Jason Calacanis’s “120% Solution” is Wrong

Earlier this week, Jason Calacanis sent an essay to his mailing list titled “The 120% Solution”. A copy of the essay is posted to Calacanis’s blog.

In his essay, Calacanis advocates working 20% more – by adding a sixth day to our workweek – until “America takes care of its debt, untangles the housing mess and gets unemployment under control.” Calacanis’s solution is to “move the standard 35-40 hour work week right up to 48 hours.” According to Calacanis, this is necessary because “we’re in the process of getting our asses kicked.”

Calacanis is wrong. We got our assess kicked. Badly.

When I initially read the essay on December 3, I agreed with some of the things Calacanis wrote, but his proposed solution – work 20% harder – didn’t sit right with me. Yesterday, both Chris Brogan and Tim O’Reilly mentioned Calacanis’s essay on Twitter. I went back and read the essay again. I noticed something that I overlooked the first time. Calacanis wasn’t suggesting the definitive solution – he was suggesting a proposal that he hoped would “start a discussion among considered people about how we move our country forward.”

That’s fair. And while I’m not sure who these “considered” people are (he doesn’t know me, so he for sure wasn’t talking about me), I think it’s important for everyone to participate in this discussion.

As I wrote above, I agree with Calacanis about many points in his essay. I strongly agree with his statement that we should not get fixated on who’s to blame for the mess but should instead look for solutions.

But I fundamentally question – and challenge – Calacanis’s “120% Solution”. I find more substance in Mark Cuban’s suggestion (made in October) that this is the time for entrepreneurs to “be smart and focused.” And while I don’t agree 100% with David Heinemeier Hansson’s suggestion that one should “Fire the workaholics”, I do agree that working harder will often lead “to ass-in-seat mentality where people will ‘stay late’ out of obligation, but not really be productive.”

I’m not opposed to working hard. crowdSPRING is a startup and we’ve had our share of long days, weeks and months. We worked tirelessly to launch into private beta earlier this year and the work hasn’t let up much since then. I’m proud of the way our team has overcome challenges. We’ve slept on our desks.

Prior to crowdSPRING, I practiced law for 13 years. I worked long hours. For 13 years. I know what’s it’s like to work hard. And I’ve written previously about ideals and reality and about the need to roll up your sleeves and work hard.But I categorically reject Calacanis’s suggestion that merely working 20% more is the solution to the current mess.

It’s easy to say, as Calacanis does, that government workers should “come in this weekend and make the government more efficient.” But that statement is hollow if the government doesn’t change the way it works. Government workers have been “trying” to make the government more efficient for centuries.

Calacanis at times confuses working harder and working smarter. At one point, he talks about his amazement with the personal productivity of workers in Japan compared to the U.S. – and suggests that people in the service industry should work 20% faster and come up with ideas to make their teams more efficient. He also suggests that people should be more entrepreneurial and that those who are affluent should support entrepreneurial ventures or launch such ventures themselves.

I agree with Calacanis that working smarter and increasing efficiency is important. THAT is a possible solution out of this mess. But working smarter and more efficiently is not the same thing as working 20% longer. People who have a poor work ethic, bad attitude and poor productivity habits won’t help solve the current crisis by working on Saturdays. Working longer is meaningful when people develop a good work ethic, a good attitude about work, and develop good productivity habits – traits I am certain are shared by Calacanis’s team at Mahalo.

So – I join Calacanis’s call asking people to innovate and create great products, ideas and services. We’ve done this before and we have both the need and the opportunity to once again show what it means to be an American. I emigrated to America in 1979 and I am today very proud to be an American and to do my share to help. But let’s not confuse working more with working smarter. We won’t solve the current ills by simply working an extra day. Instead, let’s take to heart the advice offered by Marting Luther King, Jr.:

“If a man is called a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and Earth will pause to say, Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”