October 7, 2010

The Agenda, Part IV: Efficiency Is Overrated

Welcome to Part IV of The Agenda. Here is Part I (Ask Why), here is Part II (The Individual as Hero), and here is Part III (The Need for Contribution).

***

Visiting every country in the world is getting difficult. I’ve almost completely ran out of “easy” countries. These days I spend as much time arranging visas as I do planning the actual trip. It takes time, energy, and money: even with my best travel hacking strategies, I expect the overall cost to increase in the final two years of the project.

The Unconventional Book Tour is also inefficient. When I first asked my publisher about doing a book tour, I was told “No one is going on tour anymore.” I could come to New York if I wanted, but otherwise I was on my own.

That’s when I decided to put together our own book tour to every U.S. state and Canadian province, regardless of whether it was “worth it” in a strict economic sense. It’s been fun to have big groups in major cities…. but this week I’ve also been in Fargo and Sioux Falls. (No offense to the good people of North and South Dakota.) Part of the message of the book tour is that those places are “worth it” too, but it would be hard to argue this on an economic basis.

Someone asked a while back, “Why not do an online book tour?” Well, I do that already—that’s kind of my daily life. An online tour might be efficient, but it isn’t really that exciting. It’s exciting (at least to me) to go city-by-city, not leaving out any state or province. I do interviews with a.m. radio stations that have tiny audiences the same way I do interviews for blogs with 15 readers. Again, it’s not really efficient, but when you’re trying to craft a story, the small steps are just as important as the big ones.

This illustrates the third part of The Agenda: efficiency is overrated. Don’t worry about trying to live the most efficient life or become the most optimal human. Instead, embrace life as a meaningful adventure. Pursue adventure and passion instead of efficiency.

I love projects that illustrate the pursuit of meaningful adventure: Thomas’s One Million Photos, Nate’s walk across America, Robyn’s 10,000 hand-knits, Drew’s volunteering in 48 states, another Nate’s changing the world in 15 minutes a week, and anyone else living a big dream that requires sacrifice and the possibility of failure.

How Do You Find Your Adventure?

If you accept the premise that adventure is superior to efficiency, you may wonder how to find your own adventure. I have two suggestions:

1. First, think about what excites you and what challenges you. Is there something you wanted to do when you were younger, but decided to do something “more practical” instead? If time and money were no object, what would you do tomorrow, next week, and next year? As mentioned in Part II of this series, not everything you do has to make sense to anyone else. Your adventure is your adventure, not someone else’s.

2. Second, learn to embrace change. In the AONC book I wrote about Allan Bacon, a self-described “traditional guy” with a family and regular job. Allan was happy with some aspects of his life, but didn’t feel challenged enough in others. He started with a series of “Life Experiments” where he went to the art museum during his lunch break, took up photography, and gradually began doing more and more new things. He eventually took his family to Paris and started a consulting practice, a process he traced to the original Life Experiments and the desire for change.

In learning to embrace change, we create the possibility of adventure. Part of adventure involves letting go of the attempt to live the most optimal life. Instead, do whatever you can to live the most meaningful life. If more people did this, I think the world would be a better place.

***

This completes Part IV of The Agenda. I just finished up a long run of the Midwest and Great Lakes. Next week, I’ll head back out to the eastern seaboard in Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria. See you again soon!

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Image: BitchCakes

Comment on this article

46 Responses to “The Agenda, Part IV: Efficiency Is Overrated”

  1. “Think about what excites you and what challenges you.”

    More and more I’m finding that this is the way to go. Like many people, I’ve tried to do the “easy” thing in my career and to some extent in my personal life. I’m finding that doing the exciting, scary thing is a lot more fun and much more rewarding in the long run – even I wake up with anxiety attacks in the middle of night sometimes!

  2. Nice reminder of “efficiency is overrated”. We are so programmed to be efficient that this is a tough one to get past.

    Reading about making a “meaningful life” instead makes this much easier. Who would consciously not chose a meaningful life, right?

  3. Just spent a week at my sisters cabin on Benson Lake in Washington State. When they were setting it up people came over and brought useful things. A lot of clocks showed up. In protest my brother in law Dave went through and reset them all to different time zones. People were missing the point of being at the cabin, he said. You shouldn’t care what time it is.

    Efficiency, clock time, is a tyrant, a tool of the machine to get us to march in lock step. Be productive, if you must, be meaningful, be awake; let efficiency go.

