules, UI/UX, software stack, tools, and more. It’s only commitment to the process that helps us answer these questions.
Essentially, we are not the machine we’ve built. Whether you are starting a venture or joining a team, simply working hard, completing your tasks, and being open to new ideas will set you on a path to success.