Doing is the Path to Both Inner Fulfillment and Worldly Success

Craig Newmark created a list and kept making it better.  In other words, he just "did it" and gained success through his tenacity to process feedback and refine his list, not by following the orders of some boss (like me...).

Craig Newmark created a list and kept making it better. In other words, he just “did it” and gained success through his tenacity to process feedback and refine his list, not by following the orders of some boss (like me…). ; )

Doing has always been an important way to reach inner fulfillment. Now, it’s also the most important path to worldly success.

It’s good for the inside and for the outside. It’s a win-win.

I’m talking about taking action, but I’m not talking about doing as you’re told. I’m talking about looking inside yourself and doing things that you think will make the world a better place. And repeat. Over and over.

The idea that doing is good for us is a commonly recurring theme throughout history. Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with coining the expression, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” back in 1374. Although venture capitalists like to use this expression as a philosophy for startups, Chaucer was making a more personal statement in his book, Troilus and Criseyde.

Centuries later, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Then, in recent decades, Nike has popularized the expression, “Just Do It!,” to promote an active lifestyle.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, published in 1989, Steven Covey argued for how doing could make people successful with the first of his seven habits, “Be Proactive.”

However, with the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, doing has taken on even far more importance. Why? The Internet enables anyone to try out an idea instantly, and then get rapid feedback to use to make changes and try again. Thus, the Internet rewards people who can implement ideas, process feedback, and re-implement.

Take the example of Craig Newmark and Craigslist. I know the story well because Craig worked for me at a company I founded and ran in San Francisco in the mid-1990s. At that time, Craigslist really was just a list. It didn’t have any amazing technology back then, but Craig had dozens of real users and he was very responsive to their feedback.

Craig created his list, he processed user feedback, and he refined his list, over and over and over. He worked on it diligently every night after work, and he evolved it over a period of years to be the scalable, multi-city platform for classified advertising that we know today.

In fact, most of the software and content on the Internet is created by those who simply step forward and “do,” rather than by people who are assigned tasks by managers. The history of practically all open source software projects are stories of dozens of applications that were written and posted, and accepted, because people liked them.

On Wikipedia, people who add content get to be published authors. If what they write isn’t objectionable to other authors, it could remain on wikipedia for a long time.

A term has been coined for organizations and projects in which the people who step forward and do get the power: “doocracy.”

It’s important to note that the doocracy model prevails in all cutting-edge culture, not just in the virtual world of the Internet. So, for instance, the huge annual arts and community festival, Burning Man, follows the doocracy model. Every late August, hundreds of huge, ambitious public art projects come together to form the 50,000 resident “Black Rock City” in the Nevada desert, largely due to people who simply step forward to get the work done.

It’s just a matter of time, I’d say, before all institutions that are still hierarchical today, like law firms and medicine, become a lot more doocratic. It’s no wonder that these last bastions of hierarchy, law and medicine, have huge surpluses of applicants in America, while there is a constant shortage of workers in more doocratic fields like computer programming and engineering.

So, doers are the winners in all these cutting edge facets of society, and soon, they’ll be the winners in more traditional areas as well. Who are the losers? The losers are the people who sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

Unfortunately, most children these days are being raised to take orders from others, not to do. At school, we restrict, or eliminate, their free recess time. Then, at home, we let them vegetate in front of screens for hours at a time, or we shuttle them to multiple adult-administered activities, or we force them to do hours of teacher-mandated homework.

Are your kids being prepared to excel in a 21st Century doocracy? If their lives outside of school are filled with homework, screens, and adult-administered activities, they’re being prepared to excel in a 20th Century hiearchical organization, not a doocracy.

So, they may “do well” in school and in their activities, but after these are over and they’re in their twenties, they might very well be stymied by a doocratic world that doesn’t tell them what to do next. In other words, after spending their lives being rewarded for following orders, they’ll find it extremely difficult to satisfy doocratic institutions that insist that they create their own ideas for what to do.

This is the plight of millions of twenty-somethings who are living with their parents, not working at career jobs, and not taking on other adult responsibilities.

If all this weren’t enough of a justification for getting your kids to become doers, consider the ages-old concept that doing leads to a more fulfilled life. A recent study documents how five times as many high school and college students today demonstrate depression-like symptoms than they did decades ago. The study speculates that the main reason for this is that kids today are more extrinsically motivated (doing things because you’re told to or because others expect you to), whereas kids of decades ago were more intrinsically motivated (doing things that you feel they’re the right things to do).

It certainly seems like this predominant model of modern childhood, in which adults call all the shots and expect the kids to comply, is setting up kids for failure, doesn’t it?

I’d say so. I’m working very hard to communicate this to parents, and to show them a way to raise “doers,” to save a generation of kids.

Who’s with me on this?

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