A bias to action
Below is a memo I wrote to the company in February. Many ceos face similar challenges of keeping a growing, and in our case regulated, organization executing with the same relentless and risk-taking spirit of the early days.
I thought I’d share my memo for other ceos that are facing similar challenges. The good news is that it is fixable and three months later we at Carta have gotten much of our stride back.
A Bias to Action
Recently I’ve been in a number of meetings where it felt we lost our Bias to Action. Instead of helping to nurture and implement a new idea, teams discussed the ways it could go wrong. Some tried to convince others that it wasn’t a good idea. Others were just pessimistic, creating the same effect. Fear of what could go wrong crowded out the conversation of what could go right.
I want Carta to be a Bias to Action and a Bias to Yes company. Many great ideas start out looking like bad ones and few people are able to see how an idea today could change our world tomorrow. That is one of our competitive advantages at Carta. We are able to believe in the outline of a new idea before we can see the details of it.
To help us get back to these roots, here are a few ideas I hope will help. Carta is the following:
2. MVP first
4. No bureaucracy
5. Unafraid to try new things
Let me talk about each of these in turn.
Recently, we’ve slowed down. It is time to speed up. The way to speed up is to ship value faster. This is true whether we are building product, delivering a strategy report, presenting financial forecasts, or scheduling time with candidates. The faster you ship value, the faster someone receives that value, and the faster you learn.
Velocity does not equal haste. It is possible to deliver high quality work at high velocity. The way to do that is to have a maniacal focus on the fastest path to value. Most delays in projects are not because the person was trying to avoid low quality work. Most delays are because the team wanted to do too much and spent weeks working and planning, and ended up not doing anything at all. If we narrow our focus to the increments of value we are delivering, we can ship quality with velocity.
High-velocity means relentlessly shipping your work product to someone who can give you feedback every day, every week, every month.
2. MVP first
Lean product development’s thesis (please read The Lean Startup if you haven’t) is that one should ship product as soon as you can learn something useful from doing so. That is the definition of a minimum viable product. Reed Hoffman famously says that if you aren’t embarrassed to ship something, you have waited too long. We should be more embarrassed more often.
This is part of being high-velocity. You can only be high-velocity if you are shipping things, learning from them, and shipping more. We should be shipping MVPs of any work product including internal memos, presentations, financial models, and product. When we do, we will accelerate learning and velocity in all areas of our business.
Iteration is the fastest path to a destination you can’t see. To get there faster you simply accelerate the feedback loop of shipping → learning → shipping → learning. Each step of the loop gives more visibility into the destination and more optionality for what the destination could be. A culture of iteration expands our sights of what is possible while narrowing our focus to what is next.
In our line of work there are very few Big Bang opportunities. Almost everything we do can be broken down into smaller and smaller mile-stones, or mile-pebbles. Over time, the mile-pebbles add up to become boulders. And each time we execute against one of these mile-pebbles, we get better at executing. Speed of iteration is the single biggest determinant of how good our product and organization will be. It reminds me of the running adage — if you want to run a marathon a lot faster, practicing running each mile a little faster.
4. No bureaucracy
Being high-velocity means faster and better frameworks for decision making. When engineers need access, employees need tools, managers need decisions, or executives need data, we need a culture and system that gets them what they need. Bureaucracy is a death-trap. We must be wary of all signs of bureaucracy that start to appear. Signs of bureaucracy include things like “gatekeepers”, decisions without explanations, and denying requests without providing better alternatives. Bureaucracy guards information because information is power. At Carta, that is exactly why we share it.
Another way of thinking about bureaucracy is that bureaucracy solves for the institution. We should be solving for teams. If we are putting in frameworks and tools to help those teams thrive within our institution then we are supporting them and removing bureaucracy. If we are making them do things that don’t help them but help the institution then we are introducing bureaucracy. The first is good. The second is bad.
5. Unafraid to try new things
It seems recently we have developed a negative culture toward new ideas. We approach change with skepticism and caution. We hesitate to try something new because of what could go wrong. We procrastinate launching a new idea because the unknown is uncertain. We spend too much time thinking what might happen rather than just seeing what does happen.
In our business, the risk of not trying a good idea is far more damaging than the risk of trying something that doesn’t work. But most people are criticized for what they do rather than what they don’t. And so we have a bias to inaction, to not change things. There is no risk in the status quo. There is only risk in changing it.
Let’s fix this. Carta is a fearless company. We are unafraid of trying new things. When we have a good idea let’s run with it. Don’t hold up ideas because we worry about what bad things, often edge cases, could happen. Instead of talking about what could go wrong, talk about what could go right. Unlock more ideas, more creativity, more autonomy, and more progress.
In summary, get shit done. If you are unsure if something will work, find out. Don’t sit around arguing about it. And don’t block others from trying to find out if something will work. Just try. Have a bias to action.