May 28th to June 1st
This slogan hangs above the stove in our studio kitchen. I cut it out a couple of years ago from an art magazine and put it on the wall as an ambient reminder. If I'm not completely mistaken, it's a quote by German expressionists, describing the concept of "autoterrorism" – terrorism on oneself as a self-educational process.
The last month felt a bit like practicing autoterrorism, albeit in a light version. The craziness of re:publica and all the changes we are pursuing right now are anything but routine for us. I feel constantly challenged, sometimes even a bit scared. Which I interpret as being on the right track.
Nevertheless, I've been thinking a lot this week about how much and which routines we need. With precious being more than just Christophe and me, it becomes apparent that we need some more structure.
One example: When it was just the two of us, it was pretty easy to keep track what the other one was working on. When necessary, we sat together. Calling in a "meeting" went like: "Hey, do you have 10 minutes?" – "Let me finish this first, I'll be with you in half an hour."
With three more people on the team it's harder to have an overview about what's going on. It's also more difficult to make spontaneous meetings without interrupting others. We don't have a regularly scheduled all-hands, but I really think that's something we should try. Then again I'm not a fan of meetings, so if we do it, we should make sure that it's quick.
Keeping track of the costs of each project is also becoming more important as we grow. It's quite easy to get an idea about the finances when you are just two people working on one or two projects at a time. Dealing with cash flow was also simple: if there wasn't enough money by the end of the month to pay ourselves, we just waited a few more days or weeks until new money came in. Now, with people on payroll, this must not happen.
Caused by these musings, I just re-read a few chapters in Les McKeown's book "Predictable Success", which I highly recommend to anyone running a business. McKeown describes several stages each organization must go through, starting with "Early struggle" followed by "Fun" leading to "Whitewater" (There are more. If you are interested, order the book).
Fun is where we are at right now. This stage is characterized by growth, increased sales and – finally – some profits. As the name suggests, it's a good stage to be at and there are good reasons trying to stay at it (as well as good reasons to evolve beyond it). But often before you realize it, McKeown says, you hit the third stage, where it's not so fun anymore. He writes:
"The Whitewater stage – painful as it is – is often more prolonged than it needs to be, because senior management's natural reaction is to reject the very thing that is needed to get through Whitewater: systems and processes. The logic is simple and compelling: Because systems and processes have until now been anathema ("We're young, vibrant and creatively unstructured"), they are now rejected as a solution to the problems caused by Whitewater. In fact, we'll see, the right balance of systems and processes – not too few, not too many – is exactly what's required in order to get the business stabilized and take it out of Whitewater."
How can we introduce and establish such systems and processes before hitting a rough patch? What should they be like? What's too much? These are some questions on my mind these days.