It can take 30 years to know how to do it in 30 minutes…

It can take 30 years to know how to do it in 30 minutes…

“We need to redefine “hard work” to include “hard thinking.”

So says founder guru Seth Godin. I couldn’t agree more. The person who outsmarts you is out working you. The person who finds shortcuts is out working you. The person with a better path is out working you.

Usually, the hardest work is thinking of a better way to do it.” Sometimes, this is called strategy. At least, when it works, it’s called strategy. When it doesn’t, it’s often called stupidity. Part of strategy is avoiding stupidity.

Anyways, one benefit of Covid is perhaps moving past the idea that logging long hard hours, enduring brutal commutes, attending long meetings in long conference rooms, racking up platinum miles status in the air, and walking miles of conferences is some marker of a good worker. Making a show of how many printed documents one can carry, or how busy one can be by taking every call just seems dizzy. I was more a fan of work product that shipped on-time and could be useful.

Back in the day, (and still today- at 90!) there was an M&A lawyer named Marty Lipton I bumped into him once or twice. He was a genius at his craft and was one of the go-to lawyers in the ugly business of hostile takeovers. But he had a problem- lawyers generally bill by the hour. And really, how many hours can you bill in the 90 ish days for one of those deals to play out? Not that much, compared to the hundreds of millions at stake.

So Marty would just send a bill if the deal closed, often for millions of dollars, with a simple note to the effect; “I think I was worth this. If you agree, pay me. If not, don’t call me again”. Most paid, and reserved the right to work with him again. No word on how he billed for busted deals.

On the other hand, I’ve known lawyers in other fields who were unable to do what Marty could, or perhaps just unwilling.

They were stuck with the old way of billing hourly, so their solution was to work the system into something that suited their lifestyle. They used old templates to ask for every document under the sun, making it nearly impossible to track what was delivered and what was still outstanding (now there’s an app for that). They generated boxes and boxes of papers, because they could bill for the printing. They did their work on .pdf so that comments and corrections had to be done by hand- from both sides- instead of simply in a shared cloud document. They showed up in court on the busiest days (those are Mondays) so they could sit for (billable) hours on end until the judge got to them. And they’d show up with multiple clients, the more the better. No word on how many they billed for the same hours on the same day.

Marty delivered asymmetrical value- something was easy enough for him and was valuable for his clients. The other guy was just working the system, staying antiquated because it churned out more paper, more toner, and more hours, thus avoiding the better way at all costs.

I prefer people like Marty.


I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.