Themes vs Goals, How content killed the resume, Do you need a manager?
Avthar's Newsletter #2 (5/8/2020)
Hello from New York City!
Welcome to the second edition of Avthar’s weekly newsletter, where I’ll be sharing ideas I’m reflecting upon, experiments I’m trying and lessons I’ve learned, all to help you level up your own life.
Here’s what’s in this week’s letter:
Do we need managers at work?
How content killed the resume
Themes vs Goals
As well as my favorite yoga videos to keep active during lockdown. Please enjoy!
Thank you for your feedback on the “Don’t outsource your thinking” mini-blog in last week’s newsletter. I’ve taken that post and made it into a blog of it’s own, which you can share or revisit.
Idea I’m pondering: Do you really need a manager?
I came across a tweet asking, “What’s an unpopular thing you believe about management?”
To which I responded:
This belief comes from my experience as a startup founder working with a small team and managing interns, as well as my current job (at Timescale) working with an awesome ‘manager’ who gives me a lot of autonomy over what I work on and ownership over how I do my work.
Stepping back, I don’t think we’re on this earth to have other people tell us what to do at work. People don’t need managers to function. Usually managers are needed because people are:
Not doing stimulating work that utilizes their unique strengths. People are less likely to do a poor job at work they’re interested in or curious about.
Underpaid and/or under incentivized (e.g don’t get credit for work, not enough stock in a startup etc)
Exposed to the downside of their work (i.e risk of getting fired or blamed if things go wrong), but not rewarded for the upside.
A better model of work is where every team member acts as a startup of one (h/t AngelList). In this model, there is no ‘manager’. Everyone is executing (no one is just supervising or strategizing) and each person has complete ownership of their projects and pulls in help from other stakeholders as needed.
Of course, having a ‘manager’ who shows you best practices and whose example you can learn from is important, but that’s more of a person you apprentice under, rather than someone who ‘manages’ you.
If you’d like to see the other unpopular management beliefs, you can see the full thread here.
Career trend I’m backing: Content killed the resume
Earlier this week I talked with a friend who’s in the process of job hunting when many companies aren’t hiring or worse, are downsizing. The main piece of advice I gave him was to spend less time applying to jobs online and spend most of his time building an online content portfolio. I believe that content is the vehicle to getting any job or internship you want and that content is the great leveler for those coming from diverse or non-traditional backgrounds. Here’s why:
Having an online portfolio of content (blog, essays, podcasts, videos, interviews, designs, art etc) that demonstrates your thinking, personality and execution abilities is more important than having a traditionally impressive resume, with degrees from the ‘right school’ or stints at prestigious companies.
This is true for any job, be it in software, strategy, sales, marketing etc.
So why is content killing the resume?
Content earns attention
Content is a serendipity vehicle
Content is proof of work
Content showcases how you think
Content is leveraged
Quality content earns attention: Attention is the most scarce commodity on the internet. Attention is not freely given, but it can be earned. The best way to earn attention is by being helpful or offering value to others in an authentic, thoughtful way. Content can offer value by teaching someone something useful, showing them how to solve a problem (or a product that solves their problem), entertaining, helping them discover a new perspective or way of thinking or bringing clarity to a confusing topic. High quality, helpful content will earn attention. Quality always rises to the top. By building quality content that earns attention, the contents of your Github, Dribble, blog, newsletter, Youtube channel etc become far more important than your GPA in college.
Content is a “serendipity vehicle”(h/t David Perell): A portfolio of content will open doors you didn’t know existed. If you put out authentic, thoughtful and helpful content into the world it will attract interactions with people who are curious or passionate about the topics you cover in your content. These people will comment on your work or want to meet you. These interactions are often with (or often lead to introductions to) people out of your network who can open doors in your career or job search. Simply put, content expands your network by leading with value for others, who are willing to reciprocate by giving value to you.
Content is proof of work (h/t Jack Butcher): Resumes are usually a proxy for proof that you can ‘do the work’ in a particular role. Content is actual proof that you can do the work. Content allows your work to speak for you. Rather than tell people you’re good at design/strategy/marketing/building software, you can show them your good designs on Dribble/ your blog analyzing trends in X market and predicting winners / your video about successful content marketing / past software you’ve built or your contributions to open source projects. And we all know showing is better than telling. Content also allows you to make networking easier since you can show the value you can provide, rather than having to explain it in a cold email.
Showing proof of work is useful if you feel inexperienced or underqualified for the role you want. The advice I often give to college students I mentor, who are looking to stand out for internships, is to spend 2-3 weeks creating a piece of content (blog, video, slide deck, report etc) relevant to the company you’re applying to and make sure they see it. This shows that you put in effort and allows you to stand head and shoulders above someone who just dropped their resume on the company’s careers page.
Content showcases how you think. Similar to how content shows you can do quality work, content also gives others a deeper idea into how you think and communicate. Content allows you to showcase your specific knowledge -- the skills that feel like work to others but feel like play to you. Content allows you to convey your expertise in the communication medium that’s most natural to your personality. Luckily with the internet, there’s many content forms to pick from:
Prefer the written word? Write blogs or essays and share them online
More of a maker or builder? Create useful apps, products, code snippets, designs or other digital artifacts and teach others to use them.
