How law of diminishing returns can apply to your working life

The macho and the martyr are out of fashion: according to a new book, it is actually possible to be successful while leading a balanced, happy life

Jordan Milne

Jordan Milne


In the 1987 movie Wall Street , ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko abruptly leaves the table of a New York restaurant with the immortal line, “lunch is for wimps”.

According to the authors of a new book, Winning Without Losing , Gekko’s approach to life and work is not only distasteful, it is actually counterproductive.

Successful balance
The macho and the martyr have both gone out of fashion, say Jordan Milne and Martin Bjergegaard, whose book promises 66 strategies for building a successful business while leading a balanced, happy life.

Bjergegaard’s experience of working 15-hour days at McKinsey consulting firm, which turned him into a “grumpy boy”, as he puts it, proved part of the inspiration for the book.

He left to become a co-founder of Rainmaking, which has built a portfolio of eight start-ups with $50 million (€38 million) in revenue between them, 100 employees and offices in London, Copenhagen and Munich.

Milne is a co-founder of art marketplace Zatista. com and, among other things, is a member of the Sandbox Network, a global community of under-30s achievers.

The pair met in Copenhagen in 2009 and found they shared a common interest in exploring how successful entrepreneurs could lead happy, balanced lives.

Entrepreneurs’ views
Having collaborated successfully on other projects, they decided to seek out the views of successful entrepreneurs who fitted this profile and came up with 25 subjects as a research base for this book.

These range from NR Narayana Murthy, the Indian billionaire and founder of technology company Infosys; Jake Nickell, co-founder of Threadless. com, a leading US e-commerce company; and Sophie Vandebroek, described as an “intrepreneur” in her role as chief technology officer of Xerox.

Taking holidays, getting fresh air whenever possible, and having short working days are all advocated.

Nickell, who founded his multimillion- dollar company on a budget of less than $1,000, is a perfect example of someone who has got the balance right, including where to locate his business, Milne notes.

He works fewer than eight hours a day and enjoys an active outdoor lifestyle with his wife and young daughter in Boulder, Colorado. “Jake gets his inspiration by taking two baths a day. If you call his office in the late afternoon you might find him out carving perfect turns in fresh powder down the mountainside on his snowboard. Family is really important to him so he has created a lifestyle for himself where he can easily cater to it.”

Challenging views
The book challenges traditional views on hard work and sacrifice.

Many beliefs are debunked, including: the harder you work, the more money you will make; pushing yourself is necessary; holidays are for the uncommitted; and personal and family relationships have to come second to work, especially for entrepreneurs.

Milne suggests that the economic theory of the law of diminishing returns applies to business. While entrepreneurs typically enjoy their work and have much in common with athletes and artists, sporting and creative types are aware of the dangers of burnout.

There is a lot of emphasis in the book on achieving balance, which involves having positive relationships with other people, being good at something, having financial freedom, ensuring good physical and emotional health, and contributing positively to some greater purpose.

“Achieving this is a mindset and it involves discipline. You have to really want it and be proactive to put this balanced lifestyle in place,” Milne advises.

While technology is an enabler, giving entrepreneurs greater time flexibility and choices in terms of where they work, Milne sees it as a double-edged sword.

“The successful entrepreneurs we spoke to knew where to draw the line in terms of always being available via their devices. You need to protect your down time. If you are productive, people will understand this and will come round to your way of working.”

Practical issues
The book offers a lot more than new-age thinking about work-life balance; it tackles practical issues such as raising finance. The advice here is to expect fundraising to take six months, and to look for 18 months’ worth of working capital to allow for a period of undisturbed work before having to worry about fundraising again.

You should dedicate one of the founders to work on the fundraising initiative full-time, not skimp on presentation materials project and reach widely. Investors are just as unpredictable as the rest of us so don’t try to guess who will back your project.

Milne also advises developing a nose for time-wasters who just want a free dinner and to hear about exciting new ventures.

Failure is also addressed. TechStars co-founder David Cohen, who has helped a host of start-ups, advises entrepreneurs to consider quitting if they can’t stop thinking about what else they might be doing with their time and resources instead, or if they have lost their passion and are constantly distracted.

Often it’s the right thing to do and it leads to other opportunities that might provide success and happiness.

Winning Without Losing by Martin Bjergegaard and Jordan Milne is published by Profile Books, €16.99