That Seems Wrong

A explanation of why Karl Marx would have discouraged you from hourly billing

Neil Gaiman is one of those writers who win all the awards – Hugo, Nebula, Newbury, and more. So he’s written a lot of books. But if you’re like me and his name rings a bell, it’s because he wrote one of the first massively popular graphic novels, a series called The Sandman. Gaiman offers us a framework for how to benefit from criticism:

Remember: when someone tells you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.

When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong – and how to fix – they are almost always wrong.

This truth is why a good business consultant will quickly identify problems – yet be slow to offer unilateral solutions. It’s always why client-led solutions work best.

Neil Gaiman isn’t the writer I quoted yesterday, but his framework applies to the book I quoted: The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels.

(Congratulations if you guessed right!!)

Twenty-nine year old Karl Marx understood what was wrong with industrial capitalism: wage-labor tries to turn human beings into machine parts, with repulsive results. He was right about what was wrong.

But his and Frederick Engels’ fixes were (with a few notable exceptions) absurd to the point of scandalous (eg. abolishing families). Maybe Marx would have been appalled by the murder-state that was Soviet Russia, but whether he realized it or not, his policies required totalitarianism.

One takeaway here is that any criticism has a diamond-in-the-rough value; you have to chip away the “how to fix” parts but listen for the “this seems wrong parts”.

Here’s the more specific takeaway that even Karl Marx would agree with: there are many ways to monetize the value of your expertise, but billing by the hour isn’t one of them. It just seems wrong to me.

My best,