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  • Writer's pictureBrian Burns

The Top 3 Ways Hard Work Does NOT Scale


The Top 3 Ways Hard Work Does NOT Scale

  • Published on January 17, 2018

For anyone who has read books on sales and success the core advice is to Work Harder. Working hard is at the center of all career advice. Hard work is the obvious advise that so many sales and success authors depend on, but don’t we all know that all ready? Is it not obvious? Work harder is just a cop out, it is what we are told when someone does not have any other answer. Work harder is like telling a heroin addict to not put the needle in their arm. The addict KNOWS not to put the needle in their arm, Duh, what the addict needs is a better alternative then to put the needle in their arm.

Your probably asking yourself what is wrong with hard work? My answer is nothing at all except that it does not scale and it distracts us from what our focus should be on.


Here are my top 3 ways hard work does not scale:

1. The Math does not work: We each receive a 24 hour day. To maintain a normal level of health most of us require about 8 hours of sleep. That leaves us with about 16 hours that we can work with. But we also have to eat, exercise, shop, clean, cook, relax, socialize and ton of other things. The work harder mantra is that we are to put work first and sacrifice the other items. Sure we can all do that and have done it at times, remember finals in college or the end of last quarter. But how long can we do it is the real question? When we are in our 20’s we can burn the candle at both ends and not completely fall apart but eventually we all do. The math of working harder does not scale, at some point, at some number of hours we all break. The objective needs to be how do we make the most of the hours instead of working more hours.

2. We are humans and not machines: This point builds on point number one. Machines are designed to run within certain parameters and speeds. Yes, even machines need servicing and rest. Cars need oil changes, computers need to be rebooted and flashlights need new batteries. We humans are not so resilient. We need sleep, nutritious food and exercise. But we are also emotional creators we crave encouragement, independence and mastery of our profession. We do not cruise at a steady state we have emotional ups and downs. We are sensitive to rejection, failure and setbacks. We mature our ability to adapt to life’s challenges but we are still human and not machines. So as we try to work harder and harder our humanity begins to show, we crack and snap. We are not machines we do not scale by continuing to work harder.

3. Hard work is an equalizer not a differentiator: If we were to take two identical twins and have them work 8 hours each on the same task would we expect to have the same outcome. Of course the outcome would vary depending on the complexity of the task. Do we give to much credit to hard work as a differentiator? When we look at athletes we think that the hardest worker wins until we read what sports physiologist share about body type. Lance Armstrong wrote in his autobiography “It’s Not About the Bike” that he was willing to work harder and longer then anyone else. We believe that, it makes sense, we are raised and taught that it is true. But Lance Armstrong has the same 24 hours in his day as ever other cyclist but Armstrong has the exact perfect body type for cycling. If he was even a inch or two taller he would not even qualify for the Tour de France (regardless of how much EPO or other banded drugs he could take). The same is true for Michael Phelps and every Kenyan marathoner. Hard work is just an equalizer if your equally qualified competitor is willing to work just as hard.


So where does this leave us? Why are not more people talking about how to work hard at working smart? Maybe because it is easier to busy ourselves with activity then it is to figure out a smarter way to accomplish the activity? Like the heroin addict who finds it easier to take the needle then ask for help or enter rehab. Sure that is a dramatic analogy but could working hard just be the easy cop out? Could working smart be the real harder choose? Working smart requires change, it requires admitting that there is a better way and to some of us that means admitting that we were wrong to do it the old way.


We all know that working smart scales. Working smart means focusing on what matters most, eliminating waste, automating manual tasks and outsourcing what can be done by others. Working smart maybe harder then working hard but the pay off is infinitely more rewarding.

If you listen to PodCasts, check out mine “The Brutal Truth about Sales & Selling”.

Please comment with your views on the Work Harder/Work Smarter strategy.

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