All hands on deck sinks a startup.

At the earliest stages, startups are exhilarating. Not only do you get to see and know everything that is going on, you are relied upon to make everything happen. But what happens when your startup’s growth outpaces the abilities of the founders and early employees? Often, chaos and dysfunction ensue, if the team cannot adapt.

In the March 2016 Harvard Business Review Article: Start-Ups That Last, authors Ranjay Gulati and Alicia DeSantola contend:

Founders typically do a bit of everything—basically, whatever it takes to get the business off the ground. Through informal channels they hire fellow generalists, who cobble together their roles and responsibilities partly by pursuing their own passions and partly by looking around and seeing what needs to be done. This idiosyncratic “all hands on deck” approach can work fine in the beginning, when adrenaline is high and the company is small. But as organizations expand, they face new levels of complexity that require them to define and assign tasks more formally.

We saw this at SmartThings but were slow to react and change. We just tried to do more and more, each of us thinking that working all day and then going home and working all night, was somehow sustainable and best for the business. Sure, we eventually added specialized people who helped us tremendously, but even then, those folks had to come in and clean up processes and circumstances that had never gotten off the ground or had atrophied.

Founders often resist bringing discipline to their growing startup, for fear of losing agility and control. But then, ironically, operations become chaotic and performance suffers and that control and agility are lost to reflex and reaction.

The idea of hiring people better than you is given lots of lip service, but in practice, it is hard for many.  Some people when asked to hire their own bosses to supervise activities they had nurtured since the beginning, find the new reality hard to accept. We, like many founders, soon learned how much we didn’t know about functional areas such as operations, fulfillment, retail, and international expansion. We hired people who knew these things and had skills we did not. What we possessed in spades however, was an understanding of SmartThings and it’s customers. We understood our culture and how we wanted the organization to feel, but we weren’t sure how to imprint these values onto new employees—especially with the rapid growth we were experiencing, in some months adding 20-30 people.

Leaders of start-ups see strategy, the pursuit of a clearly defined path that is systematically identified in advance, as the enemy of entrepreneurship, which requires ventures to be opportunistic and quickly shift course as they learn what customers want.

But what I am now coming to understand is, by applying lean startup practices around a common purpose and core set of values, to some more traditional strategic planning activities, a company stands a better chance of weathering difficult growth periods and pivots. Stated more simply, startups should “combine deliberate and emergent strategy”.

You can think of the iterative and incremental daily choices as the gunpowder providing the propulsion of the entity while the strategic vision and planning is the scope, aiming at a target. Without the two methods working together, we are just firing randomly or simply watching a target in our sights.

What are you doing?

This past weekend we saw thousands of protestors and volunteers, commit their time and energy in fighting the injustice that is Trump’s executive order on immigration. Maybe you participated. Maybe not. In any case. Now is a time of action.

As you may remember, the first goal from my recent plan to live in a post-truth world is:

1. Understand and articulate the things about which I care most so that I know where to focus my energy.

Before this self-awareness, I would churn from issue to issue, outrage to outrage until I either tired or spun out into an online tirade against some internet troll, who was immune to truth and logic anyway. I needed better tactics.

You may also remember that the issues I identified—those things I care about most—turned out to be pretty basic:

  • Ensuring Equal Human Rights for All
  • Protecting the Environment
  • Reforming Campaign Finance and Improving Elections

Even so, there is still a long way from those broad statements, to concrete actions I could take daily/weekly. That’s where I turned to the internet for help. They have action plans covered. Here are the ways I am going to turn my (over)informed outrage passion into progress and deeds. I encourage you to do the same.


For those who really just want directed actions, there are a few options to get email “to-do” lists each week. Be forewarned, you’re going to have to call people to be most effective. I was surprised to learn that conservative activists out-call progressives 4:1. This needs to change. Choose one, or sign up for them all. Action is what is called for today.

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Let the record show.

John Pavlovitz has been on fire recently—or I should say I just became aware of him and his writing during the campaigns—and it’s great.  He’s a pastor, in North Carolina, so he adds diversity to the group I tend to tune into, but he often writes from a place I recognize in myself.

On this, the day when we will swear in a wholly unqualified person to the most powerful position in the world, John has declared his strong opposition to Trump. You’ll sympathize with many of the emotions he has and statements he makes.  The idea that we want—maybe even need—to tell the world that we are NOT OK with Trump or those who supported him has. a strong pull for me. That is the thinking behind the marches and protests so many of us will participate in this weekend.

And while I know I just introduced my plan to deal with life under Trump. I like this idea well enough that I am reiterating Pavlovitz’s proclamations here for my current and future self:

  • I do not believe this man is normal.
  • I do not believe he is emotionally stable.
  • I do not believe he cares about the full, beautiful diversity of America.
  • I do not believe he respects women.
  • I do not believe he is pro-life other than his own.
  • I do not believe the sick and the poor and the hurting matter to him in the slightest.
  • I do not believe he is a man of faith or integrity or nobility.
  • I do not believe his concern is for anything outside his reflection in the mirror.
  • I believe he is a danger to our children.
  • I believe he is a threat to our safety.
  • I believe he is careless with our people.
  • I believe he is reckless with his power.
  • I believe America will be less secure, less diverse, less compassionate, and less decent under his leadership.

And if I prove to be wrong, it will be one of the most joyful errors of my life. I will own these words and if necessary, willingly and gladly admit my misjudgment because it will mean that America is a better and stronger nation, and the world a more peaceful place.

And like John, I’d love to be wrong. Even with all that we have seen thus far, I still hope that Trump decides to serve all the people of his nation rather than just the one he has served his entire life.

At least now I have a plan

First, I have to address my conservative friends who may not understand why I have not called them, blocked them on Facebook, or otherwise ignored their sympathetic and (sometimes) sincere advances to tell me it’s going to be ok. I have not been willing to listen. I cannot stand their smugness. They think this election was about politics—that I am angry about policy differences. Ha! I would pay thousands of dollars to have had Romney or even G.W. Bush elected instead. I could write a short novel on how they are wrong. The people who voted for Donald Trump may not be racist, misogynistic, or hateful, but they were ok voting for someone who is. They are enablers, and the true, tragic cost of this election is not in having a different party in the White House but in the different way I see my fellow Americans. I had such faith in us before this election, and that faith has now been thoroughly dashed.

And so, I am conflicted. I vacillate between listing all the people and groups that should eat a dick and then turn to the understanding that we need to do better for a broader swath of people in this country. There is blame enough to share. It isn’t as simple as pitting rural vs city, but that notion can serve in effigy for my purposes.

But for all the moments of anguish and hours of depression—for every Facebook argument sure to be won with the right fact—there were just as many times when I just wanted to feel better and to not to feel what approached hate. It ate at me.

However powerless I felt about Trump, the incoming Congress, the Supreme Court nominees to be, or the countless other calamities that have or soon will befall the United States, I know I need to make things better for myself.

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I just got back from two months traveling abroad but as I stand here, awaiting my luggage, I have never felt like I was entering a more foreign country. 

I cannot even process my shame and anger right now. I just want to buy a ticket to anywhere else and leave again.  

There are no safe states.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a swing state, or a “safe” state—blue or red.

No state is safe from the ideas espoused by Donald Trump—ideas that are endorsed by the KKK—ideas that are rejected by real Republicans—ideas that are laced with cynicism, fear, bigotry, and hate.

Vote. Please. Proclaim that America has no place for these ideas*.

* It is crucial that you vote tomorrow. After the election, we’ll figure out what motivated many Americans to overlook these ideas and cast their vote for a flawed human anyway. We need to fix what allowed this. And we will.