A designer who writes. Or a writer who designs? You can comfortably attribute both to Paul Jarvis and you would still be spot on. There are many more hats that he wears and that is what prompted us at BrandKnew(published by ISD Global) to reach out to him and understand what keeps him going. As a tech designer and internet consultant, he has spent years working with professional athletes like Warren Sapp, Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal with their online presence, and with large companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz and Warner Music. BrandKnew caught up with him in this freewheeling interview where he shares a lot including his new book ‘ Company of One ‘.
BK: Could you tell us about your growing up years?
Paul: I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto. I had plans to go to university and get a computer science degree, but dropped out after 1 year to take a job as a graphic designer.
BK: Do you want to share some of your childhood dreams and aspirations?
Paul: I never dreamed of becoming a writer or an entrepreneur, both of those things just happened by accident.
BK: You wear multiple hats: writer, designer, podcaster, online course teacher, software creator etc- which hat do you wear best?
Paul: Writer. That seems to be my main job, since every other hat I wear involves writing. I write for designs I do, I write for podcasts I host, I write courses and software. It all involves a lot of writing, which I really enjoy.
BK: The core narrative that you are propagating seems to be ‘ Small is the new Big ‘ or ‘ Better is the new Bigger ‘ – would you want to elaborate on that?
Paul: I think in business the predominant narrative is that growth is always good. But I think that needs to be challenged, since not all growth is good and not all growth is necessary. Edward Abbey said it best in 1978: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
Businesses no longer have to scale to succeed. Sure, there was a century where the ideal engine for business was growth and scale. It just doesn’t make sense any longer. Instead, our businesses can grow to a point and size that makes sense, and then we can shift our focus to optimising for enough.
MIT Sloan School of Management released a study, The End of Scale, showing that companies are staying smaller and “unscaling”, as the main way to gain traction and market dominance. Unscaling meaning that companies can do better with less by providing custom products and solutions, building on demand, and offering heavy customisations.
By staying small and lean – by renting or using scale on demand, by outsourcing tasks and parts of the supply chain we don’t want to focus on – companies can adapt and pivot as needed without leaving a huge trail of workforce or equipment that no longer serves its purpose in its wake.
BK: In an era where scale is worshipped, your mantra is about un scaling- how has it been received? Pl take us through some examples if you will
Paul: A study conducted by the Startup Genome Project, which analysed more than 3,200 high-growth tech startups, found that 74 percent of those businesses failed, not because of competition or bad business plans, but because they scaled up too quickly. Growth, as a primary focus, is not only a bad business strategy, but an entirely harmful one. In failing—as defined in the study—these high-growth startups had massive layoffs, closed shop completely, or sold off their business for pennies on the dollar. Putting growth over profit as a strategy was their downfall.
When the Kauffman Foundation and Inc. magazine did a follow-up study on a list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies five to eight years later, they found that more than two-thirds of them were out of business, had undergone massive layoffs, or had been sold below their market value, supporting the findings of the Startup Genome Project. These companies weren’t able to become self-sustaining because they spent and grew based on where they thought their revenue would hit—or they grew based on venture capital injections of funds, not on actual revenue.
BK: Your first book was an e-Book ‘ Everything I Know ‘- what made you get into writing?
Paul: I started by writing a newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches. It became popular (over 35k subscribers), so I figured if people enjoy my writing, they may enjoy books I could write. So I started writing books. My first book was actually a book called “Eat Awesome”, Everything I Know, was my 3rd book.
BK: What was the big motivation behind writing ‘ Company of One ‘? What is the audience reaction so far been?
Paul: People are enjoying it so far, as it’s giving them the confidence to challenge “bigger is always better”. I wrote the book because I wanted people to know that they weren’t alone if they wanted to find “enough” instead of “more”.
BK: Greg McKeown wrote ‘ Essentialism ‘- the disciplined pursuit of less but better- are you both on the same page?
Paul: Agreed. “Less, but better” is actually a quote and one of ten principles from Dieter Rams, which I feel guides both Greg and myself.
BK: Would you consider it an advantage to be a journalist/writer in the sense that it builds up an innate ability to be curious, understand an audience and create narratives that interests, captivates, engages and influences? Apart from the ability to see emerging trends?
Paul: Yes. All my writing is guided by how I feel, not according to trends. My audience enjoys that.
BK: In the work you did for the likes of Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, Warner Music etc, could you share what project excited you most?
Paul: I’m a huge fan of cars and racing, so the MB project was definitely exciting, even though it was designing an interface for an internal tool they used, and had nothing to do with cars.
BK: Celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Ariana Huffington seem to be fans of your work- what would be your advice to ‘ solopreneurs ‘ to create their own fan base?
Paul: Write pieces that people will want to share.
BK: In the corporate space that you now straddle as a consultant, what are the glaring pain areas that you see and what you attribute those to?
Paul: I haven’t done consulting work for 5-6 years, so I don’t have an answer here.
BK: What prompted you to launch your online courses ‘ Chimp Essentials ‘ and ‘ Creative Class ‘?
Paul: I was getting a lot of email from people wanting to know what I knew on those topics. Basically, my audience was asking me to create content to help them learn what I knew on those subjects.
BK: Which are some the books that have inspired you in your career thus far and which are the ones that you look forward to reading?
Paul: Deep Work, Cal Newport
No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein
Lost and Founder, Rand Fishkin
10% Happier, Dan Harris
The Punch Escrow, Tal Klein
The Year of Less, Cait Flanders
I look forward to reading Blake Crouch’s new book Recursion.
BK: What’s the story with all the tattoos?
Paul: I like tattoos 🙂 There’s no story, I just enjoy them, similar to how I enjoy the artwork I have hung in my house.
BK: What makes Paul Jarvis go ‘ wow, another day at work ‘?
Paul: Work is just work. When I get up, it doesn’t matter how much I enjoy it or how motivated I am, it’s what pays the bills, so I do it. I obviously love what I do, but I also don’t put any more weight or preciousness on it than that—it pays the bills, and that’s motivating enough for me.
BK: What does Paul Jarvis do in his spare time?
Paul: I enjoy being outdoors, so I like to surf, bike, hike, kayak and simply be in nature.
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