  4. Thanks for another excellent post Chris. The projects you mentioned are indeed inspiring.

    “Don’t wait for the opportunity, make the opportunity.”
    ~ Ian MacKaye of Fugazi

  5. You mention visiting all states … I have not noticed a stop in Tulsa, OK?

  6. Check the schedule at unconventionalbooktour.com – I’ll be in Oklahoma City next month.

  7. Loving this series Chris. There’s nothing convenient or comfortable about an adventure. We take on challenging adventures because we know things will come up unexpectedly, problems will arise, things will be different — and that’s exactly the point. I think what draws us to these things, what excites us, is the realm of the unknown. I absolutely love doing new things which is exactly why I don’t become a master at anything – because I’m always seeking to do new and interesting things.

    Call it entrepreneur ADD but I tend to get bored doing the same thing over and over again, and I’ve never been very efficient … but at least now I know I don’t have to be!

  8. Once upon a time I took a trip to Savannah, Georgia with some fellow poets and we missed the turn at Macon because I got mixed up and people listened to me. We had to make our way back to the interstate via various backroads through many small Southern towns.

    One of those towns had a replica of the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty in their town square. We took our picture with the Statue of Liberty replica over our shoulders and one of us put it up on his website with the caption “A wrong turn at Macon took you WHERE?”

    So we didn’t get to Savannah in the most efficient fashion, no. But we did have a fun time getting there. Those are the sorts of things a rich life is about.

  9. Definitely one of my favorite articles from you! This message hits home for me.

  10. Hi Chris – thanks for the kind words. To add on to what you said, the best part of following meaning and “just trying stuff” is that it creates a wonderfully rich life. Just last week I had a free night on a business trip, so I called up an old colleague who lived there and he took me to an authentic local restaurant (I would have never found) and we spent the night talking about his local culture. We happened to be in Taipei, but this could have happened in any city I visit here in the US.

    Congrats on the success of the book and look forward to seeing you in NC!

    Allan

  11. I’m about to meet with a young lady who unexpectely lost a family member this week. Talk about life not always being efficient. One of the main counseling goals for grief, is to attach meaning to the death.

    Thanks for the reminder :)

    Can’t wait for 12/11 when the Unconventional Book Tour stops in Los Angeles…

  12. Yes, Chris… I love the perspective on efficiency. That which one might label “inefficient” or “wasted energy” is simply part of the whole wonderful process of expressing ourselves authentically. How many canvases does a successful artist tear off before she defines her uniqueness? Was it inefficient to spend countless hours and money on her art? The world voice would say, “what’s wrong with you, why don’t study mutual funds and retirement plans”… but the authentic-self knows it is the only way to spend your time. Nobody ever checked off this planet wishing they had learned how to clean their bathroom more efficiently.

  13. Having lived in Sioux Falls– I celebrate you. Friends from Fargo to Duluth, Sioux Falls to LaCrosse really really appreciate just knowing people made the effort to visit the hinterlands. WE ARE people too; intelligent, college educated, passionate people trying to make a difference in our lives and in our communities. WE roll our eyes when we’d hear that “real booktours” (or movie releases or whatever is culturally innovative or cutting edge) only go to NY, Chicago, Atlanta and LA. Bogus. But you with your humble unconventional world tour make me so happy. Even if crowds aren’t huge, you are going because you know that being there means SO much to those who do attend. Even if we are working or busy and can’t attend, trust me we want to be there! I want to be there! I am enjoying following your national tour. Congrats on doing it your way. Perfect time of year to travel. You think like I think — only you’re brave enough to articulate it. Thank you for what you are doing. Bravo!

  14. Great article Chris!
    “… living a big dream that requires sacrifice and the possibility of failure.”
    Love it!

  15. This is easy for me. Passion + saying “yes” = adventure.

    While I consider myself a terrible businessman, I have a full life of adventure because I say “yes” to it. I worry about the logistics, money, permission, and everything else later. In the end, it always works out and my bills are paid.

  16. Dear Chris…

    Your book tour and your quest to visit every country is highly efficient even from an economic point.

    It is efficient because it shows you live by your Unconventional principles. The fact that you do builds your credibility.

    Chris, your best productive asset is the credibility that you have amassed…

    If you go to a city where you meet with only a few of your readers, just imagine that by doing so, you are reinforcing what you are about, and strengthening the relationships you are building with those of us that appreciate your work…

    Your journey has a heart no matter how many of us you meet on the way.

    Keep on playing and making it real!

  17. I like your use of the word ‘adventure.’ I have a friend who believes that adventures only begin when the outlook is uncertain. It encourages me to step outside my comfort zone if they have to be uncertain in order to even begin. I’ve survived them all so far.

