All Work and No Play

Posted: August 26, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in Leadership, People, Planning, Startup

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. 

– old proverb

Remember Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” typing this phrase over and over on reams of paper? Well, this hits home far too many times for entrepreneurs in startups. No vacation. 24/7. Always on. You find that you have become your work.

If you run a motor at 110% of its capacity, the motor will burn out. What makes you think you are different from a simple machine. The law of diminishing returns will punish you for trying to eke out those extra hours, days and weeks of work. You become less effective and therefore less efficient. The startup world becomes very seductive when you believe the more is more. Like golf, believing if you swing just a bit harder, the ball will travel a bit farther. Z. David Patterson of Blue Chip Venture Company said his venture capital mentor advised him that “Trees do not grow to the sky!”

So how do you manage to break this vicious cycle of work, work and more work? Start by reading Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” – where you start to build a team that leverages your leadership. You put the right people in the right seats on the bus, and find that growth happens organically. In fact, set your goal  to remove all the roadblocks for those bus riders so they carry out their goals. You essentially work yourself out of a job where no one relies on you to keep the company running. Your people keep the bus running smoothly because you have empowered them to do so and have given up the micro-managing, hands-on everything approach. Guy Kawasaki recommends hiring people smarter than yourself to fill the bus. A players hire A+ players who hire more A+ players.  B players usually hire C players who then hire D players until you are in a death spiral with a company full of Z players.

When you do a great job of filling the bus and let people excel at their work, you may find yourself feeling somewhat useless and guilty for not working. Seek help immediately – on a golf course, go fly fishing in Canada, take a vacation. If you start to work on the business because of your guilt complex, you will slow the bus down, distract the doers from what they are really good at doing. Nothing good will come of these efforts to fix your guilt.

Apple Computer in the 1980’s and early 1990’s required all employees to take a six-week sabbatical every five years. There were no exceptions – you had to take it. You could do anything you wanted (except go to work for Microsoft or the like) – learn to play the tuba, cruise the Caribbean, seek true enlightenment in Nepal. Apple made you take all six weeks consecutively. In the Cincinnati sales office, most of the sales people on sabbatical found their sales increased while they were away, and continued to rise when they came back. Why did this occur? Anticipating the six weeks off created a flurry of sales activity to make sure the customers would be OK while they were gone. The Cupertino HQ would send a marketing person to substitute and the corporate subs learned a lot from these very happy customers. After six weeks the sales people returned truly refreshed and renewed.

So start planning for your own sabbatical and watch results skyrocket!

You can find more articles on the startup world on our website at

Bill Cunningham is the CEO of and shop foreman at the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association.

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