We talk to Adam Davidson — a business reporter, co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money, and author of The Passion Economy: The New rules for Thriving in the 21st Century. We talk about why it’s an opportune time to succeed in business by combining your unique passion and your abilities and about how to do it successfully.
- The Passion Economy: https://www.passioneconomy.com
- Planet Money: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/
In this episode, we talk with Adam Davidson about why it’s an opportune time to succeed in business and about how to do it successfully.
- Reuven Lerner
- Margaret Reffell
- Meg Cumby
- Prepper Fantasy Fiction (Adam Davidson)
- Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (Meg Cumby)
- Renergy: https://renergy.com (Margaret Reffell)
- New York Times Crossword: https://www.nytimes.com/crosswords (Reuven Lerner)
Never miss an episode
Help the show
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING?
If you’re a freelancer, then you’re not just an expert in your field. You’re also a business owner, responsible for everything from bookkeeping to marketing to customer satisfaction to business development.
On the Business of Freelancing, our panel of experienced freelancers discuss the issues that they have encountered while building up their business — and give you practical, actionable advice to take your career to the next level. We also invite expert guests to provide their opinions and perspectives on how you can better succeed in your freelance career.
Reuven: Hi, everyone and welcome to the Business of Freelancing podcast. Today’s guest is Adam Davidson. Adam is a well-known business reporter and writer. He founded NPR’s Planet Money. He’s written for both the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker. He recently founded a new podcast company, and we’re here to talk to him about his new book, The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century.
Adam, welcome to the Business of Freelancing.
Adam: Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Reuven: So let’s start off with the simple and obvious question, which is, what is the Passion Economy and how is it different from the other economy?
Adam: Basically, it comes out of years of reporting, and mostly reporting very dark things about how the economy is changing in ways that have really dislocated a lot of people, a lot of the rules that we operate according to seem to not quite work anymore. Overtime coming to see both by seeing examples of freelancers who are thriving in interesting ways, and then also talking to economic historians, economists, business people.
Coming to see like, yes, the rules have changed. Yes, that causes a lot of pain, but it also creates amazing opportunity, a new opportunity that did not exist before. The idea of the Passion Economy is that there’s a host of things that have changed in how the basic nature of our global economy works. They make it a uniquely great time for freelancers, for entrepreneurs, and for people who have jobs, but who want jobs or businesses or careers that come out of their unique both desires, their passions, their interests, and their abilities.
Of course, you have to find a market, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed that if you love experimental puppetry, you’re going to make enough to pay your rent. But it means that more than any time in human history, you have a really serious shot of marrying what you love most with a steady solid, good growing income.
Reuven: I’ve often told my kids that I feel extremely fortunate that what I love is also something that’s in demand, and so I can turn it into a business and I can make money from it. What do you say to the people who don’t have a particular passion? Are they going to be able to thrive in this new economy? Or do they have to find a passion in order to do well?
Adam: I’d say since I’m writing a book, is a weird thing where you spend years and years and years researching, reading, talking to people, but then it’s only after you’re done a long time often after you’re done that actually the book comes out and people start reading it. This was one of the things if I had to do it all over again, I’d be a little more careful about because I don’t see passion as just something you’re born with, or you either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t have one, you’re out of luck.
I see passion as, and particularly this application of the word passion, a kind of passion that can undergird a business as something that takes a very long time. Some people are lucky and it’s 16 or 22, or whatever. It’s fairly fully formed. Certainly, for me, I would say it wasn’t until I was well into my 30s, maybe almost 40 that I could really articulate it.
So, my belief is, it’s something you… It’s not unlike, say a college degree or another advanced degree, it’s something you know would be valuable, you know you want it, but it’s a lot of work to get there, and it’s worth many years of investment in finding it because it’s such a valuable thing.
But absolutely not. In a weird way, when I meet, say 21-year-olds coming out of college or in Israel, 24-year-olds coming out of college, I feel like certainty is almost a warning sign that they’re off. Passion, except in rare cases should not be something that’s just Oh, I know what it is. You meet those people. I’ve always wanted to be a pediatric dentist or whatever. But even there, you’d want to be a pediatric dentist in a special way. You wouldn’t want to just be a pediatric dentist.
So passion should be cultivated, should be developed. It could change, develop evolve over your career. It’s not a static thing like a third arm or something that either you have it, you’re a great baseball player or you don’t and you’re out of luck.
Meg: You go through some really helpful rules of the Passion Economy in the book. Based on all your conversations that you mentioned about starting with something that you’re good at and that you enjoy and then finding your customers, the people that you want to serve. Some people might ask like, do you know whether you have to start with? Do you always recommend or? Based on what you’ve seen do you always recommend finding the customers or your audience or niche or whatever you want to call that second? Or do you think sometimes people might start with like, “Here’s the people I want to help first.” And then figuring out what they can do for them.
Adam: Usually the first step, it depends on your risk appetite. It depends on your family background and how much money you’ve got when you’re starting out in life. But the first few phases really are best spent just doing something not saying no, no, I’m not going to do that job because I don’t want to, I don’t know if I want to go into marketing, so I’m not going to take that marketing job or I don’t know if I want to be a programmer. So I’m not going to take a Programming job.
In a weird way, in the early stages, say your early 20s, I recommend, just go. I remember when I was starting as a writer, a friend of mine said, just write and write badly and write a lot and write everything. I would write manuals, I wrote a manual for a paper shredder, I would write anything. Then over time, I don’t think I’d write a manual for a paper shredder today, but I learned a lot and I developed, who I am.
So in the early days, I wouldn’t worry too much about the end state. It’s much more about putting yourself in a context where there’s work for you to do, there’s other people around who you can observe. There’s hopefully people, not all of them, but a few people who are good at sizing you up.
My sense is most of us when we become late 30s 40s 50s, whenever adulthood does finally show up, we can look back at who we were at 21, 22, 23 and see the signs of what we were going to become, but it’s hard to see them at the time. But you might learn, boy, I really do hate Programming, but it seems like I’m pretty good at assembling a team and running a team.
Or I love Programming, but I hate being in an office with all these idiots or whatever it might be. You’re learning, in a weird way you’re studying yourself and you’re thrusting yourself into contexts, and putting yourself in a context that’s awful. It might be as useful as putting yourself into context that’s perfect.
In college, I was an intern. Then right away, I was producing a radio show, a public radio show. I was like, “This is what I was born to do. I love this.” Over time, I realized I didn’t love that job. But there were things about it that I could pay attention to and that I was uniquely good at and that I could build on.
So that’s what I recommend at first. Especially if you’re setting out on your own as a freelancer it’s a constant dialogue between what am I uniquely good at? What do I love to do? And who is that group of customers who’s willing to pay a premium for me. That customer thing really, obviously is so essential. It can take a while, especially in the beginning, but if you land it right, it’s all part of the same thing.
You’re finding those customers who most value you and it’s helping you understand what’s most valuable about you. So if you find yourself like, “I’m a graphic designer, and all my customers are asking me to do the most boring, kind of commoditized work, but I have a special vision.” Then you have the wrong customers. You have to get rid of those customers, maybe slowly, maybe quickly, depending on your risk appetite and your bank account.
So, customers ultimately really are the key, but it takes a while I wouldn’t put that first probably in most cases.
Marg: I love the chapter specifically because you just jumped into customers. So I really resonated with the chapter with Megan from Honey, and how with her efforts in working with Jason. There were these really big aha moments that solidified these internal beliefs that I already had, which were there was… When he told her to basically if you’re building anyone like $500 or under, get rid of them, because it’s costing you more time.
That really resonated, and that really hit home because I had started doing that earlier, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why and how it was beneficial. But like you said, as soon as I started doing that… The other thing too you pointed out in that chapter, that I started implementing in my own business and saw such a huge benefit from was because I am a programmer, a lot of the time people come and hire me just to execute a single part of code, but not ask for the big picture and in my 10 years of eCommerce is this even a good idea?
So I actually started cutting a lot of the clients who I just became an implementer for. Once I started working with people who really valued what I did and really valued my experience, it brought my job satisfaction just up to the next level. So that was for sure one of my favorite chapters I really resonated with the struggle that Megan and Emily from Honey had for sure.
