What is work ethic?

You can’t teach someone work ethic. You can’t.

“Work ethic is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character”, Wikipedia instructs.

In my past 18 years of professional interaction with people, I found that work ethic is a deeply personal experience which arises from internalizing a few basic perspectives on work.

If you have a big ass ego, like I do, you can attempt to make a list of these perspectives on work, a list of … prerequisite understanding required before one gets to work ethic; so here is my list.

1. Most of the work you do is for other people.

Your work is for other people, not for the money you are paid. And I don’t mean your boss. I mean all the other people who work alongside you.

People pay you so you provide your work for them. So you provide your work for them. That means people depend on your work to be done. They rarely also need your wit or your learned tricks of the trade. But they depend on your work.

When you work the main output of your effort is help. Each of these helping outputs make the push for the overall progress: of everyone else.

Nobody should ask you where you are at. Nobody should make you pay attention to slipping commitments.

Don’t commit if you don’t understand. Don’t commit if you can’t.

When you’re stuck don’t wait it out. It is a lot better to sound stupid than to let everyone down.

2. Work has one goal: to be done.

Started work has no value. Work in progress has no value. Work done has all the value. Almost done means not done.

The idea of “definition of done” should not exist. It exists because we run from the hardship of the finishing details. We all know that from 98% to 100% is where the bulk of the effort is, and, because we’re lazy monkeys, we want to avoid the effort. From zero to 98% we get away with creativity, skill, steal and tricked procrastination.

Done is 100%. It includes finishing touches, filling in the gaps, connecting to the other moving parts and answering your own questions.

Work’s scope, definition, break down structure, estimation, planning and systematization are all just a different types of work, one which also has value only when it’s done. That is why 98% management work brings projects to full stop.

Indifferent of scope, your main tasks are to pull for guidance and push for updates. That is the bulk of any timeline of any project, and “the zone” is not a shelter from doing your part of repeating glue activity.

3. It’s your job that your work works.

That is essentially what makes work, a job: responsibility. You will be dependable if your work is done, you will be appreciated of your work is beyond some mediocre output for cash, but you will be responsible only if you take care that your work works.

Sloppy testing and poor planning cannot be excused by neither lack of expertise nor lack of access. Sloppy testing is not caring about your work.

If you are stuck, than that is your most pressing and immediate problem.

If you realize you have uncovered a cave of unknown, than that is your most pressing and immediate problem.

If you discover your assumptions, or the whole team’s assumptions are off, or simply broken, than that is your most pressing and immediate problem.

In any case you should not defer testing responsibility to managers, QA or less senior peers. Mind that it’s not about the activity of testing, but the responsibility of it.

Yep. Pretty short list, shouldn’t be that hard. These items are far less abstract than work ethic. Thinking and acting upon these things will create you own personal flavor or work ethic, and in the most humanist way possible you will participate to the greater good.

When these perspectives on work are internalized work ethic arises and becomes a second nature, one that has very little to do with the other issues regarding work, which then become distinct items: payment, career, progress, profesional development, culture etc.

Also, other people’s bad work ethic is not an excuse for your bad work ethic. Oh, and one last thing: work ethic === ownership.

I tried to buy happiness with so many things, money included.

They say money can’t buy happiness. But did you ever try to buy it without money? 😉


I tried to buy happiness with so many things, money included. True story.

I tried to buy happiness with work.

I got happiness with so many strings attached, I couldn’t enjoy a second of it because I was so busy untangling all those strings.

I tried to buy happiness with health.

This was a shady transaction. I got depression, the opposite of happiness. Depression is so damn expensive I quickly ran out of health but found I got addicted to the void. The withdrawal was an excruciatingly boring isolation in numbness.

I tried to buy happiness with love.

I got happiness but alas, I am not a being of infinite love, I put a higher price on my love than what the happiness factory was offering. Negotiation bore no fruit, but I found out I can make my own brew of happiness out of love. Who knew.

I tried to buy happiness with time.

Worst idea ever. I became a resource. That’s what the happiness factories use for the happiness of some, the time of others. My time became a raw material, no added value. I felt like Russia, important but with an economy the size of Italy. It sucked. I quit. Being. Russia.

I tried to buy happiness with patience.

Patience did buy me joy. Joy is the next best thing, when you can’t afford happiness or when your happiness is unachieveable. In no way I could trade neither patience for happiness, nor joy for happiness. In fact I found that the joyful are no longer customers of the happiness factories because they don’t make the plus sizes of happiness that fit a joy filled soul.

I tried to buy happiness with detachment.

Detachment once bought me a ticket for a visit inside the happiness factory and witnessed the illusion. I lost my detachment and found my disillusion.

I tried to buy happiness with money.

