What makes a company - yemijohnson.com

What makes a company

I am going to touch on many ideas and I might not make deep dives into each, forgive me. I imagine everyone reading this will be able to grasp the message and exit with a coherent understanding of my ideas.

I joined a standup session with the software development team and I was asked to share something motivational. So I spoke about how to achieve success illustrating 2 lessons I learned from Naval.

1. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes

2. Play long term games with long term people.

I find these lessons to be a guide on how to make friends and acquaintances, and a method to assign economic value to the future impact of my current efforts. 

Everyone knows the interpretation of these lessons in some form, so there is nothing particularly noteworthy about it. Just that the clarity and pithy of the message filled me and everyone I spoke to with profoundness. 

Avoiding Stupid Games

One way I avoid stupid games is by ignoring the news cycle – sports, entertainment, gossip, politics, et al. I have observed that those conversations add no future value and the time spent absorbing the information is an immediate waste because most of the conversations around the news serves no form of progress and are never relevant after a week, hence not a valuable thing to know.

Keeping up with most of the news out there is a stupid game; unfortunately for you and many others, many people – social media influencers, reporters, media people, blogers, et al – are paid to make you engage with these games.

Playing Long Term Games With Long Term People

If you are going to play a long term game, you need to be playing with people that will not cheat you, help you grow, encourage you and make you happy. A perfect example of a longterm game is starting a company.

Long term people are what make a company. Nothing else matters if you do not have long term people. I have previously written about how to operate a profitable company where I talked a bit about staff and employees.

How to identify long term people

A software developer on the team asked me how to identify long term people which is what led me to publish this.

They are smart and have a growth mindset

This is the most important attribute. Being smart does not give you a growth mindset, but having a growth mindset makes you smart because you can learn and unlearn things rapidly. Every attribute of a long term person can be learned if they possess a growth mindset. 

People with growth mindset are often optimistic and see failure as a chance to learn and improve. Persons with growth mindset will have strong opinions, loosely held.

Difference between Growth mindset and Fixed Mindset
Difference between Growth mindset and Fixed Mindset

How to identify people with a growth mindset

Ask them questions to figure out how often they push themselves to learn new things – especially hard and uncomfortable things. If you are astounded by the rate they compound knowledge, then they most likely have a growth mindset.

They are honest and have integrity

If you have ever been cheated by a friend, then you know how terrible the pain is. Now imagine working on some of the toughest things you have ever done in your life – starting a company that solves a hard problem – that consumes more than 90% of your mental bandwidth and you have to be watchful of the people you work with because you do not trust that they are giving you the right information or executing on the task they were given. Or worse, you have to make sure they are not stealing the company’s money/resources.

You never want to work with someone who will cheat and deceive you because directing your attention (a limited resource) to put structures against people cheating you will make you lose out on the upside of putting your attention in growth relatedactivitines.

How to identify honest and high integrity people

Put the gun in their hands by asking them direct questions about their past. Example: Tell me about a time when being dishonest turned out in your favor.

Also, make it clear that honesty is important to you and encourage honesty by creating a culture of information sharing in public spaces within your company through public reports and discussions.

They are owners

The most refreshing thing when I joined Hotels.ng was that no one threw blames at the next person and it was a genuine and remarkable quality for a startup. However, not throwing blames and excuses around is not the presence of ownership. 

People with an ownership mentality are bullish and will always figure out a way to make it work. Bad hires will hit a wall and will not seek help or escalate the situation until you ask – this is a terrible mentality that you do not want in the people you play games with because their bad behavior brings down the overall pace of the team. It is even worse when they make excuses or blame others for their inability to execute well. These kinds of people lack the ability to build and sell – abilities that are needed in an early team – among many other abilities, and they should not be working at your company especially in the early stages.

How to identify persons with ownership mentality

People that start things without much external motivation (privatized gains: money, or social rewards) often have an ownership mentality. So ask for their past projects, no matter how silly the projects are. Example: In 2016, I wrote to 100 companies asking for free stuff.

