Delusions of Bosslessness

This guest article is from Caleb Vognsen, a builder, gamer, and thinker.  For more on Caleb, read to the bottom.

Bossless is bunk.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this “Bosslessness,” the latest pre-existing corporate substructure The Internet has now decided is trending. Perhaps you’ve heard it mostly involves de-titling everyone, then allowing intra-office relative strengths to organically emerge around compelling projects. And perhaps you’ve heard it’s profitable.

I call Shenanigans. “Bosslessness” is just a terminological shift that allows companies to convince themselves they’re not stifling innovation with sluggish bureaucracy. Do you remember the implementation of Casual Fridays? At least back then, something — your inseam, maybe — actually changed. “Going Bossless” is the equivalent of declaring a Casual Friday, then forcing everyone to go Full Victorian Steampunk, while telling them to RELAX.

Look, the most difficult thing about organizing anything, companies included, is figuring out who’s in charge. It doesn’t always have to be the same person, for the same amount of time, and they don’t always have to be in charge of everything at once. But they have to be.

am I in the right line?

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The Manager’s Oath

“First, do no harm”—it’s a fundamental principle of medical ethics and constant reminder to every medical professional that intervention carries risks just as inaction does. In Latin, it’s Primum non nocere:

Another way to state it is that, “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good”. It reminds the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.

It’s something that’s easy to forget for doctors, because they view themselves as healers and they’re capable of tremendous good. But it’s an absolutely vital to check the behavioral tendency that Abraham Kaplan called the law of the instrument: “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” What’s important is the health of the patient, not the dilemma between intervention and inaction.

In The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer discovered a surprising fact about what motivates people at work that every manager should know. The most powerful positive motivator for people at work is making progress in meaningful work, but it pales in comparison with the negative impact of hitting dead ends and encountering setbacks which has the greatest effect on motivation.

Professor Amabile and Kramer analyzed the language used in nearly 12,000 employee diary entries for accounts of progress and setbacks, and they compared appearances of those events to self-reported emotional levels of happiness and frustration, and what they found was alarming.  Setbacks were greater than three times as powerful in increasing frustration than the power of progress to diminish it.

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The Awkward Leader

Being a manager is difficult because it feels unnatural.  Your job isn’t actually to get work done.  You’re doing your job as a manager when what you’re doing doesn’t resemble work at all.

Andy Grove on information gathering

To Andy Grove, legendary CEO of Intel, a manager’s fundamental work of information gathering can be among the most unnatural and that awkwardness is a necessary part of being a leader.  Information gathering is the bread and butter of a manager’s work, but doing it effectively can mean making yourself vulnerable to looking and feeling like you’re doing nothing.

Grove instructs managers that “[t]here is an especially efficient way to get information, much neglected by most managers” that is underutilized “because of the awkwardness that managers feel about [it].” That is, be out in the open in your company, doing nothing.

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Autonomy, Achievements and Awesomness: The Best of the Internet

It’s been a tough week for those of us in Sandy’s path. Our best wishes to those dealing with the aftermath! Be safe! 

Now, catch up with the best of the stuff we’ve shared this past week!

We visually visited 10 awesome startups. Check out the pics of some cool company culture!

Our very own Ginni Chen wrote a guest post for Women 2.0 about how successful women share their accomplishments.

Employees are happier when they’re trusted to exercise autonomy.

How virtual teams collaborate.

The only purpose of customer service is to change feelings.

Entrepreneurs should take the lead in building sustainable startup communities.

How Wistia Builds Its Competitive Advantage

Wistia provides super easy, distinctive video hosting, management, and marketing for businesses. We wanted to find out from co-founder and CEO, Chris Savage, how Wistia uses iDoneThis and why they love it.

In the past year, Wistia has gone through a growth spurt, doubling to a total of fifteen people. Chris wrote a great blog post about the challenges of staying productive during such rapid growth, pointing out how Wistia’s “internal communication mechanisms have had to evolve so that they are less disruptive, more relevant, and more helpful.”

Wistia logo

Allotted ample ownership and authority, people at Wistia have a great deal of freedom over what they do. As a result, as Chris explains, “it’s hard to know what everyone else is doing, which I think is really important.” So, the Wistia team uses iDoneThis to “facilitate what would often be those random connections that would happen if you were sitting next to somebody, if you were walking by somebody working on something.”

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Get It Done: The Best of the Internet

Get Up

Get Up

Here’s the weekly round-up of the best of the blog & links we’ve shared on the interwebs!  Happy Friday!

We wrote The Art of Getting Stuff Done without Bossing Around last week but shh, we’re sneaking it into this round-up.

Find out how Any.DO, a start-up that made a task management app, uses us to get things done.

Srsly, what is innovation?

Research says leaders receive less stress.

Learn how to enchant your customers.

Confronting the Brutal Facts of Your Startup’s Reality

“This is a very important lesson.  You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

– Admiral James Stockdale [1]

Fundraising is distracting because much of it is about framing facts about your reality rather than confronting the brutal facts of your reality.  For us, that meant coming up with a plausible story for not sucking when we did mostly suck. [2]

Some startups try to handle this by juggling two different stories: the one they tell investors and the one they know to be true.  That sounds easy enough, but it can get very confusing and that confusion results in friction.

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How to Build the Machine that Builds the Product

“The hard part is building the machine that builds the product.”

Dennis Crowley

Successful entrepreneurs like Dennis Crowley and Mike Karnjanaprakorn at SkillShare have pointed that building a great product is only step one.  The next, harder step is building the machine that builds the product which turns improvement into a repeatable process.

Mark Pincus, discussing his experience of growing Zynga, observed that products can be built “through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep,” but that doesn’t scale — and soon “you’ve got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room.”

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