Why do we do our best work for free?
The question has been sitting in my mind lately as I contemplate the current entrepreneurial climate in addition to my current situation. I don’t have a job – I own a company. As an un-funded startup at the moment we are not paying any salaries to anyone on the team, thus we are working for free.
Let me say it another way: we are working long and hard hours, quite often late into the night or early into the morning, and doing it all for no money at all (well, none right now anyway.)
So why do we do this?
It goes against normal human motivations, which includes the “you give me X per hour for me doing Y for you” mentality. The thinking seems to go something like, “well, I don’t really want to show up here to do this thing each day but since they are paying me money I guess I will do it.”
That’s the workers mentality.
There’s nothing wrong with it and people who think that way are rightfully doing their duty as a family member, societal member and taxpayer. And it allows the circle of life to continue around and around…
Fortunately or unfortunately, there is another motivation that drives human behavior and it’s called creativity. People who are Creatives have a yearning to build and create something from nothing – to see the future before it happens and then go forth and create it out of thin air. Often times this happens outside of work and does not originate from the “doing X for Y” agreement so the result does not create immediate monetary value for the individual.
Yet they keep doing it.
And more often than not this is the area they excel in their life. It’s the area they are most excited about and can’t wait to get back to once they are off the clock if they have a day job or other responsibilities.
It’s also the area where they do their best work.
I think they do their best work in these areas because it’s driven by passion, not money. Do you think Thomas Edison clocked his hours in his laboratory? Or looked at his watch and said to himself “phew… only one more hour and I’m free to go grab a beer with the dudes!”
The time he devoted to his craft was driven by curiosity, passion and purpose. He was a scientist first, capitalist second, employee never. And amazingly, he was paid handsomely for his work in the end because of the quality. I believe this was due to the fact his motivations were rooted on his standards and not anyone else’s.
This can be said about any artist, musician, entrepreneur or individual who pursues their passion regardless of immediate returns.
I noticed this in my own life recently, as we were diligently working on some new things. No one is paying me, expecting me to show up at a certain time or demanding the project be done on a certain date.
No one but me. It’s my standard I am working against. It’s my passion to work on something challenging, to see it through and learn a hell of a lot in the process.
I noticed this last night as I walked to the coffee shop where I was meeting up with my CTO. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything or anywhere else I wanted to be at the moment. I had to just stop and appreciate the realization we are all not quite so different than Thomas Edison cranking away in his laboratory.
And the craziest thing about it is the fact that when we hold ourself to the highest standard possible, we tend to deliver a high quality finished product. To do otherwise would be to go against your very self, against your own standards and integrity.
This is when you know you are onto something and in due time you will see the rewards.
If you want to do high quaility work, do it for free. And when you start to work for free you may eventually be surprised at who will pay you handsomely.