On Hiatus

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my site. I apologize to my regular readers who might have been wondering, “whatever happened to Ben Gran?”

In my defense, it’s been a pretty crazy month. First I got really busy with freelance work. Then one of my friends committed suicide. Then my wife and I welcomed the arrival of our second child.

So I’ve been busy, and thinking about other things.

I’m reconsidering what I want to do with this blog. I’m hoping to make it a little more freewheeling, a little more fun, a little more funny and irreverent.

One immediate change is that I have decided to turn off Comments on my blog. Thanks to everyone who sent thoughtful, constructive comments about things I’d posted here, but I’ve decided to treat this blog as more of a monologue and less of a public forum. In the future, anyone who wants to comment on my blog can send me an e-mail at benjamin.gran@gmail.com.

Watch for more updates later in June…

Are you a procrastinator or an incubator?

I read a great article awhile back about procrastination, and how we need to think differently about procrastination.

Some people who think they’re procrastinators are actually “incubators.” They still get the work done, and with a high level of quality – it’s just that they need some time along the way to let the ideas percolate.

So are you a procrastinator, or an incubator? Maybe you should stop worrying about being a procrastinator. Embrace it. Maybe you’re not really “procrastinating” after all…

“Procrastinators may have a habit of putting off important work. They may not ever get to projects or leave projects half finished. Importantly, when they do complete projects, the quality might be mediocre as a result of their lack of engagement or inability to work well under pressure.

What [an incubator presents is] something qualitatively different: a clear sense of deadlines, confidence that the work would be complete on time, certainty that the work would be of superior quality and the ability to subconsciously process important ideas while doing other — often recreational — activities.”

I’ve decided that I’m not a procrastinator, I’m an incubator. Sometimes the ideas need to sit and stew for a few days before they’re ready to launch.

How about you?

“It’s lonely at the top”

Does it have to be?

Too often, people in positions of power tend to become remote. They lose touch with the people who are affected by their decisions. They start keeping their guard up all the time – everyone starts to be seen as a supplicant, rival or potential threat. Power can be isolating. It can undermine the best part of people – it can make people lose touch with what they wanted to accomplish by gaining power in the first place.

I have a mentor who is a high ranking executive. But he’s incredibly generous with his time, he’s connected, he’s engaged, and he’s always looking for ways to help. He’s a philanthropist and a community leader and he’s involved in all kinds of stuff going on all over town. He’s one of the least lonely people I’ve ever met.

Maybe the people who find themselves lonely at the top…were already lonely to begin with.

Who are you trying to impress?

As you get older, there are fewer and fewer people to impress.

When you’re young, you have so many people to impress: teachers, classmates, your parents, your friends, parents of friends.

You get a little older and you go to college. You’re constantly meeting new people, trying to make an impression, making snap judgments about whether people are “your kind of people” or not, trying to be liked, trying to fit in, trying to find your place.

You finish college and go out into the real world. Now you have to impress your boss, your co-workers. After work you go to bars, parties, mixers, and always you’re trying, on some level or another, to impress the people you meet. You’re always out there, always searching, always putting your best foot forward, or at least trying to.

And then before you know it, all of a sudden you’re married and you have kids and a house and a career. You settle down. You stay home on Saturday nights and cook dinner. You drive to your parents’ house for Sunday lunch. You go to a movie two or three times a year. Your horizons have narrowed. It’s harder to travel, harder to go out, and it’s increasingly unheard of to go to bars or parties or mixers.

As you get older, the world shrinks. But there’s a certain kind of freedom in that – in not having so many people to impress.

The Tonight Show staff

Circling back to the Tonight Show once again…

I know this is old news, but I was rather surprised to read that Conan O’Brien had 190 people on his Tonight Show staff. (I’ve read that Jay Leno has a similar number of staffers on his show.)

This seems like a huge number of people. Why do they need 200 staffers just to put on a 42-minute TV show? (Half of which is taken up by musical acts and celebrity interviews.) I’m sure that the Tonight Show staff are working hard, but how many people do you need to put on a comedy show? How many writers does it take to write a late night monologue?

When I worked at the Governor’s office, we had a staff of about 30 people. And that was to run the executive branch of a state government with an annual budget of over $4 billion.

Granted, no one at the Governor’s office ever came up with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. So maybe all those Tonight Show staffers are necessary, after all.

P.S. I haven’t watched late night TV in several years, but my sympathies in the Jay vs. Conan brouhaha were fully with Team Coco. And I hope that the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV” tour is a smashing success.

Corruption is so tacky

This article from the N.Y. Times talks about how the leaders of South Africa are becoming so blatantly corrupt that people are calling for “lifestyle audits” to find out how public servants in a not-terribly-wealthy country can afford BMWs and designer watches.

I don’t mean to pick on South Africa, because corruption is a problem in lots of countries all over the world. It’s a tough problem to solve. Once a place develops an entrenched culture of political corruption, bribes and embezzlement from the public coffers, it often becomes hard to stop – and hard to find people who want to serve in public office for the right reasons.

Maybe the way to fight corruption is to make corruption something to be ashamed of – not just because it’s wrong, but because it’s tacky.

Seriously. Is there anything more slimy and tawdry and in poor taste than selling your office? Is there a bigger sign of a leader’s insecurity than the fact that he spends his people’s money on a nice watch and a fleet of cars?

If you’re the president of a country, you have the power to change the lives of millions of people for the better. And instead you buy yourself a nice watch and a fast car? What are you, nine years old? These guys remind me of Borat bragging about his VCR remote control – don’t they know how embarrassing they are, to their countries and to themselves?

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, and he gave the money away to charity. That’s what a leader should do – be generous. Give the money away. Real leaders aren’t motivated by money and flashy, shiny things – they’re motivated by making a difference; not by looting as much treasure as they can get for themselves.

How to Make Money on Elance? Read this book.

If you want to learn how to make money on Elance – how to write effective bids that get results, how to make the best use of your time in bidding on projects, and how to command a higher hourly rate for your work, then I have an eBook to recommend.

It’s called 7 Elance Bidding Strategies That Work by J. Smith Adams.

J. Smith Adams and I got acquainted on Twitter back when I was first starting out on Elance. At the time, he had a blog called “Elance Money” with a lot of the same ideas that are now part of his eBook.  J. Smith Adams’ ideas were hugely influential in how I got my start on Elance – and now I’m an Elance Premier Provider and the Grand Prize winner of the Elance “New Way to Work” contest. (Not to brag.) The point is, the guy knows what he’s talking about. He helped me, and he can probably help you.

Anyone who uses Elance to find work can learn something from this book. Whether you’re just getting started on Elance or whether you’re an Elance veteran looking to boost your profits, I think it can help you. I’ve started to adjust my own project bids based on the techniques and tips in this book (including my phone number and e-mail with every project bid? D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that before?).

What this book emphasizes is that success on Elance is about words – the words you write on your project bids, the words you interpret from clients’ project descriptions, and the words you don’t see. J. Smith Adams shows you how to read between the lines, how to look for the hidden messages inside an Elance project description – how to find the unspoken needs that a client has so you can address what they’re looking for. He’ll show you how to create a concise and effective Elance profile – you might be doing something wrong that you’re not even aware of yet. He’ll show you how to convince a prospective client that you can confidently deliver the results they’re looking for – again, by focusing on the client’s needs and putting your best foot forward. Most of all, he’s going to challenge and change your mindset about the opportunities that Elance can deliver.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is the concept that “it takes just as much energy to win small as it does to win big.” Elance can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re new – there are so many jobs with so many different skill sets and specialties. But what you need to keep in mind is that time is your most precious asset. If you’re going to spend time scanning Elance jobs and submitting proposals, you need to focus on the jobs that are truly worth your time.

The book costs $75.95. I think that most Elancers can quickly recoup the cost of this investment – if the book helps you get one additional $500 project that you otherwise might have missed, or if the techniques in this book help you boost your profit margin on a job by $150, you’re already money ahead.

Did I mention that the book is concise, lively, and practical? No fluff, no wasted words – just a tightly written and informative book that is designed to help you make more money on Elance. I’m glad to have read it, and I think you will be too.

Disclaimer: I do not have any financial interest in recommending this book. I do not get a commission, I’m not an affiliate – I just like the author’s ideas and so I’m recommending it to you. He did give me a free copy to review (we’re old Twitter friends, after all) but I would have gladly paid the $75.

