Georg Meyer

Co-Founder of Preston Meyer AG

When he’s not battling needless complexity, Georg Meyer thinks, speaks, and writes about beautiful, life-serving systems and organizations. In the past two decades, he has been an executive at a publicly traded company and a one-man show; an academic and a practitioner; a software developer, and a management consultant. He has driven a forklift and designed a warehouse; he has built software and been its own end user. Georg has worked in the energy, finance, health, retail, and manufacturing industries and currently serves as a board member for family businesses on topics of culture, strategy, and technology. He holds a Ph.D. in Information & Decision Sciences from the University of Minnesota.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

My productivity comes from the fact that I can work with my natural flow of energy. It comes in fits and spurts.

I don’t have a typical day in the sense that you could average all my days and learn something from it. It’s more of a bimodal distribution of highly productive and highly unproductive days. Some weeks, I can work almost non-stop with very little sleep; some weeks, I get very little done in terms of work and mostly spend time with family or friends, going outside, reading, or playing video games. I am very thankful for this flexibility; it’s one of my favorite things about self-employment.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By prototyping, heavily. I try to minimize the amount of time it takes to get a first manifestation of an idea into my hands.

I don’t get very far with purely abstract reasoning. It’s not how my mind works. I need to get my hands dirty. For example, when writing, I cannot look at a sentence and come up with how to make it better. I need my hands on the keyboard to write and rewrite it, and play with it until it clicks.

It’s not uncommon that I get excited when talking about an idea and need to find a scratch-pad and pen right away because I can’t explain it well without drawing or scribbling.

Prototyping is great because it’s a trial by fire. You see if your idea survives the first contact with reality. If it does, you have something concrete in your hands that you can test and develop further.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Rediscovering that “small is beautiful”. I am hoping this is a trend.

We’ve gotten very good at mass production. We can make a T-shirt for a dime. ChatGPT can write an article in a matter of seconds (though the quality and depth of the results are very debatable). We have more data and more computing resources at our disposal than ever before.

Yet, the more there is, the harder it is to find the essence. Compare Wonderbread to a freshly baked loaf of bread by an artisan. These are worlds apart. So instead of making lots, let’s make less, but higher quality. If we are ever going to be sustainable, we need to do more with less. We need to focus on the essence.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

My wife and I review our family principles once a week. They are a collection of rules to help us be the kind of people we strive to be, for example, “be truthful”, “keep an open mind”, “act out of a strong sense of duty” and “get the right things done”. Reviewing when and where we did well and where we fell short of our expectations is both helpful and humbling.

After a few weeks, you start to see patterns, like if there are situations that always lead to distraction or procrastination. For example, we both noticed that we had a tendency to prepare talks or articles last minute and that, whenever we did that, the quality wasn’t as great as we knew it could be. So we added a rule: “Don’t do things the day of”. Now, we get a head start and when we’re tempted to say “Oh, it can wait another day”, we remind each other of that rule.

Note that the purpose of the principles isn’t to increase productivity. That’s a pleasant side effect that stems from having clearly stated intentions and recurring retrospectives that hold us accountable.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be so “people pleasy”. My friend, the executive coach Tom Rychiger, likes to say: a true fight is better than false harmony. Don’t avoid conflict; let’s get it out in the open. Appeasement is a bad strategy. It doesn’t solve problems; it postpones them and leaves a fertile bed to breed resentment and passive-aggressive behavior.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.

The world is a “temp file”. It’s not here to be saved.

I believe we are put on this world for a reason, but the world is a means, not an end. This doesn’t mean we should be careless or that we can’t make a difference. Au contraire. The world is a gift, it’s full of great beauty and amazing things just waiting for us to discover. We ought to be good stewards of it and care for creation; we ought to leave it better than we found it.

However, it’s all too easy to get distracted with the grandiose schemes of saving the world that take away our time, our energy, and our agency, so that we aren’t investing it into caring for what is right in front of us. And we pay a heavy price for this distraction. The ceaseless doom and gloom talk in the media negatively affects the mental health of a great many people, especially the younger generations. The angst can become paralyzing and blind us to the beauty and goodness that surrounds us.

It’s a huge relief to realize that we don’t have to save the entire world and that we don’t have to solve humanity’s problems permanently. Instead, we can put our energy into making a real difference where we can – here and now.

One big problem with many global schemes, especially the ones that attract a lot of attention online, is that they are vague – they lack a “definition of done”. They don’t have a shared positive vision of what the world looks like if the scheme succeeds. This means internal friction – contributors can have diametrically opposed ideas of what they want to bring about. Instead of articulating an agreed vision, they focus on the negative. No wonder we get discouraged at times.

