Calm vs hustle, OKR alternatives, burnout💡
Hey, Luca here! Welcome to the Monday 3-2-1 ✨
Every Monday I will send you an email like this with 3 short ideas about engineering management, technical strategy, and good hiring.
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Before we dive into this week’s ideas, I am happy to spend a few words to promote Encord.
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Back to this week’s ideas 👇
1) ⚖️ Calm vs Hustle
A few weeks ago, my friend Roberto Ansuini argued on Twitter that, culturally, people in tech these days seem to be divided in two big clusters:
🏃♂️ Hustle culture — Move fast, break things, revolutionary, intensity, all in the same room, synchronous, speed of results.
🧘♂️ Calm culture — Iterate, small increments, evolutionary, focus on quality, distributed, asynchronous, long term thinking.
Not only that — I may add that people are increasingly polarized and each group looks at the other as evil.
Hustlers see calm people as lazy / ineffective.
Calm guys see hustlers as toxic.
The truth is that, of course, both approaches have merits — and risks.
As a former founder, I have fond memories of long days (and weekends) spent at the office working with team on a crazy goal. It wasn’t just the work — it was the beers, the laughs, and just the incredible energy.
Such intensity, and being everybody in the same room, makes you go faster indeed. Teams like this have an edge.
But I was in my twenties. Would I do it again today? Not sure, probably not.
Today I am a calm person.
I work asynchronously with my two collaborators. I focus on small increments. I take my time to do things. I stop working earlier, take some weekends off, and (gasp) I even go to the gym sometimes.
Do I work strictly better today than before? Honestly—no. It’s just different.
The way I see it is that the two modes carry different risks:
Hustle culture carries a personal risk — to turn toxic and burn people out.
Calm culture carries a systemic risk — to turn bureaucratic and get little done.
You can counter both risks.
The best calm companies in the world are among the most effective, too. Think of GitLab, Zapier, or Doist.
Likewise, some of the greatest success stories in tech come from teams who worked nights and weekends to pull off incredible feats — like the iPhone, or early teams at Microsoft and Facebook.
I discussed this feud, and more, in a recent article about Elon and Twitter 👇
2) 🎯 OKRs vs GEMs vs SLOs
Although widely used, OKRs do not cover everything you need about goals and planning. Here are a couple of other ideas that I love and can be used in combination with OKRs:
The separation between KRs and initiatives is so important that some people believe the OKR framework is flawed because it doesn’t address the latter specifically.
Kathy Keating proposes an alternative format to OKRs called GEMs, which stands for Goals, Measures and Experiments. It explicitly adds the experiments part to the objectives and key results (now called goals and measures).
It might look like a simple change, but names do matter and I love it. You can find here the original article:
OKRs are for improving something or achieving something new. As a company, though, you also want to maintain what you already achieved and avoid regressions.
Avoiding regressions is just as important as improving things, and arguably heavier to track: at any given time, in fact, while you may focus on a few KPIs for improvement, you need to maintain all the rest of them.
Tracking these with OKRs is cumbersome because you would need to add a bunch of items that aren’t attached to any new initiative, and would therefore pollute the “real” OKRs.
SLOs are born with this purpose. They stand for Service Level Objectives and collect the KPIs you want to maintain at a certain level.
You can set SLOs in combination with OKRs, like Atlassian does:
You can find more ideas about OKRs in a previous Refactoring article 👇
3) 🔥 Burnout is an official medical condition
In 2019, the WHO declared burnout an official medical condition. It defined it as a syndrome that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
According to the handbook, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:
Feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion
Increased mental distance from their job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to it
Reduced professional efficacy
Christina Maslach has studied burnout for her whole career, and identified the six main areas of the work life that contribute to your stress.
In this past Refactoring article 👇 I went through the six areas and also covered 1) how you can monitor your state, and 2) how you can relieve stress, with practical routines that help your mind, your body, and your relationships.
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I wish you a great week! ☀️
Hustle vs Calm is in essence Peterson's 12 rule work ethic vs Zizek's "don't do, think!" principle. Can this model in its negative to be applied as BC Han's view on burnout vs Curtis Yarvin's views on bureaucratic bloat?
Also for OKRs vs GEMs vs SLOs, are there any sub-distinction within the strategy-tactics-operations-instinct (S.T.O.I.) layers? Are are other KPIs for sub-strategic planning?