What They Don’t Teach You in Business School
Mental Models For Startups #5
Here are two important thoughts for organizing a team and managing a project.
Time Corrupts Memory
Human memory is not perfect and fades away with time. We don't always remember things quite the way they went down.
In fact, our memory works more like the Telephone Game.
You will best remember very emotional experiences. You are likely to remember the important ideas that you've come up with and thought through yourself, but you will not remember all the details.
You’re very likely to forget things that are brought to you by other people.
In the case of a group event, different people will remember things differently, and will also distort them in different ways, depending on their personal Reality Tunnel.
Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
— William Gibson
This is one of the biggest reasons why people have invented contracts. Contracts help us recall the exact word-for-word details of the agreement. Good contracts also help people resolve conflicts in a non-damaging way, in case some of them forget what they agreed to.
You typically wouldn't prepare a contract every time your team have an important conversation, which leads to an important decision. In fact, in many organizations, most decisions are never documented, nor they are properly communicated.
With time people tend to forget details of any important decision. In addition to people forgetting, there is also the problem of people leaving and joining the organization. This dissolves the “internalized knowledge” of the organization even more, and leads to “forgetting” important information or the reason for why certain things need to be done in a particular way.
The solution is both simple and hard — Document Everything.
Writing things down and making sure all involved people read them is one of the most impactful activities that can define the success of an organization.
Especially if you do all your work on a computer - it is both easier more important than ever.
Collected Baggage Grows Heavier
What you don't do is more important than what you do.
It may come as a surprise to you, but if you work in an “idea economy”, many activities that people do at work end up being a complete waste of time.
Even when they come with the best intentions and hard work.
In a more general case, this is defined by Parkinson’s Law.
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
— C. Northcote Parkinson
This happens not because people procrastinate or waste their time intentionally. It happens because some activities ate started based on what seemed like a good idea at the time, but are never being checked upon and keep going purely because of the initial momentum.
Quite often, some activities are continuing because of the Sunk Costs Fallacy. Or simply just because it is someone “job security”, and if this activity would stop making sense on paper, there is a chance they would be made redundant.
And while bigger companies can accommodate many wasteful overheads — it might be a matter of life and death for a startup.
What's even worse is that some things are not just a waste, but also slow down everything else. They take away attention and resources from other, more important activities.
This problem tends to accumulate and grow bigger over time. If the organization has resources and capacity, in most cases it would just hire more people, instead of getting rid of things that became irrelevant.
That is why it is extremely important to conduct a periodic Irrelevance Audit.
“Do we really need that another expensive website redesign that’s taking 3 months and not going anywhere?”
“Why do we have this extra weekly meeting that never brings any results?”
“What is the purpose of this internal process that takes the time of three people?”
Getting rid of things inside an organization doesn’t mean that some people have to lose their job.
There is always more impactful work to do, and it is up to the leadership to identify that and make sure people always do meaningful work.
Which of these two have you’ve had to struggle with the most?
Share in the comments!