“Too many of us who start down the path of [career] compromise will never make it back. Considering the fact that you’ll likely spend more of your waking hours at your job than in any other part of your life, it’s a compromise that will always eat away at you.”

– Clayton Christensen, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

Are you doing the work that you want to be doing? I’ve recently been considering different ways of thinking about careers and work, and I have started to formulate a small philosophy I am dubbing the concept of highly-leveraged impact. In short, it speaks to the multiplicative effect the work of one person can have on many people, ideally in strongly positive ways. It is composed of two key factors: reach and impact.

Reach
The number of people affected by the work performed.
Impact
The net effect (positive or negative) the work performed has on the lives of other people.

What is leverage?

When these two components, reach and impact, can be combined, a significant leveraging effect can exist that would truly impact people’s lives. What is leverage? As a quick refresher and as an (over-simplified) analogy, consider the leveraging effect of money in real estate. If a real estate investor with $20,000 in available capital purchases a property worth $100,000, using a bank loan to finance the remainder of the purchase price, and sells it a year later for $150,000, he or she would stand to have made about $50,000 ($150k – $80k back to the bank – $20k initial investment). The investor did not have $100k to make the original purchase, but by leveraging the bank’s capital, was able to amplify the net effect of the $20,000 into a 150% gain.

What if you could do the same with your personal time, skills, and work? This is the idea that I am exploring through highly-leveraged impact. With the two components of reach and impact, we can analyze the idea in a quadrant format. In each quadrant below I’ve identified different examples (not exhaustive, and certainly not applicable in all scenarios), examined through the lens of the high-tech sector, that with which I am most familiar.

Major disclaimer: the concept of highly-leveraged impact is NOT intrinsically tied to the value of a job, and is by no means a concept through which to judge one’s worth. Someone working in a high-reach, high-impact position is not by nature worth more than someone in a low-reach, low-impact position, or vice-versa. This philosophy is only appropriately applied to fulfilling one aspect of a person’s internal motivations and desires.

Reach
High II. Many tech companies: Instagram, Farmville, Snapchat, etc. IV. Medical device companies, leading a charitable org, educational innovations, pharmaceuticals
Low I. Internal IT operations III. One-on-one tutoring, small scale humanitarian work
Low High
Impact

Let me give a brief explanation of each quadrant:

Quadrant I:

In the bottom left quadrant, that of low reach and low impact, I identified internal IT operations. In such positions, the work done typically reaches a relatively small number of individuals (often not even the entire population of the company), and while it does help those affected do their jobs better or easier, it doesn’t represent a critical change in their lives.

Quadrant II:

In the second quadrant (high reach, low impact) one might find many technology companies. Technology, by virtue of its extremely scalable nature, is able to reach an extraordinary number people very easily, and at relatively low cost. Therefore it fulfills one side of the reach/impact equation. However, it also can be used as an avenue of pushing low impact solutions: for example, Farmville. (Or in the specific instance of Farmville, maybe even negative societal value…)

Quadrant III:

The third quadrant is the opposite: high impact with low reach. Some life-changing people work in this quadrant, and I’ve certainly greatly benefited in my own life from wonderful people like this. Kindergarten teachers, tutors, people working in small-scale humanitarian organizations, or specialists in an extremely narrow but important field might fall into this category.

Quadrant IV:

The final quadrant, and the most interesting one in this framework, is that of high reach and high impact. This is affecting many people in important ways. As an example, in this quadrant I identified medical device companies, leveraging the scalable nature of technology to be an influential part of many peoples lives, improving their customers’  health and standard of living. It is running large organizations (charitable being the easiest example). It is being a scientist at a pharmaceutical who assists in creating a medicine that reduces the risk of heart attack or relieves cancer. Some people who work in this quadrant are celebrated, but the majority most likely are not. However, it does seem to allow identification of opportunities that would be extremely fulfilling on a personal basis at the very least.

Other thoughts

Opportunities in the final quadrant are much fewer and further between than any of the others, and often require specialized training or rigorous demands. Given the high societal value of much of the work performed in this quadrant, one would think that more of us would be engaged here. But that often doesn’t seem to be the case. Why is this? Perhaps society and current economic incentives don’t reward work in this quadrant  as readily as those in others. Perhaps the payback period, both in terms of actual dollars and in terms of preparation, is too prolonged or non-existent. Or perhaps it’s just easier to solve less complicated or less important problems, and so we go for those instead. Whatever the case, it would be worth taking a step back to see if more of us couldn’t put our skills to work in more high-reach, high-impact positions.

