The Speed of Change





In this episode of Quick Clarity, Angie D’Sa and Jeff Hunter delve into the topic of the speed of change, which is the fundamental problem that most businesses face. Continue below for a full transcript of this episode, and join us as we explore:

  1.  What Is The Speed of Change:
  • Speed of change ultimately determines an organization’s success or failure and it’s ability to remain competitive.
  • How quickly you can evolve alongside or ahead of the market and retain customers as you move fast.
  • The practical speed limit of productive change is equal to the practical speed limit of productive learning. This is a psychological challenge, not an educational one.
  1. Where Businesses Fail:
  • Adapting to high-speed and unpredictable changes can be challenging for people, as we are all social creatures that crave acceptance, status, and safety.
  • Speed of change and standards are two fundamental drivers of human confusion. If you don’t turn that confusion into clarity, they become the drivers of business failure.
  • By prioritizing speed alone, you accumulate structural debts in your organization that will ultimately crush you or cost you later on.
  • Leaders who do not approach their potential blindness with curiosity, or seek help to explore alternative approaches, will be trapped by the systems they’ve helped design.
  1. How to Have Both – Standards and Speed:
  • Mastery allows for fast and high-quality production, reducing the trade-off between speed and quality.
  • Building mastery requires significant investment in management, discipline, leadership, focus, and execution.
  • This is attainable through Talentism’s Operating System and “build-run” approach, a methodology that emphasizes continuous learning and improvement.
  1. Why Fun Is Great, but Meaning Is Better:
  • Is feeling good the purpose of your life or the reason you show up to work? If not, you should actually be seeking meaning.
  • The workplace environments that relied on cheap capital to create a false sense of meaning through pleasurable experiences no longer can exist in today’s environment. 
  • Work should hold intrinsic meaning and contribute to self-discovery and purpose; it should be a place where you can learn and unleash your potential.
  • Purpose, learning, and being enabled to unleash your potential at work are ultimately more competitive in the talent marketplace than fun.

Full Transcript

Angie D’Sa (00:12): 

Welcome to Quick Clarity, the podcast where we discuss all things 3C. For those tuning in for the first time, 3C is the Talentism model for understanding why confusion exists, how to turn that confusion into clarity and productivity, and what happens when we ignore confusion and let it harden into certainty. Each week, I talk to the founder of Talentism, Jeff Hunter, about the questions we see our clients dealing with and his latest insights on the state of humans, business, and the world.
Jeff, it’s great to be back with you. How are you doing?

Jeff Hunter (00:58): 

I’m wonderful. Thank you, Angie. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

Angie D’Sa (01:02): 

We received an overwhelming number of responses from listeners and Talentism Coaches when we asked for questions. Today, we’ll continue with the experiment we started in the last episode, where we present you with questions directly from our audience. So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.

Jeff Hunter (01:22): 

Love it. Let’s go.

Angie D’Sa (01:24): 

Today’s theme revolves around something we refer to as “speed of change” at Talentism. Speed of change is something we examine when we get to know an organization. In particular, we are interested in understanding whether there is alignment among individuals within an organization regarding the speed of change, and the implications of that speed of change. Before we delve into the questions, could you please explain what we mean by “speed of change”?

Jeff Hunter (01:56): 

I love this question. You mentioned it last week, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all weekend. It has fascinated me for a long time. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane together. In 1997, I co-founded a company called Euphorion with Mitchell Wyle. We developed software that allowed people to rapidly prototype websites. Our aim was to provide consultants in the emerging internet industry with new tools and methods for quickly prototyping and experimenting with websites. While contemplating the business problem we were addressing, and how to go to market with that, I started working with a gentleman named Bud Bhattacharyya. One day, during our conversation, I proposed that the fundamental challenge in business is the speed of change problem. This idea sparked a series of discussions, and I began exploring the hypothesis back in 1998. The hypothesis was as follows:

The practical speed limit of productive change is equivalent to the practical speed limit of productive learning. A corollary to this hypothesis was that the speed limit of productive learning is fundamentally a psychological challenge, not an educational challenge. Many of the concepts that form the foundation of Talentism today originated from those conversations. Essentially, I was trying to understand why some organizations succeed while others fail. Why do certain individuals succeed or fail in different contexts and times? This was around the time when a fascinating new company called Amazon was emerging. I started ordering from Amazon in 1997, near the end of its first full year of operation. At that time, Amazon focused solely on selling books. The website was clunky, and filled with book titles. You would place an order, and eventually, you’d receive a hastily packaged book. It was a super cool experience.

If we compare Amazon then to its current state, not only in terms of the products they offer but also its business structure and various other elements. Later in this podcast, we’ll also discuss the standards and expectations like the ones they set with their customers. It was a very different time, and one of Amazon’s strengths has been its ability to evolve faster than its competitors. This notion of how companies capture competitive advantage and maintain it. How quickly can you evolve alongside or ahead of the market? How rapidly can you retain customers as you’re doing that? I started referring to all of these concepts as the speed of change.

When Talentism started nine years ago, after years of contemplation, this became the core area of my fascination. How fast do organizations change? How quickly can they change productively? Of course, organizations can change rapidly but unproductively as well. Bankruptcy, for example, represents a sudden and catastrophic change that is relatively unproductive. However, my focus was on positive evolution or moving forward. It entailed not only revenue growth or increasing the size of the company and employee base but also comprehending the speed at which new products and services are introduced to the market and how fast human beings can absorb and drive these changes. To me, this was fundamentally a psychological issue rather than an educational one. In other words, no matter how well-designed things are or how educated everyone may be, an underlying factor in human nature can make adapting to high-speed, unpredictable changes challenging. Returning to our concept of confusion, the speed of change and standards are two fundamental drivers of human confusion. If we fail to address confusion effectively and transform it into clarity, or productive confusion, it slows down progress and can lead organizations to failure.

Angie D’Sa (07:10)

That was a super helpful introduction. Let me highlight some of the points that are important to emphasize as we delve into the idea of speed of change. First of all, why do we look at the speed of change? It’s because it’s directly related to an organization’s ability to succeed and maintain a competitive advantage. Speed of change refers to how quickly an organization can transition from non-existence to existence, develop new offerings, bring them to market, and adapt them based on market response. So, we measure speed of change not merely for academic purposes but because it’s directly related to whether organizations win. Another important point you mentioned is that the practical limitation on speed of change is the speed of learning. This doesn’t just refer to the speed at which we acquire new information. The real constraint on learning speed is psychological. This brings us to what we’re about to talk about next, which is why we associate the concept of speed of change and the standards an organization can meet as being elements of its culture. You were about to explain, Jeff, how speed of change can be very confusing within an organization. Let’s head in that direction.

Jeff Hunter (08:59)

Great. So when we discuss culture, what we’re really referring to are the beliefs (and by that, I mean unconscious beliefs, not our conscious beliefs about ourselves) and the mental models that drive and shape us. These beliefs create our perception of the world, filter information, and influence the beliefs people hold about the behaviors and standards that are rewarded, punished, and accepted. As individuals, we all carry an operating system in our minds that consists of various heuristics and genetic capabilities. This operating system helps us forecast the world and achieve our goals. Culture plays a significant role within this operating system. It encompasses our beliefs about how others will react to us, the actions we can take, and the behaviors we can display that will be accepted, rewarded, or punished.

All human beings possess fundamental drivers of psychological needs. We are inherently social creatures who care about membership and a sense of belonging. We also have a need to understand our place in the world, seeking hierarchy, status, and respect. Additionally, we have the innate need to protect ourselves, ensuring our basic necessities such as clothing, food, shelter, and safety are met. These needs allow us to fulfill our biological imperatives of survival, thriving, and caring for and producing offspring. These imperatives are the foundation of our existence and we have discussed before. Consequently, all individuals possess unique triggers in their minds, both reward triggers and threat triggers, which vary based on different factors. For example, while my membership trigger might not be prominent, I may have a strong status trigger. This variation exists among people, with different proportions and triggers based on individual needs and experiences.

