We've all heard the advice, and for most of our lives: you can do anything, as long as you work hard to get there. Hard work pays off. There are a million quotes about hard work, and I'd tend to agree with most of them. Hard work is important, and it separates you from the majority of the population who aren't motivated enough to work hard for anything.

But I need to commit some slight blasphemy here and say: hard work isn't enough to make your business succeed. The solution to improving your business, or yourself as an entrepreneur, isn't exclusively "hard work"--and here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Hard work can't come up with a good business idea. Can you force yourself to come up with a good idea if you spend enough time thinking about it? If you can, I want to partner with you. For most of us, good ideas come as random, unpredictable strokes of inspiration that we pursue and develop later on. Try to come up with a good business idea right now, through "hard work" alone--it'll drive you mad.
  2. Hard work doesn't equate to productivity. Here's an idea for you; hard work doesn't necessitate getting a lot done. For example, riding your bike uphill demands a lot of effort, but doesn't get you very far. You may exert yourself in any number of ways, but it won't necessarily get you closer to your goals. Find ways to work "downhill" instead.
  3. Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Few businesses grow to be successful based on the efforts of one individual. It takes a team to devise a good strategy and eventually carry it out. Accordingly, you can work as hard as you like, but if you've hired the wrong team members, or if they aren't working the same way you are, it could all be for naught.
  4. Working hard doesn't always make your work more valuable. Would you rather work for 10 hours on a project that pays $400, or work for 5 hours on a project that pays $500? Assuming the nature of the work is similar, the answer is obvious. Pouring more hours in doesn't make those hours more valuable; find ways to improve the value of your work rather than its raw quantity.
  5. Hard work doesn't yield creativity. This is similar to my claim that hard work can't generate good ideas; it can't problem solve for you, either. "Cultivating creativity is a must for business success, and it can't be forced or extracted..." says John Rhodes, co-founder of ScreenCraft, and someone I had the pleasure of interviewing a few weeks ago at the Sundance Film Festival.
  6. Your competitors work hard, too. You're working hard, but does that automatically make you more competitive? I'd argue no. Most, if not all, of your competitors are already working hard, so if anything, working hard puts you on par with them. You'll need something else if you want to get ahead.
  7. Hard work can't trump experience. Experience leads individuals to make smarter decisions, at an almost intuitive level. Hard work can't beat that (at least in most cases). Consider the game of Go as a good example--the most experienced players often describe their best moves as "feeling right," the product of experiential intuition rather than the product of exhaustive logic.
  8. There's a limit to the brute force approach. Hard work is a kind of "brute force," by which you wear away at your tasks, but there's a hard limit to this approach. There are only so many hours in the day, and so many ways to solve a problem directly. Finding alternative problem solving routes and maximizing those hours is the only way to get the most for your effort.
  9. Time is money, and it can be wasted. Let's adopt the analogy that "time is money." Spending lots of money doesn't necessarily mean acquiring lots of value; for example, you wouldn't rate a $100,000 real estate investment as holding the same long-term value as a $100,000 investment in cottage cheese. Like money, time can be wasted, meaning hard work only counts if it's spent on something that matters.
  10. Hard work will exhaust you. Work too hard, skipping breaks and vacations, and it's going to catch up with you. You'll be less productive, you'll feel like garbage, and you might even become so burnt out you don't want to be an entrepreneur anymore. Yes, there's a certain level of honor in fully investing yourself into a project, but if it saps your will to go on and leaves you exhausted, what's the point? Don't be afraid to take breaks--it's actually good for your productivity.

Does this mean that you shouldn't work hard, or that hard work isn't important? Absolutely not. In fact, hard work is imperative if you want to be a successful entrepreneur. All I'm saying here is that it shouldn't be your only preoccupation, and you need to understand that "hard work" alone isn't the solution for everything. Find paths of least resistance, work smarter, delegate, cooperate, think outside the box, and don't forget to take breaks! Hard work pays off, but only when you do it appropriately.

Published on: Feb 12, 2016