Adam: Yeah, sure, I love their story. I was a freelancer for about seven years. I know a living customer who will actually pay you money. It’s like, how do you say no to that person, I’ll do everything. It really is true that you definitely have customers who are costing you money. It can be definitely the $500 customer who you’re killing yourself for.
But I have found it’s often your biggest customer, it’s often that customer who is so demanding, and sometimes they’re literally costing you money like it costs $1,000 to serve a $500 customer. Often maybe you are making 50,000 or 100,000 a year from that customer but you’re not realizing they’re exhausting you so much. They’re sucking away your energy and your brainpower that you’re just stuck at that level, and so you’re never going to be able to have that self-reflection and strategic thinking.
But yeah, it’s so hard. For the people in my book I cover who do manufacturing, several of them talk about that moment where they say, “We’re just going to stop selling to Walmart, we’re just out of it.” Walmart is their number one customer, it looks like their whole company is going to collapse. They very quickly realized that they’re never going to get ahead with Walmart. It’s a cost, not a benefit, which is confusing because you look at your PNL and so much of the P is tied to that one customer but you’re not properly counting the loss.
I would say for freelance businesses, the soft stuff, the feelings, the satisfaction, should be material, it should be material in actual accounting terms because you literally are selling your energy, your enthusiasm, your fresh thinking. So, your feelings actually have material value, we can’t come to think of feelings is like a distraction from business, but it actually matters.
But then also like, why are you a freelancer? You’re a freelancer, yes, you want to make money, but you also like want to have control over your life, and if you’re killing yourself, you might as well get a crap. If your customers are crappy bosses, you might as well have a crappy boss and not have to do all the hustle.
Marg: I 100% agree on that.
Adam: One of the people in my book who is Megan’s counselor and mine as well, this guy, Blumer. He says, “On average fire to 10% of your customers a year.” Because you’ll often find there’s that customer who was perfect three years ago, but you’ve either outgrown them or they’ve outgrown you, or just you did the thing. You did it. Now they like you, you like them. You don’t want to have that awkward conversation, but it’s really just busywork. Most of your work most of the time should be adding real value.
Marg: Yeah, and that’s what I loved about it. Because I feel like in all of the books that I read, it’s been really focused on scaling your customer base, hiring more people like more and more and more, because they’re based on fortune 500 businesses that are continuously scaling and trying to get to that level.
So that was another question too. I know you chose to focus on more attainable entrepreneurship into a smaller degree really focusing on intimacy at scale. Why did you choose to go that route? As opposed to what a lot of other business books do is go for the really larger scale companies.
Adam: That’s a very good question. That was a big part of the whole reason I wrote the book. I feel like there’s a bias in business books to assume like everyone wants to run Amazon, and most people don’t want to run Amazon, and most people aren’t Jeff Bezos. I personally find it very frustrating that so many books are about massive scale companies. Because scale is going to continue to grow there’s going to be, scales going to get scalar and scalar and scalar.
If you truly just you have your heart set on being a billionaire, then yeah, you should read those books and you should go to Stanford Business School and you should become a venture-backed startup and you should live and be well, but I think that’s a relatively small number of people. That isn’t a particular group that I think I have much to add, they got other people and I wasn’t interested in them. I’m interested in those people dismissively. The worst word in Silicon Valley is a lifestyle business or at Harvard Business School or Stanford Business School.
You might as well literally neo-Nazi is not as insulting as lifestyle business person. But most of us want lifestyle businesses, we don’t want crappy lifestyle businesses. We want to make real money and we want to build up an asset in our business over time so that we can either exit or in some way stop working so hard or shift to another business with some capital.
There’s better and worse ways of running a lifestyle business but most people, they’re not just trying to make the most money possible or build up the biggest asset possible or have the biggest exit possible. That’s a very hard way to live. I don’t want to live that way. It doesn’t seem like you guys want to live that way. So that’s why I feel like it’s not that it’s not a valid option. It’s just it’s a diminishingly valid option, I would say.
Like if we were having this conversation in the 1930s it would be very weird because with zoom I can run a little bit.
Marg: You would be very futuristic.
Adam: Very futuristic. But I think the right point is, Oh, you want to be like, reasonably rich, you should have a commodity business that can scale, that would be really good advice in the 1930s. I don’t think it’s good advice now. Mark Zuckerberg can do that. A handful of people can do that. But most of us it’s not going to work.