Within the context of a group, we constantly face scrutiny and judgment from others based on our behavior and the outcomes we produce. This assessment revolves around behaviors and standards. In the realm of culture, if an individual is rapidly changing, adopting new behaviors, setting higher standards, and deviating from sync with the group, inherent confusion can arise. Therefore, two fundamental aspects to consider are different standards and beliefs about how individuals should be treated, as well as different expectations regarding the speed of change.

So, in terms of culture, one of the key factors is that when you undergo rapid changes, display new behaviors, adopt higher standards, and adjust your expectations, which may deviate from the group’s norm, inherent confusion arises within the group. This lens, in my view, can be applied to various scenarios and has proven to be valuable throughout human history, spanning from the times of oral tradition and loose affiliations to our present era, which is marked by drastic transformations in every aspect. Examining this lens reveals that the divergence between groups primarily stems from contrasting standards, beliefs regarding equitable treatment, and differing expectations regarding the speed of change.

Thomas Friedman’s book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” provides an insightful perspective on this matter. It effectively captures the global dynamics of acceptance and resistance to globalization, which alters our affiliations, identities, and the overall world order. This concept of change extends to inside companies as well. For instance, when you visit In-N-Out Burger, you’ll notice that their menu hasn’t undergone any significant changes in the past 20 years, except maybe for the addition of hot chocolate. That menu has remained consistently unchanged. This is something that people have come to expect from In-N-Out Burger. If you were to go there and suddenly they offered you their new chicken parmesan cutlet, people would likely be taken aback and revolt against it. They would question what the hell is going on because psychologically, we have developed an expectation of sameness and consistency when it comes to that particular establishment. The same principle applies within organizations. As companies grow larger, they become more challenging to pivot, manage, and innovate within. People tend to become set in their ways, expecting the same outcomes repeatedly. When an organization fails to keep pace with the rapid changes in the overall market or the world it competes in, a dissonance emerges between preserving the established order and adapting to the evolving environment. This challenge often forces companies to make radical shifts in strategy, staffing, and other areas to remain relevant. This theme of managing change is not only evident throughout human history but also prevalent within our organizations.

Startups, with less to lose and more to gain, operate differently. They typically have fewer employees and are at an early stage in the market, working with early adopters rather than laggards. This allows them to move fast and embrace the mindset of “moving fast and breaking things,” as expressed by Facebook. They prioritize speed and meeting the minimum viable product requirement, even if it means lower standards. These concepts enable startups to progress rapidly, create markets, and drive change. However, as companies expand and the trade-offs between acquiring new elements and safeguarding the existing ones become more complex, people really struggle with the speed of change concept.

Angie D’Sa (16:29)

Something implicit in what you said is actually related to our next listener question, which is: Is there always a trade-off between speed and quality? If the speed of change is going up, are our standards always going down?

Jeff Hunter (16:48)

No, but absent mastery, speed almost always has a trade-off. Here’s what I mean. If an organization or an individual attains a level of mastery in a specific function, discipline, service, or product, they can achieve both speed and high quality. Now, when I say quality, I mean fit to spec. Quality is often used loosely without a clear understanding. Another concept I love is the concept of quality, which emerged in the 1950s post-warI. By quality, I don’t mean good or bad. I mean saying you’re going to do something and then doing it at or above the level committed to. Take Amazon as an example. Amazon has gotten so good at both quality and speed. I don’t even think about Amazon anymore when it comes to getting my dog food delivered. It always arrives Wednesday by noon. And if I urgently need batteries, I can order them online and receive them the same day in certain areas. In the past, I had to either visit a physical store or wait patiently for a week for the item to arrive in the mail. But now, I no longer have to make that trade-off. I can enjoy same-day service and a much wider selection compared to what I would find in a traditional store. The only difference is that I may need to spend a couple of hours waiting instead of just 30 minutes. The trade-off between speed and quality doesn’t have to exist, but it requires a lot of practice and work to reach that level. So, circling back to my earlier Amazon example, when I initially placed an order for a book on Amazon, they didn’t deliver it overnight. It took quite a while. Moreover, there weren’t many updates provided regarding its arrival time. It was more like, “Alright, this book isn’t really vital to me. If it were, I’d go to Barnes and Noble. If I needed a book within the next week, I’d head to Barnes and Noble. If I’m just feeling curious, I’ll browse on Amazon, and the book will arrive whenever it does.”

