Part II: “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck.” by Mark Manson

Merkle’s unofficial book club presents: 5 books to improve yourself - and your business - during Corona

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” (Simon Sinek) Most people at Merkle (including me), started to work here because they felt inspired by their potential future colleagues during the recruitment process. I realized this once more when, very naturally, an unofficial Merkle book club started to form around a year ago. We would exchange books that we had read and loved, that made us wonder or grow or want to talk about with colleagues.

For most of us, the Corona crisis comes with some extra time: no more commuting to work, for some less or even no work at all; no big trips or activities are possible. On the other hand, there is plenty to worry about, when given time with oneself alone. Insecurities about your own health and that of loved ones, but also financial issues are faced by most of us.

I’d like to encourage you to worry less and read more. These 5 book recommendations will not only give you a way to fill your time, but also motivate and possibly inspire you! Their lessons are suited for both personal growth or for business  improvement - independent of your role, status, or sector. To get you started, I will share my own experience from both personal and professional perspectives. Let’s go!

“The subtle art of not giving a f*ck.” by Mark Manson

buch 3

I am a person who is very fond of language in general, so I try to watch which words I use. However, much like I believe you shouldn’t punch people in the face yet punching sandbags every now and again feels liberating, I also believe that as long as you don’t directly insult anyone, harsh words can be of great relief, too. Make sense? I must have been in a particular mood when I bought this bestselling book at a Canadian airport before my flight back home. The back of it reads: “[..] a superstar blogger shows us that the key to being stronger, happier people is to handle adversity better and stop trying to be ‘positive’ all the time.” Myself being someone who is often perceived as “positive all the time”, this somehow struck a nerve. I started reading the first pages with a big grin on my face, and basically couldn’t put it down until I landed back in Frankfurt. The language is blunt and pithy, just as Germans like it. And Manson is very clever in the way that he lures you in with the promise of pure sarcasm, only to start a conversation about values. Because let me tell you what this book is actually about:

The fact that caring about too much is bad for your mental health. The fact that, if you want to be taken seriously and reach success, you need boundaries which dictate what you actually care about.

How my personal experience is connected to reading “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck”

One of the phrases I underlined while reading this book was “Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience.”. Let that sink in for a second. We are so used to constantly being bombarded with how things could be better and what solutions there are to become a permanently happy person that we completely lost touch with this one truth: it’s OK for things to suck sometimes. I mentioned that I have the reputation of being a generally positive person. So when I am not positive and happy, people notice. About a year ago we had a wave of employees leaving Merkle for various reasons. A certain turnover is perfectly normal for an agency, and these days probably for any company. I know that. Yet, on a personal level, it deeply affects me to know that I won’t be seeing people anymore every day like I used to. So when we had our company’s summer celebration last year (such mass gatherings seem unimaginable at the moment), something interesting happened later at night: the group I was standing with started talking about one of my colleague’s new role and the reasons for his ambitions to develop new skills somewhere else. And all of a sudden, I started crying. Remember - this was not only a work event, but a summer celebration. So my reaction could seem somewhat misplaced. Luckily Merkle consists of very thoughtful, passionate people, so I was immediately taken care of with hugs and verbal consolations. We went on to leave the bar, and I was still a little down from my episode. So when one of my colleagues asked me: “What can I do to make you feel better?”, I replied: “Just let me be sad. I need this.”. And then he let me be sad and I had some port wine while he had gin and after a little while - we made jokes. Because you know what? It’s OK for things to suck sometimes. This is part of life. And if our ambition is to be happy and positive all the time, we will eventually destroy our mental health. So let yourself be sad, if you need it. And then, get back up early in the morning, because chances are: the next day is not going to suck quite so badly.

How your business can improve from you reading “The subtle art of not giving a f*uck”

If you are a decision-maker in your business (so in a 100% of the cases, if you take your employership seriously), your focus on what you care about has a direct impact on your working results. I’ll give you an example from the digital world:

Part of our daily business at Merkle is the conceptualization and programming of new websites. Usually, the last couple of days before a launch are dedicated  to bug-fixing (the evening-out of errors most visible to the end user). A “blocker” bug in this case means the launch is “blocked” by this error - the website can absolutely not go live without this issue being fixed. The determination of what is a blocker and what is not usually lies with our client, however, we as the digital experts give advice. This can be very tough when a launch is just about to happen, because pressures are high. I remember being part of a team where our main counterpart on the client side was very stressed around one week before a launch, and after doing a few tests, pretty much over night he found dozens of blocker issues. In my opinion, some of the “blocker” bugs were actually very special edge cases that would probably have gone unnoticed by most visitors if not being fixed right away. However, we did not manage to convince our client to deprioritize the tickets. So through night shifts and weekend hours, we achieved to resolve all issues. But when the invoice came at the end of the month, the client gasped: it was, of course, much higher than he had anticipated in his initial project planning. Not knowing what he - and his customers! - really cared about, what really mattered to his business, came at a high cost. And to be honest: we probably should have done a better job at explaining the whole picture, insisting on full focus and taking the pressure away that he surely felt coming from internal stakeholders as well. It’s fair to say that not focussing on your core values and priorities always comes at a high cost in your business. Whether it’s a product or a service you're providing - you can’t please everyone and fulfill all wishes at the same time. But as long as you stay focused on the core message you promised your customers, the right ones will stick and stay satisfied. In times like these it has become even more essential to limit our resources and thus strengthen our focus. Now is the time to go back to your mission statement and reflect on it. What is the reason for your company’s existence? What is its driver, its “why”? The customers who give the same f*ck about your why will stick around, even during and after the Corona pandemic.