Fewer companies are going to win that big prize. But there’s huge, huge, huge opportunity because as those companies get bigger and scalar they’re leaving more, not just crumbs. They’re leaving, giant, delicious buffets for us because our biggest dreams are smaller than their dreams. That’s okay. That’s okay. Let them have their big dreams.
I’m still talking about businesses that can make many hundreds of thousands a year that build up into millions of dollars of revenue. I’m not talking about just owning a suffering corner store or something.
Reuven: When I started my business, my plan was okay, I’m going to start as an individual consultant, and then I’ll do what everyone else does, which is hire a bunch of people, and we’ll just grow and grow and grow, and one day, we’ll have the learner consulting towers here in Modi’in.
At a certain point, well, first of all the year 2000 sort of took the air out of that balloon for a bit when I had to lay off a bunch of employees. It took me a while to realize I don’t have to be embarrassed, I don’t have to be upset. I can have a very nice life with one of these lifestyle businesses, and be way happier and focus on the things that I like doing. So, I now have no employees, and I’ve never had a better business. I’ve never been happier and seen more opportunities, which is completely opposite of how I thought back when I started about 25 years ago.
Adam: Yeah, exactly. We know Israel is the capital, it’s like the number of massive scale businesses. I’m going to show off my Israel geography and Hartsville is the old place now it’s Holon.
Reuven: Very impressive.
Adam: Using Israel as a test case, the other thing that has come to Israel is a loss of something that a lot of people like not lost completely, but it has. Inequality came to Israel in a very dramatic way. It has had, in my view, a pretty rough impact on the culture and the society. There is that larger conversation which we don’t have to get into and we don’t have to worry too much about. But in my general view, whatever I want to do, or whatever you want to do, society as a whole is healthier if wealth is a thing that is attainable to a large number of people and is reasonably widely shared.
I’m not a socialist. I’m a capitalist, I believe in getting rewarded for your effort. So I’m not saying everyone should get the same. But I am saying I don’t think it’s healthy for the economic focus to be opportunities that only apply to a small percentage. The other thing is, by the way, venture capital is not that big. It gets so much press but the vast majority of human effort has nothing to do with it. Anyway, obviously, that’s my soapbox.
Reuven: No, no, no, no. Let me continue with that a little bit. My 17-year-old she was in a program for the last few summers. It is an amazing program where they teach them technology. They teach a Python program actually, they teach entrepreneurship, it’s half Israeli half Palestinian half girls, half boys. Truly an extraordinary program.
They teach them how to build businesses, and the whole goal is to build a business and learn how to pitch to a VC firm. And I said to her, “What about building bootstrap businesses?” They don’t talk about that at all. So what would education for bootstrap businesses for smaller businesses, they can still be wildly successful look like? How would you train people, kids to do that? Rather than teach them to do PowerPoint presentations and dressing up fancy or t-shirts that they usually wear?
Adam: This is a really great question. This is actually a discussion going on amongst some economists. I would say the view that is winning out but at least it’s the view that I believe and so I’m choosing to say it’s right. So you can think of the way an economy grows as Oh, there’s these small number of massive growth businesses.
Google started someday in the 90s, probably the same day a bunch of pizza places opened and Hallmark card stores or whatever, and it was the one that became massive. You could focus on that as that’s how an economy grows. But some very basic economic thinking, business thinking, business strategy that would not… When your tenured position at a business school, but it’s just solid, reasonable business thinking. If you made every small business person 10% more strategic, we could do the numbers precisely, but I don’t want to overstate that, but you make every small business person a little bit better.
You would see a much bigger impact than three more Google’s or 10 more Google’s or whatever it is. It’s an interesting this idea of business strategy, it’s not an inherent thing. If you go to the Google Ngram, where you can see the use of a term. It basically doesn’t exist before the 70s. It’s a new idea. If you think about economic history before, say 1880, there really is nothing like modern business in any way.
Then there’s this period of rapid growth where, frankly, once you get the engine going, Westinghouse, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, whatever, they’re just growing, growing, growing, there’s not a lot of strategy. It’s not really till the 70s when you start having the very beginning of global trade of computer technology of other things that businesses are starting to say, “Oh, we can’t just make more ivory soap every year, or whatever, DuPont nylons every year, and figure out and then we’re going to just make more money next year. We actually need to think about it.”