Better speaker than writer? Create videos or solo podcasts of you talking about topics you’re passionate about and put them on Youtube/ Spotify.
Don’t like large crowds, but excel in small discussions? Record podcasts where you have small conversations with your friends about topics you’re passionate about or about experiences you’ve had.
Don’t confine yourself to one content form. Often, you’re very good at one form of communication so use that as your primary form. Reuse content from that medium in others that you’re less proficient in (e.g publish blogs which highlight key parts of your podcast conversations, or videos which cover your essay topics etc).
Content is leveraged. With content, your inputs and outputs aren’t correlated. For each piece of content you create, you only have to create it once, but the upside as a result of that single piece of content is limitless (in the form of people who discover your content, introductions and job offers). In contrast, you can get at most 100 positive responses if you send 100 cold emails. We often don’t imagine the immense upside that a single content piece can bring -- the example that cemented this in my mind is how an acquaintance from college raised a multi-million dollar seed round for a pre-product company, which later became Basis, because he wrote a in-depth blog post about the stablecoins (a cryptocurrency concept).
But Avthar, isn’t it risky to put yourself out there online? I hear the internet never forgets
Yes, but that’s the point! You gotta take the risk of putting your work out there in order to open yourself up to serendipity. The secret is that only your wins matter, not your losses. Your content that isn’t helpful or valuable will not work but content that is authentic, helpful and interesting will be what makes the difference in the end. The process of building an online portfolio of helpful, authentic and valuable content takes way more time and more effort than applying to 100 jobs on LinkedIn. But by going through the process, you’ll attract higher quality people and companies and end up working in a better career position because of it. That said, you can (and should) be thoughtful about what you share and how. A good practice is to always get feedback on your content, especially if you think it’ll be controversial, so that you don’t make any fatal errors.
I believe that content wins because I used these principles to secure my first post-grad job offer as a software engineer, without doing a single technical interview. My interview centered around two artifacts I created: (1) a strategic growth analysis and how the company could grow faster, and (2) a project I had built using the company’s product. (As an aside, I didn’t end up taking the job, as the company ended up investing in the startup I co-founded.)
To thrive in the job market of the future, create and maintain a portfolio of content online. It’s the single most impactful activity you can do. Start today! Your future self will thank you.
What I’m doing to keep (a little) active during lockdown
Being stuck inside a small NYC apartment for weeks on end is one of the toughest parts about living through COVID lockdown. Health and fitness is a major value for me, so I’ve been using these yoga videos to break the monotony of my hikes from the living room to the kitchen.
My 3 favorite videos:
30 day beginner yoga challenge (zero experience needed)
10 minute morning stretch (great before running to your first Zoom)
Yoga for back and hips (for all of us who sit at a desk looking at screens all day)
Pro-tip: If you only have 15 (or 20 or 30) minutes to workout or want a specific kind of yoga, search “fightmaster TIME TYPE” on Youtube (e.g “Fightmaster 15min stretch”) to find the most relevant videos! This saves a ton of time from scrolling through playlists.
Short video that made me think: Themes vs Goals
In my essay on How Everything is a Skill, I advised people to clearly define success or failure for them when looking to make something a skill:
However, there are times when it’s better to have fuzzy definitions of success and failure, as it can help you achieve better adherence and results when trying to improve some aspect of your life.
For some things, precision matters. For others, it doesn't. And when trying to build yourself into a better version of yourself, exact data points don't matter. All that matters is the trend line. If the trend is going in the right direction, then so are you. - CGP Grey in Themes
This gentler approach is explained well by this video on “Themes” by CGP Grey. It’s a wonderful alternative to the “what gets measured, gets managed”, KPI-esque approach which works for some people, but not everyone.
Simply put, focusing on internalizing a theme allows you to internalize the many from the few. By focusing on one high level idea, a theme, you can internalize that theme through its many manifestations in your life, rather than focusing on hitting a specific goal.
Some of my favorite takeaways from the video:
Instead of setting yourself up to fail with a goal like “I'm going to lose 25 pounds by next year” or “I'm going to read 2 books a week”, a theme that would help you reach those goals would be something like ‘Year of Reading’ or ‘Year of Health’.
Themes increase the scope of success. Moving a trend from negative to positive, or even just decelerating negative momentum is a positive. Why complicate it by defining falling short of a goal as failure?
Focusing on a single theme allows you to keep that theme in mind at every micro-decision point in your life. Focusing on a theme is like creating “a friendly bot to... help notice branches and consider choices with you, reminding you to be a little different in little moments”. For example: “Stuck in a queue and thinking about what to do? Well, if it's the year of reading, why not open the book instead of opening anything else?!”
Focusing on a theme is like going through life with theme-colored glasses. It forces you to ask yourself, “How can I find X in this moment?”, where X = your theme.
A theme I’ve experimented with in the past was “Quality”. I would try to do everything taking care to ensure it was the highest quality it could possibly be. Those things included my work, conversations, and workouts.
What are some themes that you’re thinking about focusing on?
That’s all for this week!
If anything from this week’s newsletter resonated with you, let me know by replying to this email or tweet me at @avthars.
You can find more of my work and writing on my online home avthar.com
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