Home Innovate Phil Libin Has Made a Career Out of Business Productivity

Phil Libin Has Made a Career Out of Business Productivity

Here Are 7 of His Best Ideas. The Evernote co-founder is busy reimagining how tech teams should work--and he thinks you should be too.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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It's been years since Phil Libin helmed the organization-apps maker Evernote, but he just can't resist trying to reshape the exhaustively inefficient business world. This founder is now running two remote companies with a total of 130 employees, and he spends a lot of time rethinking the post-industrial economy for knowledge workers. How do we measure asynchronous productivity? Can we eliminate the oppression of the persistent "on" of the internet? Can meetings be fewer and better? Why can't our baseline be trust? At 51, the serial entrepreneur has learned to trust--and he has learned plenty more.

1. Break the Tyranny of Linear Time

There's a false assumption that work happens when people talk at one another in real time, in meetings or on Zoom calls. But how many of them are to check up on people, and not to accomplish something? There's a certain tyranny to that. I don't expect quick responses. I expect correct responses, or high-quality responses. Now that we are not restrained by geography or time zones or cognitive style, a company loses out on all the advantages of those things if it maintains a synchronous culture.

2. Ditch the Receipts

Most com­panies require receipts because they don't trust people. You bought something you need for work? You don't need to prove it to me. We give people a distributed monthly stipend. I'd rather pay that than pay someone to look at expense reports. (Yes, our taxes are compliant.) I no longer have 20 years for someone to earn my trust. Now I trust by default.

3. Be Decisive

You could debate a hard decision for years. Instead, think: What useful information will I be able to assemble in one week to help make the correct decision? What about one month? If it's none, or very little, you might as well just make the decision arbitrarily. Getting it wrong quickly is a lot better than spending time dwelling on it and then getting it wrong.

4. Be a Scout, not a Soldier

If you have a warrior mindset, you keep fighting for the set of facts you choose to be true. If you have a scout mindset, when you discover something that goes against your beliefs, that's very good news. You're not marching in a specific direction; you're trying to make a more accurate map. When you're right, you haven't added anything. When you're wrong, you know you've learned something to add to your understanding of the world.

5. Practice Rigorous Optimism

Passive optimism would be having the sense that things can be made better and will be made better by sitting around and waiting for them to improve. Optimism needs to be active, meaning you have to do something. You have to see obvious pitfalls. You have to look at them and say, here is a thing that could go wrong, but I'm not going to stare at it. I'm going to go in a different direction.

6. Host Fewer, More Productive Meetings

Don't get rid of meetings; try to have great meetings. The way to do that is to have fewer of them. You give people more time between meetings, so they can feel productive and come prepared. When they're prepared, the meetings are better, which leads to better decisions. Which means you don't have to meet as often.

7. Train Your Brain to Like Good Stuff

I don't think of my brain as my friend. I think of my brain as a doofy roommate. I like my roommate, but just because he says something it doesn't mean it's right. I don't privilege the stuff. So if I want or need to change my behaviors--say, I need to start doing pushups--I try to trick my doofy roommate into liking the thing. Make it fun or intellectually interesting. And then he'll want me to continue to do it. It works for health, productivity, providing feedback, talking to customers--anything.

Photo Credit: Illustration by Keith Negley.

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