It truly is a new idea. You start seeing the birth of all these consulting companies and Business School goes from being an obscure nothing to a serious, exciting energy of commerce. All of that kind of Peters out before it gets to us. It spread, it first started at major US Steel and Procter & Gamble would have a strategy department. Now, everybody talks about strategy at that venture capital level, but I think some basic strategy education throughout the economy.
Then, of course, just the basic stuff like basic accounting. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary basic thinking about risk. Basic thinking about time, time is a big stump. It’s a stumbling block for a lot of people. Small business people, entrepreneurs, freelancers, they don’t know how to value their own time. They don’t know how to properly value an opportunity in the future that could be bigger than what they’re doing now.
There’s a lot of real basic stuff that we could do that would second make any one person a billionaire, but it cumulatively could have a really positive effect.
Meg: That’s awesome. I feel like we could probably do an entire two hours on some of the tips that you’ve got in the book about how to how to thrive in the Passion Economy or in the economy, doing something that you actually like to do for people you like to do it. One of the things maybe that stuck out to me though… Could you talk about maybe some of the steps, you’ve talked about doing only create value that can’t be easily copied and which makes sense, especially since there’s so much competition, why not focus on something that can’t be just easily duplicated.
We have a lot of people, freelancers, hear the word like you try not to be a commodity, and create more value and not to just compete on price and things like that. But do you have based on the interviews you did and the research you’ve done, some steps people can take to create that value that can’t be easily copied that they can charge more for?
Adam: Some friends of mine, who are in the book, Scott Stern, who’s this MIT professor and his buddy, Joshua Gans. They have a book coming out in a few months that I hope they don’t mind me saying this. It’s not quite as much fun to read, but it does have substantive, like, do this, then do this, then do this that my book hints at but doesn’t quite spell out exactly.
But here’s the core steps. We talked about how there’s some period of time, let’s call it your 20s but, less or more depending on your conditions where you’re starting to figure out what’s my thing? What’s my… And your thing is both like the actual thing other people recognize, like, I’m an accountant who specializes in dog grooming or whatever. But it’s an approach, it’s a style, it’s a voice and it can be whatever.
It could be, I’m the super friendly accountant who guides you gently or it could be I’m the jerk tough accountant who doesn’t put up with your crap. There’s this idea that I talked about in the book, and that comes out of a great book called Positioning for Professionals by Tim Williams, that by definition, your positioning, your take, your thing has to be something that isn’t universal. If your thing is, I show up on time, I do the work assigned, and I finish it promptly.
Okay, that’s not bad, but that’s not special. That’s not unique. So by definition, your thing has to be something some people want and other people hate. I remember I had a trainer at a gym and I used to say, “You have to advertise as you’re the meanest, most unpleasant trainer in the world, and you just don’t put up with nonsense because some people want that.” She had her own gym and all her advertising was like, “I’ll help you lose da da.” I was like, “No, you won’t, you’re just going to yell at people all day, and some people want that and you should get those people in.”
So locking in on your thing is really important. The language is what is the value you are creating? How are you intervening in someone else’s life so that their life is better? It could be you make a great sweater, it could be you advise them on their IT systems at that their business, whatever it is, and it has to be real value.
None of the stuff I talked about works for fake value. There are ways to make money as a charlatan, but that’s and I wish you well, but that’s not my focus. So once you know how I’m valuing, how I’m creating value, you then are figuring out alright, how do I capture that value? Those are two very different things, and we often conflate them or we just ignore the second step.
Like, “Oh, I create value because I’m a consultant. Alright, I’m going to look online, okay, consultants charge $68 an hour, I’m going to charge $57 an hour. Or maybe I think I’m great. I’m going to charge $73 an hour.” That’s not the right way because you capturing the value is, in a sense, the most important thing, that’s the thing that you are, that’s going to be the basis of your Passion Economy.
So it’s thinking about, alright, yes… I’m just using accountants because they’re on my mind. So I’m an accountant. I create a unique kind of value. I don’t just do your taxes. I actually get up in your business. I learn how you’re thinking about money, and I help you figure out how to solve this problem of time, and I help you think about time.
