AV Police Squad

Amazonian AV: Work Long, Hard & Smart

“You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”

Jeff Bezos wrote in a 1997 letter to shareholders: “You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.” He received a lot of heat from this comment about ignoring work-life balance and working his employees until they burned out. I can appreciate the sentiment, I suppose, but I think you can be incredibly successful by choosing two out of three. Choosing one won’t cut it, unless you get lucky, but in my experience, any goal can be achieved with two out of three.

All three types of working are difficult. Working long hours is exhausting and takes time away from your family and personal pursuits. Working hard is also exhausting and difficult to do in today’s world of constant connectedness (aka “disruptions”). Working smart takes planning which few of us are willing to do. So, which two out of three do you choose?

I would argue that working smart should be a priority.

Why pedal hard when you can just zoom by everyone in a Superman position? That’s working smart.

Working smart in AV requires forethought and planning. It requires a quality management system (QMS), either for the entire company or just your little slice of it. If you can come up with a way to consistently meet your goals without reinventing the wheel on every project, you are working smart. As long as you have your procedures and checklists ready, most projects should progress smoothly. That’s the whole point of preparing those procedures, after all.

I’ll also add that in addition to a QMS, a high level of organization is required. I’m not just talking about how tools, cables and equipment are stored, although that is vitally important. I’m also talking about how things are filed. Many of our deliverables are digital and need to be accessed quickly. Coming up with a process for storing emails, files, reports, etc., is critical. They need to be found quickly months after they are archived. This is easier said than done, and requires discipline. However, how cool is it when you can pull up an email from two years ago while the client is on the phone and answer her questions perfectly?!

That is what working smart is about. Knowing what to do, and knowing how to access information about what you did. Once that is taken care of, your particular job might determine which of the other two you must choose to be successful. If you work with international clients, or many projects are closed after hours, working long hours might be a requirement. However, it affords you break times for nice meals and maybe getting a work out in before hopping on that 8PM call. If your job entails engineering or installation, working hard is a requirement. Projects need to be reviewed and systems need to be built while meeting a schedule. That is hard, focused work that would benefit from a “Do Not Disturb” mode at work that most people are scared to deploy for some reason. (Life Hack: Schedule a private meeting with yourself on the company calendar for those tough projects. It’s a game changer.)

I see too many AV people trying to pull an Amazon and work long, hard and smart. This is entirely possible for a short time, but doing all three will burn people out. Just ask the hundreds of ex-Amazon employees. I also don’t think it’s necessary. If our goals are laid out clearly, they can be met by working hard and smart, or long and smart. If all three are attempted, inevitably one or two will be sidelined. Just think about your last 80-hour work week. By definition, that is a long work week. I am sure it might have started out strong, but about halfway through, you got tired and sloppy. Tired and sloppy people are incapable of working hard or smart. Jeff Bezos says that’s what he expects, but I’m not sure it’s possible for a mere human. Maybe Wonder Woman could do it. She actually is an Amazonian.

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