Late last year, I made a decision to transition into consulting with Allevid Advising. In this time, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with a number of startups. Before this, I found the startup world both fascinating and intimidating – I admired the courage and freedom of entrepreneurs yet I was unwilling to take off the golden handcuffs of corporate America. Working with startups has taught me so much that I wish I knew in my days in corporate America, lessons I can utilize with current and future clients. I’ve boiled all I’ve learned so far down to four little nuggets of wisdom, which I hope can be thought-provoking topics or good reminders for all of us.
Lesson #1: “Great” can be the enemy of productivity
I had a boss who often said “Don’t let good be the enemy of great.” Throughout my career, I’ve spent countless hours on deeper, wider analyses or finessing a deck. Yes, the work was well received when I put the effort in but I often wondered – after days doing analysis that moved confidence in a recommendation from 90% to 91% – how my time could have been better spent had I put it towards addressing a separate (and equally important) business question. It made me wonder if good really was the enemy of great or if great could be an enemy of productivity.
This is not a novel idea. Software developers figured this out long ago with Agile methodologies and the concept of a Minimum Viable Product – building just enough of a product at first to satisfy initial users. So why hasn’t this concept caught on in much of corporate America? Why don’t we spend less time analyzing to the nth degree and focus on doing just enough analysis to take action and validate that action?
In my own experience there’s often a badge of honor – as well as leadership encouragement – to say you spent weeks on a single deck or (swoon in admiration) pulled an all-nighter. But how much more value did you provide by doing a deeper analysis when you probably provided actionable, incremental recommendations based on the initial analysis? Could you have instead spent time providing perspective and recommendations on another burning question?
Working with startups has changed my perspective on over-analysis (which some may argue is an oxymoron). At a startup, when you have ten blazing fires to address, you don’t have the luxury of time. It’s about finding the initial solution that is just good enough and then evaluating if further work is warranted or if moving on to another issue would be a better use of resources.
To be clear, I am not advocating sloppiness and I recognize that sometimes the work does call for perfection and depth, but I’d assert in most cases we could apply startup concepts to corporate decision making, asking ourselves “will the incremental analysis contribute meaningful value to the project?” It’s difficult to change the perspective of old-school leaders seeking perfection at all costs but unless we start to challenge conventional thinking, we can’t expect things to change.
Agree or disagree? Please tell me what you think!