Jason Fried

March 31, 2021

Excitement is a fleeting moment, not a steady state

As part of my involvement in the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, I've been conducting office hours sessions with a handful of New Zealand-based entrepreneurs. These are typically 1-hour calls focused on a specific struggle they're having.

Questions typically revolve around remote work, marketing, differentiation, hiring, messaging, product design, that sort of thing. But across the calls, there's a pattern that's emerging. A common question, a shared thread.

While the words are different, essentially it boils down to "How do I keep everyone excited about the work? How do I get people fired up to show up and kick ass every day?"

I'm not surprised by the question.

These days it seems every announcement begins with a "Today we're super excited to..." preamble. Whether it's opening yet another bank branch, launching a 10% off promotion, restocking a t-shirt in size medium, announcing a mega-merger, breaking a new record, or introducing a new colorway of an old shoe, everyone sounds super excited! We're bathed in it.

It sure sounds like everyone's having a lot of fun out there. So when we don't see that reflected in our own businesses, we wonder we're doing wrong. Why aren't my employees always super excited? What do I need to do to get from here to that amazing press release?

All this super excitedness sets an unreasonable bar for every day work.

Truth is, every day work is rarely exciting. Most work is pretty mundane. Even work on meaningful things. The most profound stuff is built one mostly boring brick at a time. Even the most creative ideas, the best art, the breakthroughs have to be assembled, and assembly isn't typically what fires people up.

You don't get to the exhilarating end without going through the mundane middle. And the beginning and end are the shortest parts — the middle is most of it.

The idea may be invigorating. The concept may be thrilling. The vision may be intoxicating. But the code needs to be written, the bugs need to be squashed, the raw materials need to be sourced, the brokenness needs to be fixed, the prices need to be negotiated, the opinions need to be aired, the disagreements need to be had, the frustrations need to be felt, the politics need to be navigated, and so on. Building anything is mostly mundane, mostly typical, mostly just work.

There should absolutely be wonderful, exciting moments. Maybe you're even lucky enough to string a few days or incredible weeks together. The kind of time that flies by with a smile, with a pulsing energy that makes you feel unstoppable. A creative tank rolling over seashells. Effortless.

But most days simply aren't that. And that's entirely normal. You have to like the work, you don't have to love it. On balance the work should be rewarding, challenging, intellectually stimulating. Exciting is an outlier, an occasional experience. As it should be. Eat dessert all the time and what's for dessert? It's only really delicious when it's uncommon.

So how do you keep people excited about the work all the time? You don't. How do you get them excited about the moment? A thing? An idea? The possibilities? A direction? The vision? The final package? That's the part worth investigating.

About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.