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Resilience

I read the following excerpt from Emerson in Linchpin by Seth Godin. The book is worth reading for anyone who wants to have the career they deserve – and who wants to do work that matters.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Isn’t it funny how some of the most talented people are also the ones who worry the most about their careers? I see it all the time when I interview high school seniors who are applying to my alma mater – the kids with the best grades and the best test scores and the best high school resumes always seem to be the most stressed out about getting into the “right” college.

Four years later the stress continues, as these same kids, now a little older, stress out about getting into law school or medical school or the “right” career path. (Of course, the job market is terrible right now for new college grads, so maybe everyone is feeling the same kind of stress these days.)

I think in the future we’re going to see a different standard for success. It’s not about getting into a profession anymore – the professions have lost some of their cachet. Don’t be a doctor because you want to impress people or earn a big salary; there are better paying occupations that don’t require 10 years of schooling. Don’t be a lawyer because you think it’s the only way to have a “reputable” career – most lawyers hate their lives. And don’t expect to start out on one perfect career path the month after you graduate from college. Life is more complicated than that – and the most “successful” people, in the long run, are the ones who can try multiple things and bounce back from adversity and keep landing on their feet. It was true in Emerson’s day and it’s true today.

Richard Branson reacts to a cancelled flight

Since I have nothing to write about today, I’d like to share this story from “Linchpin” by Seth Godin.

Forty years ago, Richard Branson, who ultimately founded Virgin Air, found himself in an airport in the Caribbean. They had just cancelled his flight, the only flight that day. Instead of freaking out about how essential the flight was, how badly his day was ruined, how his entire career was now in jeopardy, the young Branson walked across the airport to the charter desk and inquired about the cost of chartering a flight out of Puerto Rico.

Then he borrowed a portable blackboard and wrote, “Seats to Virgin Islands, $39.” He went back to his gate, sold enough seats to his fellow passengers to completely cover his costs, and made it home on time. Not to mention planting the seeds for the airline he’d start decades later. Sounds like the kind of person you’d like to hire.

Are you the sort of person who gets angry when a flight is cancelled, or when some other inconvenience stands in your way? Or are you the kind of person who changes the game altogether?

The Myth of Efficiency

I recently read a great blog post called The Myth of Efficiency. The premise is that for knowledge workers, trying to build more efficient work processes or implementing time saving “efficiencies” is not an effective way to boost productivity.

Here’s a (lengthy) excerpt that I especially liked:

The idea is that time has a monetary value (say, the per-hour employment costs of each employee), and if you save time, you save money. One example that LeBlanc mentions is moving printers. It seems to make sense on its face. You spend time walking to and from the printer. Therefore, printers should be located to minimize the total time people spend in transit, which could mean moving the printer closer to the heavy users of printing. Then those people can spend more time at their desks being productive.

But there is a serious fallacy in this argument: the assumption that the constraint on productivity is time at your desk. Let’s leave aside the issue of whether you are productive walking to the printer. The more serious issue is that you aren’t equally productive the whole time you sit at your desk. What if you spend your extra two minutes (in reduced time picking up printouts) at I Can Has Cheezburger?

Well, the efficiency expert may counter, all I need to assume is that a fixed percentage of your desk time is productive. But that’s still a big assumption. Maybe the real constraint on your daily productivity is mental energy, and you only have enough mental energy to do four hours of real work a day. Then your extra two minutes will all go to looking at pictures of cats with ungrammatical captions. Even more likely, maybe the real constraint is your internal sense of what a reasonable day’s work is.

With knowledge workers – those who work with information, ideas, numbers, words – the most important factor driving productivity is not the sheer amount of time spent at our desks. Work sometimes happens in surges and bursts. Great ideas sometimes materialize out of idleness. Breakthroughs happen when you step away from your desk and take a walk outside and return to the problem with fresh eyes.

The operations and systems of most knowledge work is already about as “efficient” as it’s going to get – we can send e-mail and get Google search results instantaneously. So we’re not really able to get much “faster” at how we do this kind of work.

The real question for knowledge workers – and their employers – is not, “are you doing things efficiently,” but “are you doing the right things?”

Increasingly this will be the only question that matters.