Here’s What Elon Musk Gets Wrong About Work

Photo by Badhon Ebrahim on Unsplash

Do you work 80- to 100-hour weeks?

Elon Musk recently declared, “Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

One founder who takes exception to the gauntlet Musk lays down for his workers is Swedish CEO Johan Attby.

He is the founder of FishBrain, a community-based fishing app used by approximately seven million anglers around the world.

Previously, Attby worked for startups Silicon Valley and Boston, Massachusetts, before moving home to Stockholm, Sweden. Today, he takes exception to how Silicon Valley CEOs like Musk link time spent in work with productivity.

The Problems With Musk’s 100-Hour Work Week

“I’ve never seen anyone actually being productive, at least sustainably, for 100 hours per week,” said Attby. “Of course productivity goes down. Because their brains are drained! You need sleep; you need food; you need a healthy relationship.”

Working 80- to 100-hours every week is kind of like trying to run a marathon at full-speed. The first mile or two might go okay, but many workers will inevitably break before reaching the finish line.

Instead, entrepreneurs can tackle longer-term projects by targeting smaller milestones on a weekly or fortnightly basis, a process known as sprints.

“We ship on IOS and Android every single week,” Attby said. “I don’t want to burn out people, I want to have good people being with me for years, not for months. Yes, this is a marathon with some sprints along the way.”

What To Track Instead Of Time

Instead of tracking hours spent tied to the desk, entrepreneurs who want to change the world can rate themselves and their teams in terms of outputs or deliverables during the previous week, month or quarter.

“Every Friday we have an all-hands meeting where the teams demo what they built in the week,” Attby said. “That’s how they deliver value to the customers, not if they spent 40, 50, 60, 80 hours this week as individuals.”

Managers and entrepreneurs can also shun time spent at the desk as a metric and instead use ones like conversions to subscriptions, customer engagement and retention rates.

“The metric, the number of hours you work, it’s absolutely the wrong metric,” said Attby. “The right metric is how much you actually produce.”

Embrace Long-Term Thinking

Silicon Valley’s timelines for a company succeeding are more condensed than the rest of the world, which might go some way to explaining Musk’s mindset. Attby’s speciality lies in building and scaling companies like FishBrain. He said:

In Silicon Valley, it’s all about speed. It’s all about velocity. It’s a lot about pulling the all-nighter, and you’re really in constant crunch mode.

A founder or team who insists on a company succeeding within the first year or two often risks exhaustion and burnout. Instead, they should plan how to succeed over a three- to five-year period.

“I personally believe it’s better for the individual. I think it’s a lot better for the company. It takes time to build a really successful company,” said Attby.

“Even if you look at Spotify … it took them 10 years to become a really valuable and big company,” he said.

What Musk Gets Right

Although Attby is critical of Musk’s calls for a longer work week, he recognises the entrepreneur as a visionary for disrupting the car-manufacturing and space-travel industries.

“As a visionary, he’s very inspiring,” Attby said. “If you look at the turnover, in people in the management team, and in Tesla as a company, he might have been even more successful if he could have done it in a more sustainable way.”

After all, even visionaries are human.

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