Feathers & Flight

John Stauffer
Nov 6, 2014 · 3 min read

Before the Wright Brothers, there was a guy with feathers strapped to his back peering over a cliff. Because for thousands of years we looked at birds and thought feathers with wings were the secret to flying.

Many brave inventors plumented off a cliff or never got off the ground at all. Finally, in 1738, Daniel Bernoulli developed the theory of lift. I won’t even attempt a scientific description, only to say it didn’t have much to do with feathers. The secret to flight was lift, not feathers.

Most of the career advice that spreads around tends to focus on feathers and not lift.

It’s mostly productivity porn: Why wearing the same outfit everyday will get you promoted. Why waking up at 4:30 am is the key to success. Actually, no, why sleeping in is better. Why your resume is holding you back. Why always saying “no” will get you that raise. Five ways to become your own boss. The one thing every manager wishes he could tell his employees. Why the color of your tie might get you passed over for a promotion. The most popular apps used by CEOs. On and on and on.

Will waking up early really turn you into the next Fortune 100 CEO? Or is rising early a feather-like signal that’s merely a clue to a deeper sense of drive or satisfaction among elite business leaders?

At this point in my career I certainly don’t have any secret wisdom here. Only to suggest that I’ve found it’s worth the extra effort it takes to separate the feathers from the lift.

One of my favorite examples in the “lift category” comes from a manifesto I have printed out in my office called: Do the Work.

In it, the author personifies the resistance that everyone feels in doing our best work. He suggests the more important something is, the more we’ll feel a resistance that wants to stop us from doing it.

“Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine millimeter in your face like a stick up man. Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”

People who I really admire tend to beat the resistance stick up man more days than not. They have a bias toward action.

That piece of advice feels more causal than correlated, more like an example of lift versus feathers. There are no doubt countless other examples. The key is to know the difference.

On the other hand, maybe wearing a hoodie to work everyday really will catapult me to the top…

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