Then you think, okay, that is valuable, that’s really valuable and for the right person that’s going to be seriously valuable. But who are those people? Okay, now I need those people because 99% of people are going to be like, “Well, I just need my taxes done. What are you talking about? What time and this you can’t?”
You don’t want to waste your time trying to convince somebody who doesn’t get it to get it. So then it’s, who are those people? And then it’s what is the mechanism? So am I charging per hour? I hope not. I don’t like charging per hour. Am I charging per project? Do I have 30 people and I’m just on retainer to them for the same amount? Or am I partnering with someone else? Am I going to some other accountant and saying, “I’m just going to come in at these moments and you collect the money, I don’t care. You just give me 10% or whatever it is.”
Capturing that, so you’re creating value, you’re capturing value, and then you’re zeroing in on who are the people who most value that thing so that I can have indirect conversation about capturing the value. So it’s not trying to convince them or fool them or whatever, it’s, “Yeah, I’m charging you 30 grand, and I know, other accountants charge you $300. But they just do your taxes, I did this other thing, and it’s brought in $100,000 of value to you.”
It is more complicated than that, but it’s not a lot more complicated than that. Those are the basic steps, what is the unique value I can create no one else can create? How is that value defined and captured? And then how do I have an ongoing process of finding the people who most value that thing? Will comfortably pay the price? Then how do I grow and grow? If I want to grow and grow maybe growth means having fewer clients and doing less work? Growth can mean many things. I feel very long-winded today, so I’m [inaudible].
Reuven: No, we’re enjoying it.
Meg: That’s such an excellent point. Some people want to have it all figured out all at once. But you’ve reiterated it a couple of times that it’s about trying things and experimenting and seeing what doesn’t work and being okay with that, too. If you want to try creating value with one thing, oh, it turns out, this isn’t quite the path I thought, like, Oh, I thought I could get value by doing this for this type of person, not quite, but it might reveal something else. That’s a lesson that I’ve learned personally, in my later part of my career. You have to actually try to do things to get to that point.
Adam: Exactly. Yeah, it takes a long time. It can take a long time, but there’s a bunch of it’s not like it… First of all, it’s not binary. It’s not like one day, I’m not doing it, the next day I am and if I’m not, then I failed. It’s an ongoing process, because the truth is, you have that amazing year, it all came together.
Then there’s some new competitor, there’s some new thing, you yourself. You’ve had a kid, your kid left for college, whatever. Something has shaken it up, and you got to do it all over again, although it does become just integrated into your life. But the great thing is you get to test stuff, you get to try stuff and you pay attention and you learn. That’s what the tech companies are doing the AB testing and that sort of thing.
Some people and I love this, just have the conversation with their clients, they say, “Hey, I just want to talk to you about the value I’m creating. Can we have that conversation? Can we just look at the last year, the last two years? Where would you be if I wasn’t in your life or if the next, you got the kind of standard consultant.”
You do want to hear because it’s not all going to be positive. Hopefully, you’re picking the clients where it’s going to be at least 52% positive but you can try things out. You can say, “I think maybe I could charge 100 grand.” You don’t just suddenly call every client I’m charging you 100 grand, you just say, “All right, the next two potential clients, I’m just going to go for it, and I might lose them. But I’m going to go for it.” You can test.
Reuven: You’ve started a new podcast company. Two questions about that. One is, it’s called Three Uncanny Four, and I have not been able to figure out what that name is from. Maybe I just demonstrated illiteracy. My second perhaps more relevant question is, how are you applying the lessons that you learn from writing this book to your own company? Now that you’re actually in charge and able to set up the company and its culture and standards.
Adam: So the name I really have to come up with a more exciting for various reasons. My founding partner, Laura Mayer, and I really wanted to call it uncanny productions. If any of you have tried to trademark or have a name, it’s very hard. So, we were told, you need some other words and there was a time limit. We’re filing incorporation papers in 20 minutes, you need another name in the next 20 minutes. So we went into a room and that’s what we came up with, so I do have to come to a better story.
So obviously what I found out is all my theories are super easy. I just applied them and everything’s gone great. I do feel like it is an interesting experience writing a book, being a business reporter, looking at business people, writing a book for business people about how they should run their businesses, and then running a business because the book wasn’t out yet, but it had been finished.
