A Curious Company

Recently I’ve got an interesting question: “Do you hire people who learn new things or do you create an environment where everyone starts learning”? Who is this mysterious “everyone”? These people are not very active. These people prefer to adopt to existing conditions and follow the rules. I answered almost immediately “both”, but what really is more important?

I’ve always learned new things. Sure, my self-education style is far from perfect. I jump from subject to subject and read quite random books from disciplines barely related to my actual work. I know that and trying to fix that. I’m 33. Right now I try to gain fundamental CS knowledge (while I don’t actually need to). I’m a CEO of a small 35-people-company. Bootstrapped. Profitable. And curious.

The spirit of curiosity was always inside me. It was inside our company in early days, but depleted. Novelty darkened and goals blurred. The company started to look like “just one more place to work at”. I hated that feeling. We did common tasks, released common features. It was two years ago. Two years ago we’ve changed everything.

What is the right goal for the company? Do something incredibly cool, something that you can honorably call “the best in the world”. Why the hell spend your time on boring, common staff? Fuck it. You don’t want to create “yet another twitter client”. You want to create “best in the world twitter client”. If you can’t, learn and try or die trying. We set the goal to create “the best in the world agile project management softwarefor small and medium companies”. And suddenly everything started to look sooo simple.

What do you need to do something best in the world? More precise, “who” do you need? You need the best people. Most likely you don’t have them yet, but there is a good chance you can grow them. Why not? You don’t need people who hate changes. You don’t need people who hate learning. You need curious, hungry and intelligent people.

If you have best people, you should provide best place to work at. You should provide productive working environment, best equipment, free food, large tables. You should create an atmosphere that encourages creativity, tolerates failures and punish mediocrity. People should feel that they REALLY can learn, try new things, explore ideas and make intelligent decisions THEMSELVES.

You should not track time, you should not estimate effort, you should not set deadlines. You should trust people, set ambitious goals and help them learn. We did that.

Looking back I see the outstanding difference. Today we run internal conferences twice a year and the level of sessions is very good. People may spend 5 hrs each Friday on personal learning and several side projects were started like in-browser RPG, prototyping tool, iPad apps. They read more books and visit more conferences. And if you hear intense discussion about monadin a kitchen, you know the spirit of curiosity is back.

I don’t know whether we succeed as a company in a long term, whether we will create the best in the world agile tool. I believe, oh yes, but I can’t be certain. I personally not the best CEO. What I know is that work is a real fun here again. We are improving every single detail of our company with passion. Not as fast as I often want, but speed follows skills.

So what is more important? I think environment and culture is more important than people. Initially you have a few who learn and push the train forward. If you have the right environment and right hiring, you’ll have a critical mass of curious people eventually. Then there is no difference — this core of active people will do everything and build-in curiosity and learning inside a company DNA. All you need to do as a CEO is set goals, maintain trust, support people and sometimes kick-start activities to keep things going in rare low-mood times.

And please stop motivate people, they hate it.

Hire With Your Head

Lack of clear expectations is one of the biggest causes of employee turnover and poor performance

Focus on the _doing_, not the _having_ (skills), to improve hiring accuracy

As long as the compensation package is reasonable, most top people don’t consider it the number-one criteria

Success = Talent * Energy2 + Team Leadership + Comparable Past Performance + Job-Specific Problem Solving

The best ppl consistently deliver more results than expected, and they do it on time, all the time.

Accurate interviewing is abt peeling the onion & digging deep in2 an accomplishment, not asking bunch of clever questions 

Don’t settle for anything less than high energy, good team skills, & a good dose of talent or the ability to learn

Job change is a strategic decision based on opportunity and growth, not just a tactical decision based on salary

The team is a very important consideration for a top person. 

Solitude and Leadership

Great article. So many deep insights.

That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities?

I promise you that you will meet these people and you will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity

No, what makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. 

And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom

Marlow believes in the need to find yourself just as much as anyone does, and the way to do it, he says, is work, solitary work. Concentration. Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.

You have to be prepared in advance. You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but what you believe.