The Cult of Don’t

I saw this posted about a year ago and it’s bothered me ever since: The Cult of Done Manifesto, by Bre Pettis and Kio Stark.

The authors offer some advice for ‘getting things done’, like: “Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.” and “Failure counts as done.”

Read the whole list, if you have to, but be forewarned it’s more a recipe for purposeless wheel-spinning than actually getting things done. The authors neglect some very important points. For example, some things take longer than a week to get done. Imagine if after 6-and-half days Leslie Groves, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller and everyone else involved in the Manhattan Project said, “You know, guys, this nuclear bomb project is tough. Let’s abandon it. Failure counts as done.”

Some things take longer than a week just to get started, and finish faster by intentionally building in a ‘fermentation’ period at the beginning. Some ideas are just way too far ahead of their time to get done now.

For some very important things, by necessity, there is no ‘done’. Wastewater treatment engineers are never done. Neither are farmers nor police nor doctors nor mothers.

I won’t say that Pettis and Stark’s advice is all bad. I particularly like the second point – “Accept that everything is a draft” – a tenet that has been drilled into the head of every engineer since the dawn of time.

But in general I’d say beware of anyone who has published a ‘manifesto’. These people tend to take point #11 – “Destruction is a variant of done” – a little too close to heart.

The fact is, cults are a means for small and weak-minded people to feel like they are part of something important. It’s fine to read fluff like The Cult of Done Manifesto once, but in the end the only rule to know about joining a cult is simple: Don’t.


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