Amazon’s journey from its early days, where overnight delivery was not the norm, to its current state required significant investment in management, discipline, leadership, focus, and execution.

In early startups, there is often a belief that speed and quality are trade-offs, because they often don’t care about learning into quality. This is a management question. Startups may prioritize acquiring users and making their product or service sticky, without giving sufficient attention to underlying problems. This mindset, and the way we think about running businesses, inherently leads to a trade-off between speed and quality. In our Talentism operating system, we talk about the concept of “build runs.” It involves doing little things well enough to deploy and learn from them, enabling continuous evolution. This evolution encompasses the speed of learning, the quality and complexity of deliverables, and the dependability of delivery. We believe in, and actively deploy with our clients, a methodology to mitigate the trade-off between speed and quality. This goes against the average management operating system, which often fails to understand how to do small things quickly, learn from them, iterate rapidly, and build speed and quality simultaneously.

Angie D’Sa (21:51):

You know, Jeff, there’s some nuance in what you’re saying that I really want to emphasize because it’s incredibly important. Implicit in the mindset I frequently encounter among many of my clients who are growth stage CEOs is the belief that at present, their primary focus should be on speed. They hold the expectation that there will come a time when their organization reaches a higher level of maturity, where they can shift their attention towards prioritizing reliability, quality, or any other metric that signifies an elevation in standards.

It’s almost as if there’s an act one and an act two, and inevitably, act two brings about significant pain and a substantial amount of debt, assuming there even is an opportunity for an act two.

I think what I’m hearing you say is that even during act one, where the focus is on rapidly establishing the organization from a non-existent or nascent state to an operational one, and getting a product to market, there needs to be a way to leverage that period effectively. It’s crucial to find a balance where, even in the midst of being scrappy and, in fact, crappy in your offering, you utilize that time to learn. The process of learning and striving for an elevated quality bar has to happen even during the period of frenetic deployment. Am I hearing that right?

Jeff Hunter (23:29)

Yes, it is either true that inherently you can only excel at one thing, so in the beginning, you’ll move fast and break things, and if you achieve a breakthrough in your product or market, then you can fix what you broke later. Or, that is just a limitation in your thinking rather than an unbreakable law of physics. I’ve provided one example, but there are many others that prove it’s merely a limitation in thinking. Companies like Amazon and Salesforce didn’t make that trade-off, yet they won big. There are companies that have found ways to avoid making that trade-off. Overcoming this challenge, which I believe is primarily a leadership and management challenge, involves using culture as a primary tool. They have methodologies and a culture that enables them to learn through doing and improve rapidly in terms of both speed and quality. 

Now, let’s discuss the concept of hyperscale and its impact on startups. Many of my clients argue that it’s acceptable to accumulate structural debt as long as they grow quickly because they believe they can fix it later. Our coaches often encounter this mindset. However, this was only occasionally true, and that was only true in an era of relatively cheap capital and a low-interest-rate environment. Fundamentally, the structural debt being accumulated would be fixed using the funds from later-stage investors or public investors, not the early investors. It’s important to see this.

I often describe it to CEOs as being on a steep ski slope, where they have to get down the mountain as fast as possible. They don’t have time to plan their course from the top, and they certainly can’t figure out if they’re going in the right direction while skiing down. They simply need to get to the bottom fast, ignoring all the risks involved. One of those risks is the potential for an avalanche. They then hit a spot that triggers a series of problems trailing behind them, accumulating and growing larger at an accelerating pace. As long as they’re skiing faster than this wall of problems, they’ll be fine. But if they stumble or fall, this will kill them.