We do know what it looks like when somebody walks into a soup kitchen hungry and comes out feeling warm and with a pleasantly full belly. We can imagine what it’s like for a child that went to bed sick and hungry night after night to finally be fed, to have access to clean water and medical care. Let’s help them concretely, not the “world” in the abstract.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

Take cold showers! Just kidding… people who take cold showers just love talking about them. What’s the point if the world doesn’t admire you for your fortitude? Seriously, though, I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all answers. You have to experiment and find what works (and doesn’t work) for you.

The most general I can come up with is this: let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Laugh at yourself, laugh with friends, and generally be open to seeing the humor in your life.

Social media pushes us into navel-gazing and self-monitoring. It leads us to obsess even more about ourselves and what people think of us (not that we humans needed help with that). Counter that trend. Be silly. One of the great lessons in life is that embarrassment doesn’t actually kill you.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Take a walk. Stepping into nature never fails to calm me and helps me regain perspective. And, if nothing else, at least I get a few steps in and do something for my physical and mental health.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

Leaping when 85% ready. Take on challenges that feel one size too big and ask for help. Most people love giving advice and sharing experiences, and in most situations, there is somebody who has already been there.

Related to this is a curiosity to explore opportunities outside of your comfort zone. Even if I was approached with something that didn’t sound up my alley, I’d at least have a conversation about it to learn more. More often than not, I got excited. Almost any topic becomes more interesting as you learn more about it.

Feeling the heat of action will help you and your business grow much faster than trying to be 100% ready for what’s next, which is impossible. The world has its ways to make the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry.

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

The question implies that it was a failure that was overcome. Do all failures need to be “overcome”?

There have been a couple of times I ended up fighting against windmills… and lost. Projects that were viciously complicated, with too many stakeholders, divergent interests, scope creep, and – sometimes – simply too much money. (Otherwise, the budgetary constraint will sooner or later kill a runaway project.)

The example I am thinking of involved about 40 people, and there were two or three others who shared my sense that the project was a train about to derail. We tried to bring about changes to prevent this and warn others. Nothing worked; if anything, though trying to be constructive, we got in trouble for our “attitude” and not toeing the line.

Ultimately, I left, leaving both the project and myself happier for it. The lesson is nicely summarized in this quote from the movie Kate & Leopold: “If one finds oneself in an endeavor without merit, one withdraws.” (Obviously, others may disagree with you on whether the endeavor has merit.)

Sometimes you just have to admit to yourself that you are not the right person for a situation or that somebody else with different skills could add more value in your place. This can be hard on the ego, especially if you believe “I can handle/fix anything”.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Software with a “stability guarantee”. One of the most annoying things about modern software is that it changes all the time. We often underestimate the value of things that worked yesterday still working the same today and how much cognitive effort that saves.

I’ve worked a lot with Microsoft Office and Teams over the last few years, and every few weeks, a feature was moved, a feature that previously existed was nowhere to be found, or something worked differently than before. Suddenly, I couldn’t find how to share my screen in a meeting or I’d send someone a spreadsheet and find out that their version wouldn’t run a formula that ran in mine. If you’re trying to get something accomplished, especially on a tight timeline, that’s the last thing you want.

So I think there’s a market for software that I can just count on to work the same way for at least a few years so people in an organization can become proficient after being taught about what’s new and improved rather than losing productivity and getting frustrated every few weeks because of the software behaves differently and breaks the user’s mental model.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Slack. My wife and I use Slack extensively to communicate when we’re apart, to share files and links, and to keep track of anything from gift ideas to shopping lists to daily musings and funny quotes. We use it for calls with some of our internationally spread-out family and friends. We use the reminder functions extensively. Because Slack has APIs that are easy to understand and use, I could even build a “Helpful Dragon”, a small bot on Slack that reminds us of important dates like birthdays and helps us keep track of time zone differences.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

An air fryer. We are not big on kitchen appliances because we like open counter space. This thing gets used all the time, though, and makes it so easy to make a delicious meal.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. It’s an easy read and full of insightful nuggets like “systems vs. goals” and the idea of the “talent stack”. It introduced me to the power of affirmations and started me on the path to experimenting with a bunch of aspects of my life, including diet.

What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?

The Expanse. It’s intelligent. It’s entertaining. I like (most of) the characters. It has some killer dialog that I’ve watched over and over. It’s sci-fi but not technobabble.

Key learnings:

  • Small is beautiful. Don’t start with the assumption that a big, complex problem needs a big, complex solution.
  • Reduce the superfluous and focus on the essentials.
  • One-size-fits-all fits no one well. Find what works for you.
  • Prototype quickly to test and temper ideas.
  • “If one finds oneself in an endeavor without merit, one withdraws.”