Sometimes the story behind the story can be as illuminating as the story itself.
A couple of years ago, Jason Fried of 37signals gave a TEDx talk about work, and why it doesn't get done. 37signals, the Chicago-based company behind such productivity tools as Ruby on Rails and Basecamp, likes to note that its products "do less than the competition—intentionally." And Jason, a cofounder of 37signals and coauthor of a short book called Rework, has developed a parallel career of sorts challenging the dreary tropes of what passes for conventional wisdom in management. So in both of his careers, Jason has made a point of pursuing the counterintuitive. And he's struck a nerve. His TEDx talk—which contains such gems as "[Facebook and Twitter] aren’t the real problems in the office. The real problems are what I like to call the M&Ms, the Managers and the Meetings"—has racked up nearly 1.6 million views.
Last weekend—a couple of years after he published the book and gave the talk—Jason followed up with an essay in the New York Times Sunday Review section in which he described the benefits of, among other things, instituting a four-day, 32-hour work week. (People get more done, and they're happier about it.) And the same day that piece ran, he put up a post on Signal vs. Noise, the 37signals weblog, that detailed the chain of events that led to his essay being published. And that's where things really got interesting.
The book, the talk, and the Times piece are all filled with the kind of insights that beleagered employees and the occasional enlightened executive will respond to. But the blog post—the story behind the New York Times story—explains how that piece came to be. And in the process it offers a lesson on life, and serendipity, and how chance always has a way of trumping plan.
The post is just a long string of connected events moving backwards in time. His Times editor asked him to write the piece because she'd seen the TEDx talk, which he gave because he'd been asked to by someone he met when he was on Groupon's board, which he'd joined because Groupon's CEO asked him to, which happened because Scott Heiferman of Meetup introduced them over lunch, which . . . and so forth and so on, all the way back to his frustration over not having a simple tool to organize his digital music collection back in the '90s.
The comments are studded with words like "fascinating" and "amazing" and "inspiring." One reader made a connection to Leonard Mlodinow's best-seller on randomness, The Drunkard's Walk. Others noted the years of preparation that go into any accomplishment, or the fact that you can really only discern patterns in life by looking backward. All true. But to me, the most crucial point is the importance of social connections—making them, nurturing them, keeping them alive. Not because you hope to reap some benefit years later (though you might), but because, as I've noted before, we're embedded from birth in a network of fellow humans—and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to play our part in that network. In other words, it's the thing to do. Thanks, Jason, for the reminder.