The avalanche I’m referring to represents the debts that accumulate due to current business practices and management approaches that exist in our minds today. For instance, there’s human capital debt. Companies often fail to hire the right people or mismanage the ones they do hire. There’s a lack of clarity provided to them regarding goals, resources, responsibilities, and processes, as the focus is on speed rather than addressing these issues. Consequently, confusion arises, and people produce poor results. The leader, moving too quickly, responds by hiring more people, consuming more and more resources. This where we often see overhiring, bloated organizations, and inefficient structures where multiple teams work on the same tasks. All of that can only happen if you have money to burn. Each of those resources requires capital.

There is technology debt, which becomes apparent pretty early on for most of the companies I collaborate with. They realize that their existing infrastructure lacks scalability and cannot lead them to the Promised Land. They have overlooked critical architectural elements and essential feature functions. So what do they do? It would have been much easier to explore alternative paths, rebuild, or re-architect earlier on. However, people feel they don’t have time. They feel the pressure and decide to keep mending and patching, creating temporary fixes. The problems they drag along with them only grow larger. Eventually, they reach a point where they cannot onboard new customers, take on new markets, or activate m & a. It is then that they must face rebuilding. This rebuilding phase is now at a much more fraught time for the organization. It occurs at a later stage and is significantly more expensive. There are various elements involved, including human capital, technology, legal aspects, and infrastructure debts. We accumulate these debts because we believe that the only way to descend the mountain swiftly is to ski straight down at full speed and hope we don’t fall. This belief has been enabled by the availability of cheap capital. However, if we measure the speed of descending the mountain based on the time it takes to reach the bottom while considering the probability of successfully reaching the bottom, a different perspective emerges. Instead of disregarding probabilities and thinking that they are already low, we can view learning as we ski down the mountain as a higher probability approach rather than simply hoping to avoid being overwhelmed by the issues trailing behind us.

Angie D’Sa (30:08)

From my own experience as someone who has gone through the early stages of building a startup, I have two sensations when I listen to you. What you’re presenting as a perceived law of physics is actually a mindset, and I find it difficult to fully grasp and accept. I wonder if there are others who, like me, are listening and thinking, “Jeff, I understand the theory, but I’m in the seat right now. It is literally a question of time and money. I have a burn rate, a limited number of months before I must secure funding. I need to demonstrate specific metrics to have a successful raise. So I can’t afford to slow down and focus on sustainable growth, or to address hiring and tech sustainability issues at the moment. If I do that, there might not even be a tomorrow for my business to build upon those foundations.” I’m curious to hear how you would respond to someone in this position, who is listening to your insights but feels they don’t apply in their practical situation.

Jeff Hunter: 31:24

I would say you’re scared. What I’m trying to convey here is describe a concept that I believe is fundamentally ancient wisdom. It’s not a new thought. This wisdom has been endemic in various cultures and spiritual practices for thousands of years, particularly in Eastern principles and religions. It’s the idea of going slow to go fast. 

To the person who is saying that to me, I understand why someone would feel that way. I’ve often found myself in similar situations, and I genuinely empathize and have compassion for it. However, that reaction stems from fear. In contrast, a curious individual would respond with, “That’s interesting. I’ve never done that before. How would you do that?” That demonstrates seeking to transform confusion into clarity. I agree that most people tend to react by saying, “You’re nuts. I can’t do that.” 

Now, let’s address the two problems. Firstly, yes, you’ve likely trapped yourself in a very difficult situation. As I mentioned in previous podcasts, you have created a system around you, that is driving you. In this case, the system involves partnering with venture capitalists or investors who have a vested interest in you burning through their cash. Consequently, you have set up broken structures within your organization. There are too many people involved, and we are not unleashing their full potential. Some crucial tasks remain unattended despite being overstaffed. Numerous things are going wrong. While this may have been acceptable in the past, it is no longer the case. However, the investors continue to push you in a particular direction, fueling that fear. Additionally, you have employees whose needs and concerns must be addressed. They are an essential stakeholder group, and that presence also generates fear.

