The Magic Brush

Sent by Jonathan Stark on September 15th, 2019

Have you ever heard of the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me?

If not, here’s the show description:

My Brother, My Brother and Me is an advicecast for the modern era featuring three real-life brothers: Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy. For roughly five-sixths of an hour each week, the brothers McElroy will answer any query sent our way, each fielding questions falling into our respective areas of expertise. We operate like a streamlined, advice-generating machine. It’s both terrifying and humbling to behold.

It’s not obvious from this description, but the show is a laugh riot. It’s my favorite entertainment podcast by a mile. They have a bunch of hilarious recurring segments, one of which is to tackle totally bonkers questions from Yahoo answers.

In MBMBaM 476, they featured one such question that happened to align with the sort of stuff I’m always yammering on about here:

If you work as a house painter AND have a magic brush that expertly paints by itself, how long could you do this gig before you are caught out? Or, could you potentially keep earning money easy for as long as possible, as the paint brush is fast and knows exactly what to do?

The assumptions baked into this question reveal the deeply insidious nature of hourly billing and the labor theory of value. I think it’s safe to say that the question asker has revealed three related (but distinct) biases:

Why do I think the question asker is making these assumptions? Because the question doesn’t make sense without them - e.g., “caught out” at what? Delivering a high quality paint job in a fraction of the time? That’s called RUSH SERVICE and everyone knows that that costs more. Plenty of clients would LOVE if their painter had a magic brush that cranked out a quality job in a fraction of the time. And oh by the way, the magic brush is a huge win for the painter, too (as long as they are not billing on a time and materials basis).

Here’s the thing…

A magic brush probably seems like a silly and hypothetical example, but I speak with tons of folks who make these same three faulty assumptions about their own businesses.

They fail to realize that the value that they deliver to their clients is NOT derived from the amount of time spent or the difficulty of the work. As a result, they tend to focus on hours and never even look for a “magic brush” that gets the job done more quickly.

Remember: The value is in the result delivered, not the labor it takes to deliver the result.

If you are not billing by the hour, it makes loads of sense to find or build a “magic brush” that delivers high quality results in a fraction of the time.

Yours,

—J