Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Project Debt

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the technical and project debts we often run into and why it is important that we are aware of them.

Many elements of capitalism are based on the idea of debt. If we can buy an asset that turns into revenue or other assets, we may consider getting into debt to capitalize on the asset’s value. Over time, we pay back the debt because we make enough profit that the asset pays for itself.

The very nature of capitalism has always been about building an asset that lets us have more leverage and thus make more money. So, of course, in addition to the debt of acquiring machines, there are other forms of debt. But as we enter a post-industrial age, we need to ask ourselves whether we are getting into the right debt for the right opportunities.

The first one is this idea of technical debt. Technical debt comes in the form of maintaining and upkeeping old software. Technical debt is not just the maintenance we need to do to keep our old systems running. It is the fact that we cannot reach for higher capability or productivity because our old systems will not support it. Technical debt also often overlaps with project debt. It is tough to change the game once we get a cohort of people using the old system.

Intelligent leaders of technical teams often need to declare software obsolete, but there is also this idea of personal technical debt. We have accumulated many technologies and systems in our life that require maintenance. As knowledge workers, we need to be aware of such debt, so it will not eat away our productivity or hinder our productivity.

We also have this idea of project debt. We incur project debt when simply adding resources to the project does not speed things up. Sometimes we add enough resources to a project. As a result, the project might go slower or come to a standstill. In addition, when we add resources to a project, the need to coordinate those resources also arises. The costs of that coordination also contribute to the project debt.

One way to combat project debt is to leverage the technologies at our disposal to amplify everyone’s effectiveness. If we can figure out how to add more people to the project but, at the same time, does not increase the coordination costs, we might have a shot. The magic of dealing with project debt is to figure out how to expand the project participants without increasing the coordination structure and time.

We need to realize that everyone gets 168 hours a week, and that is all we get. Burning the candle at both ends creates a debt that carries health ramifications. An alternative is to realize we need to be much better at saying no because saying yes means inviting debt.

To consider taking on project debt, we also need to have productivity tools that can lead to freedom in other areas. Even better, the productivity tools should lead us to other higher possibilities, which is the essence of the work we have chosen to do in the first place.

“Be careful who you owe because who you owe decides who you will become.”