Jerome K. Jerome on Work

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, Quotes, skmurphy

A passage from chapter 15 of Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” captures the risk that an attitude of perfectionism toward work can hinder startup founders.

Three Men in a Boat

I had the pleasure of reading “Three Men in a Boat” and “Three Men on a Bummel” by Jerome K. Jerome last week, two great books that I heartily recommend. Although they are more than 100 years old (Boat was first published in 1889 and Bummel in 1900; many of his works are available from Project Gutenberg) they are proof we haven’t changed much in a hundred years.

These excerpts from Chapter 15 of “Three Men in a Boat” capture the spirit of perfectionism that can hinder startup founders, especially those that are bootstrapping out of a spare bedroom or study in their house.

“It seemed to me that I was doing more than my fair share of work on this trip, and I was beginning to feel strongly on the subject.”
Jerome K. Jerome in “Three Men in a Boat

I am not sure what the differences are between a team where peer pressure elevates the level of performance and one where everyone feels that they are doing more than their fair share. I think if the team has a strong sense of a common mission and believes that collaboration is required to achieve it then there may be less dissension. I know, easy to say, hard to do.

“It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It’s not that I object to work, mind you; I like work; it fascinates me, I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me, the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.”
Jerome K. Jerome in “Three Men in a Boat

There is a strange satisfaction in hoarding undone tasks, I am not sure I understand the psychology of it but it’s responsible for a persistent inability to set realistic schedules by prioritizing tasks against realistic limits.

“You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me; my study is so full of it now that there is hardly an inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.”
Jerome K. Jerome in “Three Men in a Boat

The accumulation of obligations and an increasing backlog of undone tasks is more symptomatic of a bureaucracy than a startup.

“And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take great pride i my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.”
Jerome K. Jerome in “Three Men in a Boat

The way that we visualize a task will be done is rarely as delightful or perfect as it will be when actually completed. The ability to deliver something good enough quickly is the key to success in a startup.

“But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for more than my proper share.”
Jerome K. Jerome in “Three Men in a Boat

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