I understand that once you have established a system that prioritizes high-failure speed, it can feel extremely terrible. In the midst of that, you may be inclined to say, “No, Jeff, you don’t understand. This is a law of physics problem. You simply don’t get it.” However, based on my experience working with hundreds upon hundreds of companies and thousands of leaders at Talentism, the probability is I am not missing something. I am not suggesting that it is an easy task. Rather, I am referring back to the fundamental corollary I mentioned earlier—it’s a psychological issue, not merely a matter of acquiring knowledge or information. You feel stuck and believe there is only one known path to success. That simply isn’t true. It fails any logical, common sense, or intuitive test. That doesn’t diminish how difficult it is to be imprisoned by our own thinking, and say “Because I can’t see it or think it, it doesn’t exist.” However, an organization with a leader willing to embrace confusion instead of seeking certainty and asks questions of those who are here to help them transform it into clarity will discover that they are making numerous suboptimal decisions every day, even within the context of their “I must go fast” hypothesis.

I recall an old commercial from my childhood for AMCO transmissions. Their tagline was, “You can either see me now or you can see me later.” As a kid, I loved that idea. It essentially conveyed that you could either invest in a transmission checkup now or have your car in the shop for three weeks to get the transmission replaced. Having experienced health crises in my life, I face that decision every day. Every day is a decision to invest in a future that may never come, versus prioritizing for today, where you ultimately diminish the likelihood any future is going to come. From a human perspective, I understand that we are not wired for this to be an easy problem to solve. But if you are in fear, you are blind. If you are blind, you will go to the rule set that is most convenient or feels the most validated to you, even if that leads you right off a cliff like a lemming. 

Angie D’Sa at 37:03:

What I’m hearing from you, and what could be comforting for someone listening who feels like saying, “But you just don’t get it,” is that it’s normal to have that feeling. It’s normal to be blind in the systems that exist outside of us, such as the venture capital system and the high-growth startup ecosystem. It’s normal to be blind to different ways of operating within the systems we, as leaders, have created. The key is not to dismiss the existence of these alternative approaches but to approach our potential blindness with curiosity and a willingness to seek help. This leads us to an interesting bridge into the next listener question, which revolves around the experience of team members who have been with the company since its early days – the day one employees. We often hear them express a sentiment or complaint that goes something like, “It used to be fun here. It used to be exciting, but now it feels bureaucratic. Everything I do is bogged down by processes, and I have to obtain numerous approvals just to work on something cool.” 

How would you respond to this when it arises within organizations?

Jeff Hunter: 39:07

You’re absolutely right. And why is that a problem? Let me explain what I mean. It’s undeniably enjoyable to engage in pleasurable activities. It feels good to have fun, be able to move fast, and experience the validation of our ideas, whether from our managers or the market. It’s gratifying to indulge in grand holiday parties and have a star chef cooking your meals. Of course, these things feel good.

Ultimately, you have to ask, is feeling good the purpose of your life? Is feeling good the reason you are at work? If it is, please note that it is a valid perspective. If one desires to find delight in their senses and derive enjoyment from work, that is entirely understandable. Yet, those who solely prioritize fun often find themselves in a bad place. As we have discussed extensively on this podcast, fun is great, but meaning is better.

Each of us has unique needs and desires, and we are on a path of evolution. Along this journey, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. We begin to grasp the intricate connection between the two. At some point, many individuals choose to deviate from this path because it entails pain, and let’s face it, pain is unpleasant. Good things feel good, and you want more good feelings. However, those who remain on the path tend to lead more fulfilling lives. They often enjoy longer-lasting relationships and a stronger sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. So, while there may be a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure in the workplace, I want to clarify that not everyone who seeks enjoyment at work is a hedonist. Nonetheless, there is a unique moment in time that has enabled that. Organizations like Google had a business model akin to a printing press, constantly generating substantial revenue. This enabled them to allocate a percentage of time to side projects and moonshots, along with providing perks that made employees feel part of something incredible. 