Honestly, I will say two things I will say the ideas do feel like they hold up, they really hold up, but the execution is. I intellectually knew this but I didn’t emotionally know this is so hard. It’s hard because people are hard, just they are. Customers are hard. Stuff is hard, yourself. I’ve probably been the biggest barrier.
Because of all the things I just said, it takes a while, it takes time, it takes confidence, and it’s hard. It’s easy on paper and it’s easy on a podcast for me to tell you, “Take big swings, take risks.” But it’s a whole other thing when it’s like, “Huh if three of these risks don’t pay off, my life, other people’s lives could be worse.”
But I would say for me personally, the management of people is the biggest challenge that I’m really working on. I really believe in empowering a team. I have an amazing, amazing team. I just find I’m an inherent micromanager, who has a really hard time letting go. So, that’s my single biggest struggle.
Big Picture. My biggest strategic problem and this is truly unlike those MIT guys, I mentioned this is what they’ll tell you. It turns out the hardest thing about running a business is that you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That is a profoundly true thing. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I have to make major decisions that have an impact on people’s lives and my business today, based on what I think might happen in the future, and that is the challenge.
Reuven: Would you change the book at all, knowing what you know now about the Coronavirus and so forth? Because that was clearly an unexpected event that is affecting our present, the book’s future.
Adam: COVID-19 it’s been awful obviously. I want to be careful in how I word this because I know people have been gotten very sick. I know a few people not well, who died, and I’m dealing with my eight-year-old son who hasn’t seen another child in several months in this, it’s kind of fall in.
But in the book I talked about needing a period of time to self reflect, to take a pause, take a self-assessment, figure out what is and isn’t working either in your business if you have a business, your freelance career, or your job. So, I do hope that at least some people are doing that now and that having this time to do things to learn Python or to look inside.
It feels like something big is changing in how we’re thinking about who we are and how we work in our life. Maybe we all bounce back in a few months or a year when the vaccine comes. But it feels more relevant to me. But of course, I would say that I just wrote a book about it. I’m hosting a podcast that comes out shortly about it. I’m obsessed with it. So of course I would think, whatever happens, Earth was obliterated in a solar storm. Oh, perfect time for the Passion Economy.
Marg: How has that affected your ability to promote the books? I know, book tours are the standard thing that people would do after you release a book. So, obviously, there’s a lot more digital solutions. So we have that option. Now, do you find that you’re shifting in that direction a lot more heavily?
Adam: Yes. Luckily, I did get a good period of promotion before the COVID-19 shutdown. Actually, it was January into February, I spent time in Seattle. I’m now realizing, I was maybe doing things that maybe, but as far as I know, never got COVID-19. So, I did get that which was really… There’s nothing greater than… Actually, Seattle was the highlight. There was this giant theater with like, 800 people.
Actually, that was weird, there was a shooting in downtown Seattle right before and they close the building off so only it was only like three or 400 people but still, that’s a lot of people. There’s nothing like being in a giant room with a bunch of people who read your book and like, it’s thrilling. Everyone, it’s amazing.
But I’m enjoying this I’ve done some book clubs, I’ve done… There’s a real pleasure, you guys are far away I probably wouldn’t have flown to Israel or Canada for this, I’m enjoying it.
Marg: Anything that people should know about the book before? Anything you want to say that people should know before buying the book?
Adam: Well, they should definitely buy the book.
Adam: There’s nothing they need to know before buying. Just buy it, go for it.
Adam: In fact, hardcover, audiobook, I read it. Kindle, you should get all three. We’ve talked a lot about big ideas. I tried to make the book just read like, you’re just kind of meeting some people and they’re interesting people and you’re enjoying their stories and the lessons come along the way. So I want to make clear it’s not just me lecturing at you about how to live your life.
Then I do you have this podcast coming out in mid-June called the Passion Economy, which basically, it’s much like the book I just interviewed people who have lives that are like the Passion Economy, and it’s just more people. So, it’s really fun for me, certainly.