    If one only measure one’s success by the efficiency and financial return of activities such as going to the Dakotas one may well be disappointed; sadly, some people have no other way to measure success.

  18. Hey Chris, I really love the way you have decided to ‘live’ instead of merely existing! You are truly a pioneer. We are all so hard-wired not to stray too far from our comfort zone nowadays, that what you are doing with your life is tantamount to Columbus in his day! :) Bon voyage and enjoy ‘living’ your life. When my young fledglings have flown I too hope to start a voyage. But I’m in preparation mode already! :0)

  19. Once again, a timely post. I get so frustrated a lot because I find that I am impatient to get to where I want to get, especially when it comes to creating my life, leaving my job, etc… I want it now and I forget about the journey and lessons along the way. This has been very true as of late in my life and the reminder just reset my brain to a happier state. So thank you. :)

  20. October 7, 2010

    Trixie Rioux

    haaaaaaaaaaa! adventure……letting go the ultimate efficientcy….release…oui!

  21. Chris thank you for the validation that “Efficiency is overrated”. I have been struggling to come to terms and be at ease with that mindset. I’ve always had confidence issues because I am not a master or expert in anything, however I find everything I do challenging and meaningful. I am always pushing myself to connect everything together in my life whether it be music, films, literature and even business. With time a trade/career will find me and it would feel more authentic and fulfilling. I don’t know how you do it Chris, I can’t imagine the endurance, stamina and energy needed to travel as frequent as you do, must be pretty intense. Good luck on all your travels.

  22. Change usually comes along with discomfort…the good thing is that if embraced with a positive mind frame, discomfort leads to growth in many areas of your life and even to self-discovery…so yes!! embrace change, let’s lead our lives taking chances, thinking big and being transcendent to those around us.

    We’re waiting for you in Los Angeles Chris!!

  23. I like that perspective. It is like having both quality and quantity of (in?) living, rather than either. All the best with your book and the tour.

  24. This reminds me of Peter Drucker’s quote,

    “efficiency is doing things right and effectiveness is doing the right things.”

    We are all good at getting things done, but how often do we stop to ask if we are doing the important things?

  25. October 7, 2010

    Jenny Miller

    Chris, great post! Thanks for the great links, too. Another good one my kids and I enjoy is the One Small Change Project at : 1smallchangeblog.blogspot.com. And hoping all is well for you on your travels.

  26. Great timing – I’ve been contemplating whether I should go back to Japan when my book is coming out. I was wondering if I can make it worthwhile by going there, but I was mainly thinking that from money standpoint. This post gave me something else to think about.

  27. This article remembers me a special line:

    “Every one who has a reason to live will resist any how”

    Viktor Frankl

    Thanks for reminding us those dreams we have dreamt.

    ..

    Wish the book tour be coming to Mexico!!!

  28. Kudos to you, Chris, for NOT doing the ‘online tour.’ I know that many of your readers are finding great benefit and inspiration in getting to meet and talk to you in-person!

  29. Living for adventure… a passion driven life… LOVE IT… that’s exactly right and the very BEST way to live. SO happy to have had parents who instilled this in me from the time I could walk and modeled it throughout my life… they’re STILL modeling it in their sixties! If there is ONE lesson I hope my kids take away from their time on the path with us it is this one. Keep preachin’ brother!

  30. Hey Chris! I completely agree with your ideas on doing something meaningful over something optimal. The ‘optimal’ choice usually results in nothing spectacular or memorable being done. I’m definitely not down with that!

    Really great post as usual, and thanks so much for linking to the walk site.

  31. Just love the description ‘life experiments’ and your phrase ‘the pursuit of meaningful adventure’. This has been my entire approach to life and yet until now, I didn’t have such great language to describe it.

  32. “Pursue adventure and passion instead of efficiency.” LOVE this line. Until 3 years ago, I lived my life focused on what was right, strategic, and pragmatic. I was the most responsible person you’ve ever met. So responsible that I completely burned out. My ‘care box’ was empty…I didn’t care about anything anymore. Now that I’ve re-launched my life, I’m pursuing adventure and passion instead. Among many other things, my family and I started a children’s home in southern India for 30 kids! Life is GREAT!

  33. Great thoughts! Efficiency is indeed overrated. In many cases, efficiency only leads to more efficiency and becomes a value of its own. It’s merely a means, not an end. It’s important for me to remember as I am the process of trying to “efficiently” learn a new language.

    Thanks again!

