There’s a video of Steve Jobs speaking to Apple employees in the mid-nineties. You’ve watched it a million times. I’m sure you noticed that he claims employees were happy about their projects being canceled. Completely leveled. Yet they were ecstatic—how does that make sense? How could they be jumping with energy, excited about the direction of the company when their work was rendered null and void?*
The answer is direction. If you throw a ball, it has a lot of energy moving through the air, but for it to move through three-dimensional space, it also has to have direction. It is much the same with work. If you’re focused on outputs, it may feel like you’re moving, but you’re not. When you realize how useless the action is (or it’s made null and void by a manager), you’ll quickly become depressed at your wasted time. But if you’re given direction, all of a sudden, the energy you exert is purposeful.
As a manager, you should make your vision known so work never feels useless. As an employee, you should recognize when you don’t have direction and aim to find it as quickly as possible. Don’t let that sap your energy—see a new initiative and attack it with full force. You can gain power by giving yourself direction. In fact, this is your responsibility. Lead yourself.
*It should be noted that at the time of writing these words, I was working my first job in a tech startup. That experience influenced a lot of my writing in this book, as I wrote a fair bit about management.