When the music stops and many chairs are removed, what are you left with? Disillusionment sets in, and we see numerous articles where individuals admit, “I enjoyed working at Google or Facebook, but I didn’t have a meaningful job. My days were consumed by meetings and endless Zoom calls.” So, when the music stops, we’re left wondering what did it all mean.

In my belief, work should inherently hold meaning and contribute to our self-discovery and your purpose. From this perspective, when work is no longer fun—an understandably confusing situation—it becomes an excellent opportunity for learning. It offers learning about what truly matters to you and why. It prompts you to ask what you want your life to be. Everyone listening or reading here will one day shuffle off this mortal coil. You have a limited time on earth. What do you want that life to add up to? How you choose to spend our time and attention within this limited window of life matters. Each action builds habits, contributes to the well-being of others, and helps unleash our own potential. Now, I understand that not everyone may care about these things, and that’s okay. If someone genuinely doesn’t care about any of it, then that’s their choice. However, the environment of the early workplace that has lots of cheap capital, and spends it on things that are relatively unproductive, but creates a false sense of meaning and connection through pleasurable experiences, is gone. The tech industry has evolved into a later-stage industry, and cheap capital is gone. The underlying environment that was creating an opportunity for that fun, is gone. Therefore, the nature of the work has changed.

There is an opportunity for work to become a place of meaning and unleashing potential. A place to discover ourselves and what really matters to us. A place to learn about the world and the connection between us and the world. Work, if managed well, is a great place to do all of that. It can teach you so much by identifying confusion early and helping you turn confusion into clarity. You can be on that path for the rest of your life and build incredible relationships, and gain mastery in things you care about. That is fundamentally both more meaningful than fun, and more competitive than fun.

Angie D’Sa 45:53

So what I hear you saying is that for those who may be experiencing a shift from an environment with lower expectations and abundant perks, the ecosystem that enabled that is now crumbling. The availability of cheap capital, which was a significant factor in sustaining that environment, is no longer present. Consequently, the party is coming to an end. I wonder if there’s another perspective we can explore, specifically regarding companies undergoing necessary transitions as they mature.

In the early stages of a company, with a smaller workforce, decision-making tends to be faster due to the streamlined team size. Cross-functional collaboration may be limited, often involving just a few individuals in a room or discussions with a small group during all-hands meetings. However, as companies progress, they start to establish a clearer direction and target market, aligning metrics and requiring different functions to make well-informed trade-offs together. This transition necessitates the implementation of processes to ensure these objectives are met, including reporting requirements and other elements that characterize the later stages of organizational maturity.

It’s during this time that we often hear early-stage individuals expressing a sense of change. They may feel constrained in ways that feel frustrating or hindering of their ability to perform their best work. I’m curious to hear your feedback or suggestions on how to navigate this.

Jeff Hunter 47:46

Yes, that’s right. I keep returning to the example of Amazon, but if you delve into the various books about Amazon, you’ll discover that one of their most significant innovations during their first 20 years was their ability to maintain speed of change, flexibility, and a reduction of bureaucracy. This was achieved despite their transformation into a global behemoth. They implemented ideas such as the “two-pizza rule,” multi-threaded processes, and other innovative approaches. Bill Gates famously remarked, when he signed the deal to license MS DOS with IBM, that IBM was a dinosaur unable to dance, while they, on the other hand, had to keep dancing. And for a long time, they did exactly that. They underwent major pivots, not only from the PC revolution to the internet revolution.

Large companies can effectively manage themselves to avoid succumbing to bureaucratic sclerosis and mitigate risk intolerance typically associated with bigger organizations. However, as something grows larger, it becomes more complex and challenging to manage. Collaboration among people becomes harder to achieve. It’s possible that your individual path may align with a preference for the startup phase, and that’s completely acceptable. You can continue to learn and evolve. In my conversations with founders who have built great companies, I often discuss the fact that they may not be the ideal CEO for the next stage of growth. It’s rare for one person to seamlessly transition from the ideation stage (zero to one) through the building stage (one to two) and into the professional post-public management stage, which involves dealing with complex stakeholders, extensive coordination, numerous demands, and a ton of confusion. While we tend to idolize individuals like Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs, we often overlook the fact that for every one of them, there are thousands who were unable to accomplish that.