They are kind people

This is an underappreciated and undervalued quality because people associate being aggressive with being unkind. I wrote about the place for aggression here, here, and here. Or you can scroll to see the tweets where I spoke about aggression.

I define kindness as helping people – through encouragement, knowledge, and sometimes monetary gifts – to be better versions of themselves. Kindness is not a zero-sum activity and often as lots of upsides to it. Example: Imagine everyone in your company raising each other’s aspirations.

Everyone has it in them to be kind and often unkindness comes from a lack of self-awareness. Self-awareness can be imbibed if you have a growth mindset.

How to identify kind people

I do not have a sufficient rubric to identify kind people, but here are a couple of things that might be helpful:

  1. Check their social media feeds, especially Twitter. If they demonstrate hate, they are probably unkind.
  2. Kind people like to teach and share knowledge without monetary compensation. The mark of a great teacher is kindness and empathy for their students.
  3. Kind people are self-aware. If you can come up with an excellent test to test for self-awareness, then you might be able to amend it to test for kindness. Example: Does this person appreciate feedback or gets offended at feedback?

How A Company Grows

The company grows through the feedback the members of the company executes on. Sometimes feedback is external (the market) and sometimes internal (your manager or a colleague). Feedback does 1 of 2 things even though the desired outcome is the latter.

  1. Cuts you down
  2. Helps you grow

If the people in the company see feedback as a way to grow, then you will have a company that grows if all other things are equal.

Because a company is made of people, it means that a bad hire without a growth mindset might see feedback as you cutting them down even when it was designed to help them grow.

It is the nature of feedback to be aggressive. There is nothing nice about giving feedback and there is no need to be nice about it either. However, you need to know the temperament of each employee and give feedback with empathy. Giving feedback with a raised voice or with an implied undertone can be problematic.

What Every Worker Should Know About Their Job

A company is made up of people tackling the same problem. As a company grows, it no longer feels that way because everyone joins a team and each team optimizes for a unique output and are measured on different metrics.

My favorite way to illustrate how a company works is through the parable of the talents:

To whom much is given, much is expected.

Every person in the company is given a talent/opportunity/job/role to execute and the expectation is that the person does a great job at it – much is expected. This expectation seems to come from the management of the company, but in reality, that expectation comes from everyone.

If I was a sales clerk at a bakery that employed a baker, a security guard, a cleaner, an accountant, and a manager, I have implicit trust that the security will keep out hoodlums, the cleaner will provide clean spaces for the guests to eat, the baker will provide tasty confectioneries that will bring guests back, the accountant will make sure that our financial records are balanced and we are running at a profit, and the manager will make sure the business is in tip-top shape to ensure it keeps growing and can pay my salary with the occasional pay increase. Although it does not seem like delegation, I delegated each of those functions in the business to the persons occupying the role.

If the cleaner begins to slack at their job and they are ignoring feedback from the manager, my job feels threatened because an essential job/talent (what was given) is not being returned with more, and my guests feel unsatisfied and uncomfortable coming into the bakery which means less patronage and the bakery will not earn enough income to give me a raise or even pay my salary.

At some point, the cleaners misbehavior is going to get at every employee in the company and we are going to ask for the cleaner’s resignation because we collectively trusted the cleaner will do a good job, but the cleaner chose to be wicked and did a bad job. Or to use the parlance of the actual story of the parable of the talent, the cleaner hid their talent.

Summary on What Makes A Company

I have demonstrated that a company is a long term game made up of a bunch of people that have all been given talents. You should only take long term people on this journey and I have shown you how to identify them. The expectation is that each person returns the talent they were given with interest because to whom much is given, much is expected.


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1 Comment

  1. Godwin Umeokolo says:

    I’m built up! Engagement is a key factor to maximise feedback and feedback creates an awareness of what pops up in the future of the team and how to tackle them. To whom much is given. much is expected.. the desire for greatness, self-worth and net-worth is not the issue, how one pursue it is. Thanks!

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