Idea in a nutshell: by giving ourselves and our teams encouragement to serve multiple organizations, we can flourish while helping our primary employers thrive. This is the first post in a three part series.
In computer programming, threads enable commands to operate, often in parallel. A multithreaded system, assuming capacity, is both more efficient and more effective. It’s not surprising then, that a large number of engineers in the software space take a multithreaded approach to their careers.
These developers often have a day job. But at night, they do contract programming for friends and former colleagues. And on the weekends, they build their own apps and products. They are artists, as Seth Godin has honed the term, working for a variety of reasons, constantly learning, creating and morphing.
One of my favorite CTOs argued circa 2009 that the world of work had changed and that engineers were some of the first to get it. They saw that the monolithic corporate structures of the past were no longer optimal. They also embraced the idea that any single working organization may not fulfill all of our vast creative potential.
Most of us are wildly multithreaded beings. We are children, friends, partners, parents, and volunteers; we play, listen, travel, pray, grieve and serve. Life is a rich tapestry of interwoven and integrated experiences.
Yet, when it comes to our work, many organizations and managers expect their employees to “give their all” to a singular company. They may look the other way at engineers who program for multiple causes and reasons (while secretly wishing the engineers would only code for them). But talk about their sales folks, product managers and accountants? Man, they had better grind out every last erg of energy for the company that pays, trains and promotes them!
What if it didn’t need to be this way? What if there was a different approach to work that actually enabled people to operate more efficiently and effectively? That gave them a greater sense of autonomy? That honed in on their need for purpose? That encouraged them to serve and learn, drawing in experiences that helped them operate as their most authentic selves?
What would a work environment like this look like? And could it actually function?
From personal experience, from anecdotal perspectives and from industry data, there seems to be a case to be made here. Lately, I have come to believe that the concept of multithreaded work (which I define as serving multiple organizations in parallel) is both beneficial and will become much more common in the decades ahead.
My own journey is one that significantly changed late in 2013. After 20 years of a singular career trajectory with wonderful teams, products and outcomes, I experienced a personal setback that shook me enough to cause me to reassess things. After several months of deep pondering, I wondered if I might be able to serve the world in 2014 with more impact, while also flourishing more in all regards, by multithreading my work.
For me, multithreading became a quest to help other people and companies grow. As a framework, I began to consult, advise, mentor and invest. I had no idea what the year would hold but I quickly found myself blessed with incredible clients and the opportunity to help a small portfolio of organizations.
I no longer managed people. So my questions, stories and recommendations came from a new place of depth and truth – and I constantly sought to let go of old voices (ego, fear, anxiety, etc.). My quest was to open my heart and to be fully present for those whom I might be able to help.
While multithreading, I’ve worked incredibly hard this year. I no longer take time off in the traditional sense as every day there is someone to serve. Work and life have become more deeply integrated as I don’t go to a separate office each day. In many ways, I work always and everywhere. I take the people and companies I serve very seriously and constantly appreciate the opportunity they've empowered me with.
And you know what? I’ve loved this model. Have I continued to make many mistakes? Absolutely. Do I still sometimes wake up at night with inner doubts around my approach and actions? More often than I’d like.
But am I fundamentally learning and experiencing profound moments of connectedness with my clients and their teams? Completely! And am I arguably a better father, son, husband and friend in 2014 versus 2013 and earlier? I believe that I am. And most days my wonderful wife agrees.
I don't think I'm alone in my multithreaded journey. It's easy to spot multithreading in public powerhouses like Warren Buffet, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. But there's a lot more happening than what we read about in the mainstream press. And anecdotally, others tell me that they feel more enriched and productive as they multithread their work.
- A former three-time entrepreneur now spreads his time across six organizations (three boards and three non-profits, one of which he started). He literally glows when I see him.
- A “reformed lawyer” and former venture capitalist now serves as an “angel sherpa,” investing a small amount into a handful of companies each year and deeply working to help the ~12 companies in his portfolio. He claims that he’s spending more hours than ever on his business but that it’s “way too fun” to call it work.
- A CTO with a team of 300+ engineers is encouraged to spend 20-40% of his time outside of the office and organization, meeting with startups, mentoring entrepreneurs and exchanging ideas. In my eyes, he’s a better boss, executive, person and technologist because of this work. He also laughs a lot more.
- A once high-flying media and Google executive and his corporate lawyer spouse shifted gears. They now run two urban doggy day care centers while teaching at a major university, advising companies and working on their passions (which, for the x-Googler, consists of changing the world of face-to-face gaming).
But please don’t think that multithreading is only a senior executive’s game. Here’s why:
- A shunned entrepreneur and in-debt young MBA student transformed his failure into a calling around rejection. He now serves people and companies as a speaker and consultant, has a book deal, has given TED and other talks, and has been viewed more than 5M times on YouTube.
- An aspirational recent college student, upon getting married, quit his job and began an adventure with his new wife. Renting an RV and hitting the road, he is working 50 minimum wage jobs in 50 States in ~one year to help bring awareness to the economic realities of the US. His raw video footage strikes significant emotional chords and there's talk of a movie.
- A current college student studying entrepreneurship is consulting to one company, interning at another company and building his own product, all while welcoming his first child into the world.
While pouring themselves in to work (as measured by intensity and time), all seven of my anecdotal examples report a profound sense of happiness with their lives. And in operating with zest, vigor and cross-service mindsets, they're all experiencing significant success and significance as they uniquely measure both.
We'd love to hear your perspectives, feedback and/or challenges, either via a comment below or by contacting us directly. Thank you!