Reuven: Excellent. I’ll just add a short anecdote, which is my wife and kids were in New York last summer, and I wasn’t with them for part of the time. They came back and they said, “We were at this ice cream place. It was totally amazing.” I was like, Oh yeah, great ice cream place.” And then I read your book. I said, “Wait, wait, was that ice cream place called Morgenstern’s.” They said, “How did you know?” I said, “So it turns out you’re not alone in thinking it’s super amazing.” Now I have a place to go to when I go to New York.
Adam: That’s so awesome. That makes me really happy. I’ll tell Nick. Actually, I just was emailing with Nick because he just… there’s this amazing ice cream place that I write about in the book that just opened a big expansion. He did the thing. He spent a fortune. He built his big shop and then COVID-19 so he just started national shipping. So I bought some of his ice creams, I emailed him, he said, “Oh, you’re a third customer. Tell me if it arrives.” He is worried it’ll be melted by the time it gets here. So, Morgenstern’s, two E’s. It’s amazing.
Reuven: Wow, wow. Excellent. So we’re going to switch into picks now. We’ll let you go first as our guest, anything, if you brought something to recommend? It can be frivolous. It can be interesting. It can be business-related. If the answer’s no, you don’t have anything. That’s okay too.
Adam: Sure. The actual thing I’m obsessed with right now, it feels like a weird thing to bring up. It’s Prepper Fantasy fiction. It’s these books about the end of the world.
Meg: I love it, awesome.
Adam: The preppers, who… My politics are not, they’re fairly left-wing. These tend to be written by very right-wing people so there’s a lot of politics in them. But I’m somehow finding it fascinating to read about the end of the world while we’re experiencing at least the pause of the world.
I do want to have something more high-minded than that. But that is my first pass thought, unfortunately, of what I’m actually… It’s like the Netflix queue that you want to watch then you want people to see and then what you actually watch. So Prepper Fantasy fiction.
Reuven: The genres you don’t even know exist, boy. Meg, what do you got for us this week?
Meg: This week, I’m going to also go with a fiction book. I’ve only read one of these series, but it’s Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. It’s like on of so many in the series, kind of a fantasy series where there’s this whole world in it, and it’s just really hilarious, funny. I recommend the audiobook. Just to give something, I think all of us are in front of screens a little bit more these days.
Just to give a break from perhaps the Netflix screens. I recently was listening to that as a fiction book is on Audible just as a break. I really enjoyed it and fantasy is not a genre that I’ve generally been into before. So it was a nice, nice intro into that. I don’t even know if I’m categorizing it, right, but I highly recommend that.
Reuven: Marg, what about you?
Marg: Oh, I thought mine was obscure about but apparently it’s not obscure but out of this.
Marg: Mine it’s a company that makes solar panels, which sounds strange, but I’m doing a van conversion and I just did a lot of research on all my solar panels and everything, on my electrical system. I’m so excited. Ranergy has been a huge help. So I just want to give Ranergy a shout out. They’ve allowed me to move forward with confidence not knowing anything about electrical, so I’m super excited.
Reuven: Wow. So, my pick is I guess the most pedestrian of the bunch. So I have always liked puzzles of various sorts, and I never was that great at them. When I would try to do the New York Times crossword, I’d be like Monday, I did it. Excellent, Tuesday, I can do it Wednesday. Oh, well, there’s always next Monday.
So about a year and a half ago actually got a subscription to York Times crossword and I’ve been doing it just about every day and I actually am now as of this recording, honestly have nine or 10 days, including Friday, including Saturday and boy oh boy is like the biggest high ever. Apparently, the crossword was started, I think they said during World War II to keep people’s minds off of bad things. So if you’re at all into puzzles, A) it’s a fun thing to do and B) I am living proof that you can get better over time and that you won’t always be stuck just feeling good on Mondays.
Adam: That’s awesome. My wife and mom. Well, my wife obviously lives with me, but my mom’s living with us for this COVID-19 and that’s their thing for this. They’re only up to Thursday, so they’ll be very jealous to hear you zoom past them.
Reuven: Give it time, give it time and patience, and your family giving you funny looks.
Reuven: You’re doing that again, I can’t believe it. Excellent, excellent. Adam, thank you so, so much for joining us. This was really great. Meg, Marg as usual. Thanks to all of our listeners, and we’ll be back next time with the Business of Freelancing.
Adam: Thank you, guys.