Money bought a lot of pleasure and fleeting instantaneous happiness. The problem was that it was a monthly fee. Actually a daily fee and in the terms and conditions it said that when the money runs out you automatically get enrolled in the free offering of constant stress.

I tried to buy happiness with faith.

They didn’t deliver so I wasted my faith.

I tried to buy happiness with reason.

The bodyguards kicked me out of the store, while the staff yelled behind me that they have the right to select their clientelle. There was indeed a fine print I didn’t notice in the education society gave me.

Hands On Management Is Great Unless The Hands Are Always On

“If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work”, said Harvard Business Review.

That means,

employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.

Indeed an old assumption, one going back to days of middle age guilds, that true mastery is stolen not taught, turned out to be true. It would appear that hands on management is good.

But don’t close the tab yet, there is more to this than meets the fold.

The problem with hands on management is when the hands are always on.

Why? Because:

  • hands on activity lowers cognitive availability for management

The lower cognitive availability is not because of multitasking, as multitasking lowers cognitive ability, it is because hands on activity engages the fast thinking system, executes things we know, recalls memory we’ve used and used again, while management deals with uncertain input, engages the slow thinking system, requires the learning of new things and so on.

Management is any activity that creates empowerment.

Empowerment is the complex result of of ability, motivation, drive and action.

So before you roll up your sleeves ask yourself if the “hands on” work you’re about to do meets this criteria:

  • it causes action: you demonstrate a technology, you push decisions through the chain.
  • it gives ability: you mentor someone in some professional aspect, you remove a roadblock in someone’s activity.
  • it inspires motivation. you create organizational momentum, you create a team spirit when things go though, you lead by example.
  • it builds drive, you write the bootstrap for a project, you create clear roadmaps, you demonstrate impacts.

As a manager, competence in your team’s domain is great, however you must calculate whether your input helps your managerial role. If it is simply work that accelerates a deadline, striking out items in backlogs, or the worst of them all:

doing things because nobody else does it like you do it, suffering from the haze of too much expertise

… then you are a bad hands on manager.

Hands on managers who have a hard time recruiting will be the most affected. They will tend to cover for the fact their teams are understaffed. There is only one time when actually going into the work shedding the manager cape and taking on the nitty gritty of a too small team is good: critical situations. Situations as in moments in time, not as in critical projects, critical path tasks and so on.

If you are a manager with understaffed teams that handles so many critical situations that you find yourself constantly drowned in hands on activities you either handle it at an organizational level or you reduce scope.

Non critical teams can function understaffed without reducing scope by simply becoming resource hogs in organizations: consuming time. Critical teams with good managers reduce scope.

Management is what makes businesses more or less successful, responsible and sustainable. By taking care of how much “hands on” you allow yourself to be, you will have a greater impact on what matters for the business.

For a manager having their hands too full with anything but management the antidote is found up the ladder in the organizational chain of command, and instinctively it is used by endless meetings and useless reporting. The intent is always positive, but filling up cells in spreadsheets is not empowering anyone.

So if you manage managers, save them from too much “hands on”: use retrospectives, constantly seek out to adapt and reevaluate things like mission, market fitness, product bloat, useless development and so many other management empowering activities, which discourage time wasted doing the work of those who are supposed to train in the work.

I have met many good professionals who forgot being managers because of time constraints, bad communication skills or simply a poor understanding of what management is supposed to be. Those who didn’t turn into crappy micromanagers ended up unhappy, overworked and burned out. So, no matter how outstanding your skills are, don’t fall into the expert savior trap for your own sake and the good health of the business that employs your service.

If you enjoyed this here is more on the same subject:


What is product management?

© 2011 Martin Eriksson. Re-use with appropriate attribution.

In a previous article I have talked about management in general. I was explaining my opinion on how management is any activity that creates empowerment. By effect, management as an activity should result in ability, motivation, drive and action. But it is only management if the four results are intertwined by a common goal.

Considering this, how do we apply that definition to product management?

Management creates three forms of empowerment: leadership, vision and expertise.

For a business leadership empowers people, vision empowers the organization, expertise empowers the product. By effect, product management is the management done for the product, derived from expertise.

There is a lot of discussion on what defines good product management. The most up to date trend is to remove expertise in the domain as a requirement in explaining the activity of product management.

That is a mistake.

Let’s take Matt LeMay ’s example. He proposes a new skill model made of communication, organization and execution. The problem here is that this set is NOT good as a definition for product management skills. Product management is a specific type of management, not a general case of management. Any of the three (communication, organization and execution) are so generic that any position of management from your team lead to your CEO must excel at them.

You cannot create empowerment at all if you lack communication skills that generate alignment, organization skills that remove bottlenecks, and execution capabilities that get stuff done. All three are subjective attributes, and if applied solely by themselves create the zombie manager, the one who has no idea what is actually happening, but executes, communicates and organizes. You know, the one that says “there are no stupid questions” randomly, even if you intentionally ask a stupid question because you are pointing something absurd.

