The Future of Work Header

The Future of Work: Hard Work, Working Hard & Being Creative

On June 1st, Jason Fried shook up the entire Medium community:

“Hard work is picking lettuce 8 hours a day in 90 degree heat. […] Rule of thumb: If it’s hard you’ll have trouble finding people who want to do it. There’s no shortage of people who want to be programmers, designers, strategists, social media consultants, entrepreneurs, investors, etc… But try finding people to work the farm. Hard work is doing the work other people don’t want to do.”

My first thought: “Do I claim to be doing hard work?”

I can’t remember using the phrase in conversation recently, but I double check. There are 120,070 words published on my blog. I only find the phrase twice — and change it immediately. I meant the other thing anyway.

But what is the other thing? And is there even a difference? Hard work, work hard. Aren’t those synonyms? We sure use them that way.

But whatever the glitch in the English language, if you told me you work hardly, I’d think you’re hardly working. Which is quite the opposite of working hard.

Adjective, adverb, can’t we get on with the stupid grammar lesson, Nik? What’s the difference anyway? The difference is between the what and the how. And as it turns out, that’s all the difference.

Hard Work Doesn’t Bring You Closer To Your Goals

Let’s stick with Jason’s definition of hard work as physically demanding labor for a minute.

It indicates that, unless you’re slinging the sickle on the soy field with one hand and thumbing through Medium with the other, you are, like me, not doing hard work.

And that’s a good thing. Not just for your mental health, or your sleep cycle, or your Thursday afternoon golf lessons. It’s a good thing for your career too.

Because bit by bit, byte by byte, AI and robots are taking hard work off our hands. You see, the whole lettuce thing won’t last long. The relationship between the physical effort of a task and the time it’ll take us to automate it looks something like this:

The Future of Work Graph

We can easily see harvesting lettuce landing on the far left side of this chart. Come on, we’ve been in the information age for 30 years now. So let’s account for that. After all, their skilled wielding of information is what let’s investors, Fortune 500 CEOs and doctors call their work hard.

When we switch physical for informational effort, whatever task you can conceive right now will land somewhere on that graph. And the where matters. Some things will take us longer to figure out than others. A lawyer will have more runway than a copywriter, will have more runway than an accountant.

The Future of Work Graph Annotated

This idea bears a scary question: If you pinned your job to that graph, where would you land?

According to Andrew Yang in Smart People Should Build Things, almost 40% of elite college graduates end up in finance, law or consulting. On a high level, these have some buffer, but even the greatest run must once come to an end (looking at you, finance).

But I don’t care what you do. I care about what you will do. Especially about this. If you’re reading this at under 60 years old, you have less time than you think.

Working Hard Is The Cost Of Entry – Nothing More

Though repeated constantly, none of this is news. But when have the news ever affected our day-to-day? So even when it was, people went about their jobs as normal. Until it was normal that their jobs were no more.

Because gradual developments are hard to see. Right now, memorizing Latin bone names until you can call yourself a doctor still works. Not because it’s hard work. It’s because it requires working hard.

But working hard is the cost of entry to anything. No matter if it’s hard work or not.

Talent, luck, circumstance, all benefit from the radiating effect of working hard, no matter your line of work. Your pride of how hard your work is might be propped up only on working hard.

The Future of Work Graph Gary Vee Matrix

I’ve explained this before.That’s not a bad thing. The how of your work matters more than the what. I work hard too.

  • I walk to school and take the stairs to stay disciplined.
  • I sit at the same spot and decide my to-dos in advance to save time and brain power.
  • My environment is designed for focus and I only check my emails once a day.

The point is this distorts the picture. The information-heavy work of today is the physically hard work of tomorrow. Doing it well helps. But only until it needn’t be done at all.

Even Working Hard Has Its Limits

It’s sad that in 2017, we still practice game shaming. Parents and peers pressure kids into putting their controllers to rest, when really, it’s such a high return-on-time activity.

The Future of Work Graph ROT

How much you can make is based on how much you create. What else is there with earning potential?

  • Publishing your own magazine on Medium
  • Making a Youtube TV show
  • Hosting a podcast
  • Painting & posting on Instagram
  • Releasing a rap song a day on SoundCloud
  • Running a Facebook group for freestyle dancers
  • Selling napkin graffiti art on Etsy

Pulling off a full, perfect run through Splinter Cell Conviction in under 3 hours is a good start. But then why do I see next to no screenshots of games on the world’s number one gaming channel?

The Future of Work PewDiePie

Because it’s not about how good you are at the game. It’s not about how much information you can retain about it. What we care about is what you say while you play.

The importance of work will soon rest solely upon the creativity of the person performing.

It’s irrelevant what career Felix put his flag in when he started. Now, we want to see how creative he is with his content.

Where We’re Headed, No One Knows, But What We Need, We Do

With a basic income — thanks to a bot-supported future — not hard to imagine, imagination becomes more important than ever. Entertainment will get even bigger than it already is. If you think the Kardashians are bad, you haven’t seen anything yet. We won’t all be TV stars, but we’ll all have to be creative — on top of working hard.

Sir Ken Robinson’s been talking about it for years. His TED talk about creativity is the most watched of all time. In his latest book, Creative Schools, he says we need to teach our children competencies, not skills.

Competencies, such as curiosity, the courage to think critically, to ask questions, and, of course, creativity.

One day, a high school teacher will ask her class: “How many of you want to be gamers?” and 50% of the kids will raise their hands — and no one think it’ll be weird.

I can’t wait for that day. In the meantime, I suggest you avoid hard work. Instead, be hard at work. Exercise your creativity at every turn.

And hopefully, when Jason calls us out again, all you’ll have to do is smile.


Niklas Goeke

I am a German student on his way to becoming an entrepreneur!

  • prachi

    In the long term focus shifts towards smart work.

    • I really think creativity will be the deciding factor in the end!

      • prachi

        Hmm…it encourages innovation.