Share and Enjoy

  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • RSS
  • HackerNews
  • Instapaper
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook

I’ve had the chance to use Inbox for the last couple of days, and so far it’s been a good experience. I’ve been deep in the email space for several years now, even helping organize an email conference in the Bay Area next week, at which Google will be there to talk more about Inbox. I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on what I’ve experience thus far.

Inbox basically takes a large majority of the research that’s been done in human computer interaction, productivity, and email over the last 15 years and tries to roll it into one. As such, they actually have succeeded pretty well.

Bundles:

For example, the grouping feature is similar to the idea of thrasks put forward by PARC (Palo Alto Research Center, research arm of Xerox, invented the GUI and internet) is actually one of the most powerful components of the app. Similar types of messages, bundled by content and by thread, should in theory be able to be dealt with together with minimal context switching costs. And if you have several threads related to the same topic, finding a previous conversation inside of a thrask/group should be much easier. Inbox implements these in a half-automated way, so things like Travel or Social get grouped together, and you can make your own groups as well, which basically equates to creating a new label in Gmail. The other cool thing you can do with bundles/groups is to have them appear at certain times. Want to deal with all of your Social emails at night, after work? Set it to only appear then, and you won’t be bothered by those emails during the day.

Snoozing:

And that brings up the timing options, which have been popularized by apps like Boomerang, Mailbox, and Boxer. Yep, Inbox does that too. It also takes some of it to the next step with Pinning. Pin a few messages that are important and they stick around, much like a task would. It’s more proactive than just leaving your messages (which really are tasks) in your inbox, and it lets you more actively deal with them.

And in the email as tasks mindset, which research has shown again and again is the case for nearly everyone, you can set Reminders based on time and location, much like iOS’s Reminders.

Contextual Info

Inbox does a pretty good job of pulling out relevant contextual information from an email and making it very prominent. For example, I received a hotel booking email, and at the top, separate from the actual email, was the address for the hotel that I could click on to open in a map. Inbox recognized that as the address for the hotel and pulled it out for me, pretty nifty.

Reducing Overload:

Often the main objective of any of these types of apps or researched techniques is to give you time back and reduce your email overload. The most impactful technique is batching the times you check email, and not reacting constantly throughout the day to popups. Inbox sort of covers this: you can do constant checking via push notifications (handy and a battery saver!), or you can turn them off and just check manually. Unfortunately there’s not a full inbox batching mode yet–it can in part be accomplished by scheduling your groups/bundles, but not on a whole. So it’s an either/or situation right now. (Though don’t tell anyone, but I’m starting to lean away from wholesale batching as an effective technique… “He’s a witch, burn him!”)

A large interface caveat:

This is 100% a mobile application, and doesn’t translate well to desktop yet. It is very neat that the web component uses Material Design (big hat tip to +Mike Denny!) but it’s obvious that the desktop/web version is still a second class citizen, and is mostly just the mobile version scaled up. There is a huge amount of innovation that could be present here as well, but as it stands, I’ll continue using the regular Gmail interface on the desktop and Inbox on mobile.

Multiple Accounts

Unfortunately, Inbox doesn’t really know how to do unified messaging, which a big bummer. Even amongst three Gmail accounts you still have to switch in and out. No Google Apps support yet, though history has shown that will come, if late to the party. And of course (though it makes complete technical sense), there is no support for third-party accounts through other services, including Exchange. The answer there, of course, would be to proxy that email through your Gmail account. For now, though, I’ll just use Mail.app or Boxer for my other accounts.

Summary:

All in all, it’s very impressive to see the number of features, all with pretty direct backings in established research, making it into v1.0 of a product. Whereas many other apps and providers have had a few here and few there, it’s fun to be able to play with them all in one, and interesting to see how each one individually is effective.

I have a good contact who runs an email-related startup, and I think he said it really well:

“Overall, Inbox feels analogous to Perl. It’s a collection of clever, interesting, useful features, some of which have never been seen before. And, like Perl, there’s not just one way to use it, which makes it difficult for new users to understand how to use it best.” – Alex Moore

Inbox will evolve over time, and I think that it will help move email management forward in general just as Gmail did. Should be interesting to see how it continues. There are rough edges and things that don’t work well just yet, but I’m sure they’ll improve.

Share and Enjoy

  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • RSS
  • HackerNews
  • Instapaper
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook

Interesting artifacts found on October 30, 2013:

Share and Enjoy

  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • RSS
  • HackerNews
  • Instapaper
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook