Principles: Great Work ∞ Great Learning Part 3

This is the third post of a multipart series about the relationship of work and learning, and how it goes together for individuals and for companies. I recommend starting at the beginning.

 Act 2: The Lab aka “Alright. I’ll just do it myself”

I left BigCo because I wasn’t learning as fast as I wanted to. I was impatient and believed there had to be a better way. Starting my own company wasn’t my first choice. I explored less risky options. MBA program, early startup employee, VC associate. But I ran into a common blocker. These options were all underestimating my value. I (thought) I could do better on my own.

I’m grateful for my arrogance because it turns out that starting your own company is the equivalent of an educational firehose. My rate of learning was completely within my control. How fast can you learn? Well, how many endeavors can you juggle at one time? Every step forward in creation was its own fount of knowledge. Legal, Accounting, Engineering, Product, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Hiring, Firing, Team Building. You must wear every hat and become competent enough in each to (hopefully) hire someone better.

After a year I realized I accomplished my initial goal. I was learning a lot - faster than I ever had before. I loved it. I was maximizing my learning but the clock was ticking. I needed a new goal, focused on keeping this going. How do we become successful so that we all can keep learning - to continue doing what we love?

This would all go away if we didn’t figure out a method to sustain it. But, I didn’t want that method to sacrifice my own learning rate.

I was fortunate to learn about Lean Startup principles. It clicked. Learning about your customers and eliminating business risks incrementally was perfectly aligned with the work we needed to do to become successful. I became rabidly focused on validated learning to overcome obstacles.

Incorporating these ideas, a high functioning product development team emerged. Business success required fast iterations. Hypothesizing, executing, reflecting and then repeat. Work and learning coexisted harmoniously with a positive feedback loop. And, the best part was it was fun and addictive!

A new axiom was beginning to form in my mind:

If you can construct an environment where the team is maximizing their learning then it will maximize business benefits as well

Benefits of this mindset didn’t stop at product development. As this work and learning relationship evolved, we attracted talent who were interested in maximizing their personal work and learning. Since our environment required learning in order to succeed, the highest potential people performed the best and contributed the most to our learning culture. I had required myself to get up to speed on subjects I had never encountered before and because of this, I found a deep belief that others could as well. We focused on growing our people quickly to take on ever greater challenges in the competitive market. Business output and individual output were linked and yielded a strong desire to continue working hard.

The culture emerged to reflect its people and their values. Collaboration was the default in order to get better ideas into the foreground and learn from them. These collaborations yielded better learning, which further feeds the learning addiction and also created real human bonds between everyone in the office.

Through this process, and a lot of reflection, I learned that a team can have a happy marriage of individual and business incentives, where each team member’s learning is a win-win.. The positive link between work and learning was now cemented in my mind.

Despite our talent and virtuous alignment of work and learning. We did not succeed in finding a way to sustain it. One big question remained for me. Could this work at scale? For that, I needed to jump back into larger teams to learn yet again….

To be continued


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