  34. In a world of cubicles and checklists, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters in a given day. We do this in countless places everyday but many struggle with this choice when it comes to dealing with work. More isn’t better, it’s just more. Thanks Chris!

  35. So true. If you are just trying to be efficient you are going to miss out on so much of what life has to offer.

    I think people cast aside their adventures for an efficient type of life too often; thanks for writing posts like this and making us remember.

  36. Thanks a lot from an efficient person. This post is just what I needed to hear/read these days! Go on!

  37. “Don’t worry about trying to live the most efficient life or become the most optimal human. Instead, embrace life as a meaningful adventure. Pursue adventure and passion instead of efficiency. “— yup this resonates with me. several years ago, I quit a well paid job as a commodities reporter to pursue my dream to travel and become a travel journalist. The job paid well, but i hated it. I was crying all the time. A lot of people were shocked as I gave up what is supposed to be a good job, but this is not what I wanted. So I quit, did some freelancing, managed to get another full time gig in the wires, while still pursuing my dream (via travel blogging) and in the end just enjoying this wonderful adventure called life!

  38. I was introduced to you and your AONC by Clint Watson at Fine Art Studio Online, my website host. I look forward to exploring the art of non conformity and hopefully discovering a way to make this crazy life fruitful, joyful, beneficial to my family and others.

  39. “In learning to embrace change, we create the possibility of adventure.”

    This is such an extraordinary and powerful line. Chris, I just finished you book and I have to tell you that I have never been so on fire to live a non-conformed life as I am right now. I’ve always gone against the grain and done things my way but your book and insights on this blog have taken me to an unstoppable level.

    Legacy Work <<=== Those are the 2 words in the book that had the biggest impact for me.

    Thank you for what you do and I'll see you at the World Domination Summit.

  40. Excellent post again, Chris.
    Optimizing vs. adventuring. Yes. It is a conundrum to be sure. I think we should be grateful for whatever optimization we can integrate into our adventures–that is, get the optimum out of each and every experience, without having to plan each and every detail. I think as part of my optimization process I will go back and read through parts 1-3 of this fine series again!
    Best wishes, Chris.

    Peter

  41. I have learned that I am no conformist when I began to realize that I never really care about what people think about me. My life journey was a long one and my happiness started to materialize when I started to put myself before others.

  42. What’s happening is that you’re running against the Pareto principle. The largest effort/return is spent in the beginning, getting something off the ground, and at the end, getting 100% there.

    Efficiency is not overrated. It’s just not found trying to do everything, nor is it found doing nothing. It is somewhere in the middle.

    If you seek efficiency you get the most return per effort. Just distribute the effort so the sum total of the return is the highest.

    In your example, you have to weigh whether getting the very last stamp in your passport for the last country on your list is worth the effort which could otherwise have gone to revisiting 20 or however many countries again.

  43. Great article. Thanks. I’m starting to think that a devotion to efficiency simply helps you to do more of the same stuff you are already doing. While it’s worth considering if you are being efficient in what you are doing, it’s probably more important to ask if what you are doing is worthwhile in the first place.

  44. I love this: EFFICIENCY IS OVERRATED. I think I may pin it up on my bulletin board.

    In response to your question, “how do you find adventure?”, I really dislike walking around town with a map in my hand. So before I go somewhere, I look at a google map and I identify where it is generally speaking. And, off I go. I think of it as tuning my inner compass. It drives some people (like my bf) crazy… and I get lost sometimes, but then I’m forced to talk to people and ask for directions. The good thing is, I’m really good at navigating around in new cities because I’m comfortable feeling a little bit lost.

  45. Great post. I struggle with getting my business all set up to make money.
    am problem with transfering my domain from one host to the other. I may just have to use a different domain name. I the mean time I am learning and taking notes for articles.

    My three boys may get the business operating if I don’t live long enough, but I will have lots of content for them. I love this part of the business. I am not a techie yet, but getting closer.

    I am enjoying the 365 day EBK.

  46. Back in September, I applied for an arts grant. Last week, I decided that, if I win that grant, I’m going to put in my notice at work and concentrate on my (strugglin) art business full time for as long as the grant will carry me (came out to about 10 months.) I won’t know until November whether or not I won, but for me, making this decision was a HUGE step! (OMG! No day job? What’ll we do?)

    In that time, I’ll also be applying for jobs better suited to me than the current one, just in case, but most of my effort will go into my art, photography, and writing. I have a backlog of poetry submissions I want to make, contests I want to enter, and organizations I want to join.

    *fingers crossed*

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