A work is never completed, but merely abandoned.Paul Valéry
In the coming weeks, Holloway will be releasing content from our Guide to Raising Venture Capital about product-market fit, so I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot lately. I prefer the conception of product-market fit as a continuum, that is, not a single result you’re aiming for, but as a continually iterated process—a learning process. As a former teacher and poet, most of my past work was a rabid fight against the idea of an “end result”; the purpose of learning, as of writing, is that it’s never finished with you.
There is a difficult freedom that comes in deciding that you will never decide when something is done. Somehow, you have only to decide to keep working, to keep going, nearly like living without believing in an afterlife. What founder or startup employee wouldn’t be dazzled into conscious recognition by Samuel Beckett’s famous lines in The Unnamable?
“Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
“I don’t know, I’ll never know.” No shit. But all is not lost. In 1819, the Romantic poet John Keats wrote, “The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing.” Keats’ point in this and other letters was that the more voices we let in, the more experiences we allow ourselves to have, the more we will see that deciding whether any kind of product (poem, idea, app) is right or true or good or done is ultimately the work of ego. As anyone who’s raised a seed round well knows, eventually, you have to prove that what you said is true or not true, but you have to let go of ego in order to figure it out. Because there is no “decide,” there is only “discover.” You choose, at last and not at all least, to trust the process.
PRODUCT AND PROCESS
[22 min] Hat tip to former head of product engineering at Quora (and current Holloway author) Ozzie Osman for sharing Fadeke Adegbuyi of Doist’s “Complete Guide to Deep Work” with me this week. Discover strategies for “regularly losing yourself in meaningful work.”
[7 min] HubStop chief architect Whitney Sorenson penned a really interesting blog post on how all this might play out in the engineering world, “Why our engineering leaders focus on product over process.” Rather than separating product and process into two different departments, engineers—the ones who run the process—should have a sense of ownership over what they’re ultimately building.
[25 min] When it comes to process, one of our favorites at Holloway is nonfiction god John McPhee’s Draft No. 4. For a peek into the prolific genius’s thoughts on process at work, here’s the title essay, “Draft No. 4.”
[1 min] “Always remember that the reason you initially started working…” Take a literal minute for David Bowie’s 1997 📹advice to artists.
For the excessively curious, you can investigate the origins of the many variations on the Paul Valéry line at the top of this letter.
EMOTIONS IN PROCESS
[20 min] When Shell workers started focusing less on the product and more on what it meant to be at work, the accident rate at the company declined by 84%—and their productivity set new records. The NPR podcast Invisibilia shared the story in “How Learning To Be Vulnerable Can Make Life Safer.”
[5 min] In an interesting 2013 experiment by Robyn Scott, the scholar, writer, and Apolitical CEO assigned emotions to the tasks she needed to accomplish throughout the day. What sounds like a typical “productivity hack” clearly enlightened Scott to a process-focused workday, led by figuring out the “why to do” before the “what to do.”
GOOD WORK BY OTHERS THIS WEEK
“Can you please recommend tech tutorials made by women/PoC? Any topic is fine.” Eva Hoerth’s request on Twitter last week yielded some awesome results.