Does Amazon prove that greatness and work-life balance are incompatible?

Edited excerpt from What to Make of Amazon’s Work Practices? by Mark Suster:

There is much discussion about this weekend’s article in the NY Times regarding Amazon’s work practices. The truth is that if you examine the most successful organizations and people in the world you’ll find similar cultures to those outlined in the article. Try working at Goldman Sachs, whose employees regularly work evenings and weekends and travel at a moment’s notice to client meetings in far corners of the country or world. You think it’s different at any of the top consulting firms? Think it’s a cake walk working at any of the country’s top law firms? Should we do an article on what it’s like to be a medical resident? How about working in the US military? Chief of Staff for a major political figure? What about a top athlete in the NFL or NBA or even part of the coaching staff? Think they don’t have work/life balance challenges in a field they’ve chosen to work in?

And of course there are startups. I’m not looking to fund people who err too much on the life side of the work/life balance. Can you objectively say that you think rational investors would? I’m looking for maniacal, competitive, driven, hard-working, obsessed individuals who are deeply committed to winning.

None of these jobs is for everybody. In fact, I’d say most people would rather trade off more free time and less pressure than to be at an elite firm, and many people value their hobbies and work/life balance. It’s admirable and we shouldn’t hold up the hard-work culture as the pinnacle of achievement in life. But both extremes are life choices and we each get to make them freely.

From Chris DeMuth:

What is the overlap between greatness (useful patents, Nobel prizes ex- the more dubious peace prizes, founders of great businesses) and the self-indulgent permanent adolescents who endlessly fixate on “work/life balance” and working as few hours per week as possible? Any, or 0.00?

(1) Greatness in any area requires extreme dedication, drive and commitment to success. This is true of scholarship, art, music, sport, parenting, and building personal character, as much as technology innovation and business.
(2) Because startups are defined by high growth rates, they are binary: a startup is either great or a failure. There’s no middle ground. For that reason, startups by definition require extreme dedication and commitment to success. Startup = blood, sweat and tears.
(3) Extreme dedication and commitment to success are not incompatible with a happy and ethical work environment. In fact, they might require it.
(4) Some companies view round-the-clock responsiveness to internal email, long hours in the office without breaks, and insufficient sleep as dedication and commitment to success. They’re not, because those work habits are ineffective. See: (i) How to manage your energy, (ii) How to sleep better to raise your productivity, (iii) If you want to get more done, stop doing these things, (iv) Why you should take a walk at 3pm, (v) Limiting decision fatigue, (vi) How to clear time for deep thinking, (vii) Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it, and (viii) Can you be a great business leader if you’re lazy?.
(5) Here’s a summary of the NYT article and Jeff Bezos’ response, with responses from Seeking Alpha investors in Amazon.

One thought on “Does Amazon prove that greatness and work-life balance are incompatible?

  1. Pingback: Skift’s approach to work-life balance | A Founder's Notebook

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