UX, tech, and business are areas of subject matter knowledge that might be relevant to some product managers, but they are not the actual skills required to be a great product manager, [source]

I personally would go as far as to call communication, organization and execution talents. This idea that you can get skilled at some of these things is somewhat wrong. Not entirely but at least hard to prove. This belief makes managers out of people who don’t want to be managers. It makes organizations promote people based on “years on board”, thinking that training and coaching can ingrain communication, organization and execution “skills” into someone. I’m afraid, i’m afraid because in fifteen years I haven’t met one person who got trained well in these areas.

Daniel Demetri ‘s approach is far more grounded. How product management could be declined, depending on which part of the product it has to manage, is far closer to reality, because it actually describes the actual expertise you’d want in your product manager. Do you need hard UX skills or design know how, do you require number crunching abilities or technical understanding? These are decisions to take when you craft your job description for a product manager.

I also don’t like is how product managers, and managers in general, are seen as bridging gaps. They are sometimes bridging gaps. Management creates empowerment by bridging gaps too, but that is not the only thing they do, nor is it the essence of the craft.

PMs know just enough of each discipline to be responsible for the entire product development system. Brandon Chu, source

This. This above is exactly a matter of expertise, and I personally find it to be the best way to put things when asked about the core competencies expected of product managers. To that add the type of product managing they do (business, user or tech) and as you see one can finally get very specific about what a product manager does.

But Josh Elman gets it, for me, even closer to the idea that product management is a form of management that empowers the product via expertise. It is explained at large in the article, but simply put:

Help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users (source)

However, I don’t agree very much, but this may be just me and my pride so take it with a grain of salt, with the idea that product managers are “glorified note takers” a la same Josh Elman. I believe that in a good company management is the same type of activity from C-level execs and VPs, to team leaders, what differs are the responsibilities and the required levels of leadership, vision and expertise required for the job.

A product manager does management for the product, creating empowerment through expertise. If it is not that it could be anything else of the array of possible jobs: traffic manager, project manager, account manager et cetera. To end i’ll bring to the rescue something that I fully agree with from the same Josh Elman:

The best [product] managers are the ones who simply roll up their sleeves and help their team through this journey.

Brackets are mine for concision: ALL managers need to roll up their sleeves!

What Is Management?

​First management is not a “business term”. Management is just a generic human activity, mainly:

Management is any activity that creates empowerment

But what is empowerment?

Empowerment is the complex result of of ability, motivation, drive and action. Only when all four components are active, does empowerment start.

There are four basic tenants of empowerment:

  • it must cause action. Without action we have no empowerment, ability, motivation and drive alone only make demagogy.
  • it fails if it does not give ability. Without ability you are not empowered but merely enthusiastic. Curb it and save the energy.
  • it needs to inspire motivation. Without motivation you are given a job, not empowerment. This usually results in stagnation.
  • it has to build drive. Without drive you are simply educated, not empowered. That is because missing drive means missing meaning. Try and say that fast.

By effect, management as an activity should result in ability, motivation, drive and action. But it is only management if the four results are intertwined by a common goal. Otherwise it is activism, not management.

Management types

Management creates three forms of empowerment:

  1. leadership
  2. vision
  3. expertise

In general you can only have two concurrent types of empowerment, not all three. The two factors that cause this “two out of three” situation are common to any human activity. They are: limited time and scarce opportunity.

Leadership and expertise give the expert leader.

The expert leader is a manager that brings motivation among the people. They will create boosts of progress in whatever they’re doing management for.

You do not want the leading expert as a manager. They are too narrow. They make the perfect academics but fail to empower because they miss drive. Drive feels immediate, has some urgency to it while leading experts appear to have all the time in the world. Life is short.

Vision and leadership give the visionary leader.

The visionary leader creates drive and ability. A visionary leader identifies needs correctly. There is no better fuel for drive than need. A visionary leader creates ability mainly by untangling “red tape” in all its shapes and forms.

You do not need a leading visionary as a manager. Too wide views. They are perfect theoreticians but fail to empower motivation. Motivation needs short term results to be born.

Vision and expertise give the visionary expert

A visionary expert excels at action. They understand the “what” better than anyone, but also have key insights on “how”.

Oh, and not an expert visionary, never. You know this one … “expert visionary”. I can’t even. Whatever.

Management and business

In business, leadership empowers people, vision empowers the organization, expertise empowers the product.

Management is what makes businesses more or less successful, responsible and sustainable. Empowerment is not positive by default. Thus management results go either way, for better or for worse.

