You are not a Robot

Thankfully, the Hackers/Founders community is engaged in relentless hacking, disrupting, founding, building, fundraising; instead of relentless terminating.

Summer is coming to a close, which means that popcorn movie season is ending. We had our obligatory Marvel movie (Ant-Man), kid’s movie (Minions) and sci-fi flick (Terminator Genisys). It’s that last movie which inspired some reflection in this non-metal noggin of mine.

For those of you who don’t know (perhaps you have been living under a rock), terminators are relentless killing machines from the future. These futuristic cyborgs time-travel to the past, because, in the future, they are defeated by some guy who is born in the past. Don’t think too hard about it.

Thankfully, the Hackers/Founders community is engaged in relentless hacking, disrupting, founding, building, fundraising and doing whatever it takes, instead of relentless terminating. Well done, Team H/F! Just don’t forget that you’re not a T800 Series cybernetic organism. None of us can endure being thrown through walls, shot repeatedly or squished in an industrial accident, except our chief of staff Torrance Carroll. Nor can we work for long periods of time without a break. Humans experience fatigue, and that affects how well our brains work.

Even though that’s true, we push ourselves – myself included – to work as if we are anything but human. It’s part of Silicon Valley culture. The unspoken directive is, “Always be busy.” Always be working away at some task, often times till the wee hours of the morning, only to be back working the next day after insufficient sleep. It may be stating the obvious, but we aren’t made of terminator-stuff.

Check out this study about the executive processes of our brains for the grim details. Even if we could work unceasingly, our productivity would most likely be negligible, since it is a product of our limited, spongy brains. But don’t feel discouraged about those limitations. Terminators, whose brains don’t tire, fail every single time to eliminate their target.

On the other end of the spectrum from the executive processes, seemingly, is the concept of creativity. Creativity arises out of free-association. And free-association arises from the shower. Yes, in the bathroom. Don’t you get the best ideas while you’re in there? It goes without saying that creative ideas precede innovation.

So, where am I going with this? Is one function of the brain better than the other? Should we simply rest up and avoid working too hard? Am I suggesting that a huge community shower be installed in Mountain View? (Although, if someone’s going to build a shower, could we please get the one with the rainfall shower head?)

Nope. Inventors push hard, probably by nature. Sometimes burning the midnight oil will lead to a breakthrough, but I don’t think we can expect that every time, especially if the hours and work are too long and intense.

Regardless of Silicon Valley culture and the eponymous TV show, there is no merit badge for overwork, just a bunch of exhausted people in questionable health. What if we trusted in our brains’ ability to work optimally in a cycle of rest and work, as many scientists suggest is ideal. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but it is not healthy to sit in front of that screen at all hours, working your brain to exhaustion.

Maybe get out once in a while and hoist one at the pub with your pals? Or your cat, whatever. Call it “talking to your end-users”, if you need an excuse. Just remember, that you’re not made of metal, and neither is anybody else. Please take care and may your IPO exceed Terminator Genisys’ box office receipts. Oh snap!

Laura Nelson is co-founder and chief idea officer with Hackers/Founders.