A metric for investing in your team

Here is a thing not many people will say out loud: investing in your team is hard.

Often, it is an expected part of a founder, executive, or leader's job but not valued in the same way that revenue, customers, product use etc. are even though investing in your team is what helps you hit those goals.

Coaching / leading a team is also the defining factor in whether or not you are creating sustainable and responsible growth with purpose, with equity...or just floating some line about diversity or meritocracy.

How you design your internal choices (or not) and enable your team to keep iterating, changing, updating, seeing opportunity individually + together, that's the whole battle.

You'll never hear this at a board meeting or on a quarterly earnings call, but it matters.

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When things go wrong

Things can go sideways in any company or organization, regardless of size or industry.

You don’t have to be evil or stupid for this to happen. Markets change constantly, and timing and luck have a lot to do with whether your product is successful over time.

Often, there are opportunities to course correct before the problem(s) become major. But seeing those opportunities (and acting on them) depends heavily on building good culture.

At a team level, if you are a manager, director, or executive cutting headcount or delivering a performance improvement plan (corporate lingo for “you’re not doing well and need to get it together”), it’s already too late.

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Who is it for

At the beginning of every new venture, there is one question that matters…

Who is it for?

Often, our dream is for the new thing to reach as many people as possible. “Everyone!” we respond, knowing that what we are working on has the potential to change the world.

Experienced founders know this is a trap. You can always increase the scope of what you’re working on later, but growth begins by focusing on specific audiences and communities.

This is why we unconsciously dismiss brands or organizations that churn out huge and life-changing promises, but don’t deliver the specifics. We know, of course, that it is hard to change the world but seek relationships where people deliver on their promises.

At every moment, ask yourself, who is this for? And if you aspire to develop a strong and broad community …the answer isn’t “the ceo” or “the board” or “me.”

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What comes next

Yesterday, the world changed.

In the midst of our continuously chaotic news cycle, word arrived that world wide web inventor and engineer Tim Berners-Lee had officially launched Solid (an open source project) and Inrupt (his new company w/co founder John Bruce).

Part of what makes the announcement significant is how intensely data privacy has been churning the internet and mobile web over the last year.

Google and Apple are reacting to newly enacted GDPR standards, Facebook is radically reshaping their developer ecosystem/platform due to a series of major data breaches, Twitter continues to struggle with bots, trolls, and doxxing, and LinkedIn has quietly been growing and likely hoping no one notices it was built on the same ground as its competitors.

Those changes are happening in a series of interconnected ecosystems collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars…and the how, when, and where of data use underpins all of it.

But to understand why something like Solid is important, you have to first understand a picture that’s much bigger than the walled off gardens of each tech giant.

For over a decade, Berners-Lee has talked about the promise of the early web, and how our current set of technologies failed in executing that vision. Instead of a “one-way pipeline” where people are consumers, the intention is for Solid to foster a “read-write web where users can interact and innovate, collaborate and share.”

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Frameworks for creatives / entrepreneurs / startups

About 5 years ago I started collecting frameworks. 

At the time, I'd just made the jump from a more corporate situation to a venture-backed startup in San Francisco. As an operations manager, I was basically put in charge of structuring and opening new product lines, both from a technical and brand/marketing perspective. 

No matter what I was working on, there was always a jump, a gap to be hopped across that included some risk. Usually, that meant finding a way to test or experiment, and then operationalizing what I learned into product growth.

The end result rarely matched the early expectations. Over time I started absorbing different approaches, including the lean startup, agile, and customer development focused models that entrepreneurs like Steve Blank champion. 

I also noticed that no matter what you were working on - turning a passion into a business, starting a startup, working at being a working musician, artist, designer, writer, or other creative - a 50 page, 5-year plan pretty much becomes obsolete within a year. 

Enter frameworks. I started collecting them in a public google doc and sharing them.

Truth is, most of the time you need a minimum amount of planning, think of it as structuring an experiment, but until you have validation that something works putting a ton of time and/or money into it doesn't make sense. 

Frameworks fill the gap that occurs early on in any idea, project or business, they illustrate the risk you're taking, and in some cases make clear the risks you don't want to take. 

5 years on, that document now includes frameworks for connecting online / finding jobs, spec'ing creative work, pitching a story to media and journalists, marketing from scratch for creatives and startups alike, evaluating data, and testing your own beliefs about your product. 

I also deliberately created frameworks that are gender neutral, and that aimed at increasing access to startups, tech, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

At the most basic level, having a clear framework for each new product, project, idea, etc. gives the creative or entrepreneur a place to start. It makes the unknown knowable, and opens up opportunities.

Last but not least, a good framework also spurs the best kind of questions, the ones that haven't been answered and/or don't already have a financial or business purpose, as Olia Lialina notes in an essay on media, mediums, technology, and art

"...take time to formulate questions that can not be answered by monopolies or by observing the monopolies."