In business mission is defined by founders or boards. Management delivers the vision. The reason is because the mission is the why, while the vision is the how. Management also delivers the what, aka the product. So mismanagement can make a business very successful (profitable and / or growing) but not responsible, or sustainable. What a business does and how a business does it are the tweaking buttons of success, responsibility and sustainability. Management, from CEO to team lead, has them all.

In business all three types of management work. Most likely visionary leaders will find their way to the top. Middle management gets populated with visionary experts. Lower management has all the expert leaders it can get. That is “most likely”. Reality is much more complex because management structure depends on the mission, created by founders and boards.

Management and politics

In politics leadership empowers people, vision empowers the society and expertise empowers the government.

As a corollary to management creating empowerment: governments should not have the management of corporations.

Governments and corporations have two very different “raison d’etre” and this causes profound differences in the kind of abilities, motivations, drives and actions their empowerment results in. A corporation is a joined human activity with an economic purpose. A government is a a joined human activity with a social purpose. Society and economics only coexist because we collectively consider that progress is a form of greater good. If suddenly we’d globally change our minds and progress becomes just a side effect of existence, then economics becomes far less relevant.

Parties should put out for election good managers.

Management should be the key activity from president to any elected representative. Management should be the key activity from prime minister to any named official. The empowering that results is the reason these structures exist in the first place.

In politics visionary experts should be seconded by visionary leaders. In practice it is usually the other way around, because the government is by the people. The people propel leaders not experts, and usually this is what makes governments fail in being for the people. We should have government by society and for the people. But, alas, this just sounds too complicated.

Management and life

In life leadership empowers joy, vision empowers happiness and expertise empowers pleasure.

For stupid reasons we stay away from doing management for our life, yet we should! In doing so, we create concerted ability, motivation, drive and action in ourselves and in the people around us. That is what no man is an island is for!

The thing with life is that only you should be the manager. You should not pick anyone else to do management for your life. You could of course, but that will most likely lower the joy, rarefy happiness and dim pleasure. Not to mention alienating your experience from yourself. As a recursive being only you can really know thyself and hence do management for yourself properly.

In life one could benefit from expert leaders. Outsourcing vision in life will never come close to empowering your happiness. Visionary leaders and visionary experts are not welcome here.


You cannot “be managing” anything. You can only “do management for” something. The moment you entitle as manager of anything you loose sight of the fact that you are doing an activity only about the others. A good manager doesn’t entitle and keeps it at doing management for something. In doing so they’re constantly aware of having an effect outside of themselves.

To manage should not equal to handle. Handling it involves the self as the primary goal. Handling is a form of survival and is always short term and short sighted. For example, the notion of managing a crisis is different from handling a crisis. Handling a crisis is simply overcoming it. It distributes human effort to bring the situation to normal. Managing a crisis creates a distributed human framework. This framework will dissemble the root cause of the crisis and avoid it in the future.

Oh, one more thing. Empowerment is not a default positive thing. You can create empowerment for all kinds of morally, ethically and humanly questionable or condemned things. Management is not good unless we make it so. Management is not bad unless we make it so.

Ambiguity and corporate entrepreneurship

I have seen the questions below being used as pre-interview questions. Here are some possible answers:

What might be some possible actions that a leader can take to manage ambiguity?

Well, how about a map reduce algorithm?

1. map the ambiguity sources to clarification procedures, which are basically steps to follow in order to eliminate ambiguity (for example a push for accepting a sale proposal eliminates budget ambiguity) and secondly identify generalizations or some particularization that can help you handle that ambiguity which cannot be eliminated.
2. the reduce part is the constant comparison of ambiguity sources to the new context: what has been ambiguous a week ago is crystal clear today.

There are various other ways too: modular development (where you try to dilute ambiguity by splitting it into smaller pieces of clear approaches) or another example is to iterate later in the project on ambiguous project parts (on this note: loosely defined “features” are last in agile development, or skipped as epics).

Constant learning from critique coming from peers and other project members will create in time a talent in managing ambiguity, because most of it resides in a lack of forecasting abilities — and these abilities are best cultivated by direct experience.

How can a manager act as entrepreneur?

The golden goose of entrepreneurial management is proactwivity: do more than required, deliver better than expected.
– me ☺

A proactive manager does early identification of both issues and opportunities. On early identified opportunities the entrepreneurial management really kicks in.

Aside from having or not an entrepreneurial spirit or experience, there are some entrepreneur spirit checkpoints that can be followed by any manager:

  • attempt to cold sell the project inside the company — and learn from feedback
  • manage risk and challenge — with efficient costs
  • stick to a defined budget
  • have a “can do” attitude
  • have an elegant approach on micromanagement — that means don’t be a walking mug
  • act conservatively independent from peers and higher hierarchy in the project phases between assignment and completion
  • cherry pick your own team on new projects, preferably from current employees

Maybe not the most enlightening of medium stories, but it could serve as some inspiration, so: I hope it helps! ☺