Instead of aspiring to be the next Steve Jobs as a CEO or aiming to stay with a company forever as an employee, it’s crucial to assess where you can do your best work and unleash your potential within the specific stage of growth. The stage where you can maximize your potential may vary, and it might not necessarily align with the long-term trajectory of a company. Therefore, it’s essential to consider where you can thrive and contribute most effectively.

However, what I’m suggesting is different. People often find themselves confused when their established ways of doing things creates an expectation, that meets  a new reality that emerges either gradually or suddenly. Confusion is unpleasant. Individuals may start to encounter obstacles that were not present before, such a longer process to get travel expense reports approved. In such moments, some individuals might decide to disengage, quiet quit, or even stage a quiet insurrection, blaming excessive bureaucracy for obstructing their progress. However, in these moments of confusion, there lies a tremendous opportunity to explore better ways of doing things. Many individuals won’t seize this opportunity to help themselves and the company.

As we have repeatedly discussed, whether you are an employee or a leader within the company, you are an integral part of the system. You are helping to create that system that is now starting to run you. At that moment, you can synthesize your confusion and acknowledge that this is what is happening, and there are things you can do about it. Before concluding that others are responsible for your predicament and you are trapped in a prison, I firmly believe it would be more productive to invest your time in discovering what you might be missing and finding ways to collaboratively change the system with others. 

I think that is a far better response to confusion to move to that clarity. Places get bureaucratic, because people allow them to get bureaucratic. There is an incentive for bureaucracy as things get larger, because there’s more to lose. The individuals hired to prevent fraud, waste, or abuse in purchasing play a valid role, just as significant as the person developing software. While you may perceive them as bureaucratic obstacles hindering your progress, their actions enable contracts to be signed and prevent the company from going bankrupt. We are all in this together, sharing the common goal of making it better. We can all assume personal responsibility to synthesize our confusion and ask ourselves, “What can I do about it? What am I missing? How can I collaborate with others to make things better?”

Angie D’Sa 54:27

Our podcast often focuses on executive-level leadership. However, what I appreciate about what you have just said is that this message is relevant to anyone within an organization who feels frustrated by what they perceive as unnecessary bureaucracy. There is an opportunity no matter where you sit, to take responsibility. That responsibility starts by saying “I’m annoyed, and think someone else is an idiot for making me do it.” But assuming responsibility begins with asking yourself, “What could I be missing?” It’s a chance to gain a better understanding of the goal behind the new process and recognize that, hey, I understand the goal, it makes sense to me. However, the way this process has been put in place doesn’t. Rather than complaining about it, I can actively contribute to improving it, especially if I’m in an organization that welcomes such contributions.

Jeff Hunter 55:26

Yes, and by the way, that doesn’t mean… Look, if you wake up one day and find yourself in a bureaucratic dystopia, and you’re furious about it, you still have the option to seek other employment and explore other opportunities. If you’re the leader, you can still change things. But in the meantime, how will you choose to spend your time? How will you direct your attention? Will you allow yourself to be consumed by confusion, holding onto certainty, ultimately preventing your own learning and improvement? Will you waste your precious time here on Earth? Or will you actively strive to make things better while keeping your options open? It’s not an either-or situation. What I’m saying is that getting caught up in confusion and blaming others will lead you down a path of ruin.

Angie D’Sa 56:19

Jeff, throughout this conversation, I appreciate your mix of tough love, compassion, and understanding. It’s a fundamental part of who you are, and it brings great value as I strive to represent the questions and voices of our listeners. So thank you for that.

Jeff Hunter 56:42

Of course. Thank you.

Angie D’Sa 56:44

Alright, that’s it for today unless there’s anything else you’d like to share.

Jeff Hunter 56:48

No, I just hope everyone has a great week.

Angie D’Sa 56:51

Okay, great. Thank you.

Jeff Hunter 56:52

Thank you.

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