A Job Without A Boss

Valve, the company famous for the Half Life, Portal and Left for Dead game series, is a rare gem indeed. From top to bottom, Valve prides itself on not having managers. Financed personally, the founders never had anyone else to answer to (except, of course, their customers). Within the organization, employees live and breathe a “flat” mantra – everyone is equal and autonomous. Teams form organically without assignments, no one serves anyone else, peers measure performance and everyone ranks each other for salary bumps. While somewhat anarchistic and inefficient, this chaotic and creative environment continues to birth instant classics. Valve releases nothing until it’s perfect. While this may sound idyllic and utopian, it’s actually working for them. I encourage you to read Valve’s Handbook for New Employees to learn more. Can this model apply to other organizations and industries?

Vision By Numbers

It’s exciting to see the success and growth of an organization through the numbers: sales milestones, unique visitors, engagement statistics and more. It’s very practical and momentous to set metric goals that everyone can reach for and beat. But numbers cannot tell the whole story. And metrics can only inspire a team so far. It takes a portrait of the future painted zealously by leadership to truly inspire. Something greater to work towards. Something to believe in.

The best preachers don’t talk statistics or business. True vision cannot paint by numbers. There are no formulas or metrics for dreams. Speaking abstractly and passionately about a vision for the long-term future can open minds to the possibilities and help your team imagine their way out of the status quo.

Metrics and numbers keep an organization accountable to measurable improvements. Numbers have their place and should be respected. But they only serve to measure movements that already exist. Why not strive to make new movements and invent new metrics? A vision by numbers is not enough. The opportunities are boundless for your organization, but only if the vision you paint for your team allows them to be.

Email Is Not Urgent

Every email I receive presumes to be imminently earth-shattering. Very annoying. Ninety-five percent of emails that hit my inbox are not urgent. I receive around 250 emails per business day – that’s one email every two minutes. It takes me forever to craft thoughtful replies, so I regularly fall behind in trying to keep up. To prevent this constant influx of faux peril from stressing me out, I am paying less and less attention to email these days. In the process, I’ve let a few important notes slip through the cracks. Oh well.

If it’s important or time sensitive, don’t just email me – call or approach me in person. I ignore my phone during meetings for everything except calls (it vibrates a dozen consecutive times when you ring me, so it’s difficult to ignore). Knock if you need to. If the issue at hand is complicated, follow up with details in writing so I have all necessary and accurate info in front of me to address the situation. If you can’t get ahold of me in person or by phone, put ‘URGENT’ in the subject line. Obviously, don’t do that if it’s not urgent.

To get real work done without distraction, I need to ignore my email for a sizable fraction of the day. You should, too. Constantly replying to emails means you’re working reactively instead of proactively. Unless you work in a call center, reactive work only contributes to the status quo of your organization. In a competitive industry, status quo work can be regressive and therefore deadly for a company. Don’t do it.

If I don’t write you back within a few hours (or days), why would you follow up with a second email? That’s silly. Your method failed the first time – why on earth would it succeed any better a second time?

If an email exchange we’re participating in turns critical, please cover all bases and follow up in person with everyone involved. Get our collective heads out of email and into real problem-solving mode. Hear the voices of others repeat back to you their understanding of the situation. Make sure everyone is on the same page – on paper and in dialogue. Then get real work done.

There’s a System for That

If you’re having organizational trouble or find yourself doing the same mundane task over and over, chances are pretty high that someone else out there shares your pain. With a little bit of research, you may even find someone who has already conquered your problem. At any rate, it’s worth a look. The internet is a pretty big place these days. There are apps for everything.

As times change, brand new problems crop up all the time that may not yet have structured solutions. Depending on the complexity of your problem and processes, other people’s solutions may not serve your own. If you cannot find a solution, it’s up to you to build one. Given the challenges and material complexity of designing solutions (be they software, logistical or cost), most people opt out and choose to continue suffering. Don’t do that. Don’t settle for the mundane. You should never have to do the same thing more than once – unless you want to.

Growing Pains

Growth is an awkward and confusing experience. By building on the old and bringing in the new, life mixes up and turns to chaos. Oftentimes, you experience bumps and bruises. In the worst of situations, there may be casualties. Whether you like it or not, that’s the name of the game. The only way to stop growing pains? Stop growing. Or die. I endorse neither. Growth and change are instrumental to life. Hell, they’re key to adaptation and survival. Suck it up, learn to love the pain and enjoy the ride.

Put Yourself Out There

If you’re not meeting new people in new places, you’re not testing yourself or your character. You’re sure as hell not networking. Packed bars, group outings, random parties and networking mixers are all perfect places to practice your elevator pitch about yourself or projects in a fairly consequence-free environment. Without practice, there’s really no way to know if you’re actually connecting with people. These loud and impersonal events are not great for building intimate relationships with other people, but they are great for getting to know yourself. The next time you’re invited to a gathering and have nothing to do, get out of the house and go. Mix it up, try a couple different methods for introducing yourself. Take notes afterwards on what worked and what didn’t. You might learn a thing or two about your pitch, your idea or yourself.

A Deal Is Not a Done Deal Until Money Hits the Bank

No matter how good you feel about it, do not boast, act on or go to press about a deal you just made (business, employment or otherwise) until the first check goes through. I learned this in Hollywood and continue to stand behind it as I make deals or watch deals unfold around me. You can never completely guarantee a deal will go through until it actually goes through. You can make a serious fool out of yourself by jumping the gun, making public announcements or spending money you don’t have. Better to keep your mouth shut and fingers crossed until fiction becomes fact.