Sunday, March 24, 2013

Low and High Intensity Learning

Paul Graham in his essay Wealth says startups are a way of compressing a whole working life into a few years. You work at a very high intensity for a short period of time (say four years) instead of the normal low intensity for a long period of time (say forty years), in other words startups are a way of increasing your productivity exponentially. In my experience there is a correlation between high intensity working and high intensity learning.

The potential relationships between high-intensity work and learning have a lot of appeal because it provides a chance to leapfrog our understanding of several domains in a short period of time.

In his essay Startup = Growth Graham defines a startup as “… a company designed to grow fast". My last company was small, we considered ourselves a startup (although according to Graham’s definition we were not) but we worked considerably faster (higher intensity) than a larger company would have. I can say that with some certainty now because a 15,000-person company acquired our small (maybe 10-person) company and the differences are pretty dramatic.

To be fair there is a difference between the learning that occurs when a person is working for a high intensity company as opposed to doing their own high intensity work. With a high intensity company people learn whatever they have to in order to solve the problems in front of them, then they move on. A person working intensely on their own has the freedom to focus on what they want but they run the risk of never finding focus.

I’m struggling with the second part. I’m back to a low-intensity company but I don’t want to be pulled into a low-intensity learning situation. Part of me says that won’t happen because of my own internal drive but another part of me is worried the low-intensity rhythm of the company will make it hard to find focus. (I’m not saying my small company was a good example of a high intensity work / learning environment but as of right now it seems better than the corporate world.)

One solution is to create my own startup – something designed to grow fast which would force fast learning. It would be amazing for many reasons including getting back to a higher-intensity learning situation but I don’t know where to start. Another solution is to find a person or person(s) with the same interests or goals as I have and work together to learn. Maybe the small team size would have the effect of pushing each other into a higher intensity work and learning environment? Now where do I begin? 

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