By Wilson Kageni – Founder & CEO
Preparation > Alignment > Effort
Imagine you are in a small row boat on the surface of a large, calm pond. You have an oar in each hand and a goal to cross the pond in your boat. You are renting this boat and its owner is taking a specific amount of money out of your bank account for every second you use the boat. What do you do to achieve your goal and simultaneously avoid bankruptcy?
In such a situation, simply getting there isn’t good enough. You need to get there before the trip bankrupts you meaning you have to move as fast as possible. As such, how you row is just as important if you are to meet the goal within a reasonable timeframe and to do so you must row in the most efficient way possible. In a row boat this means doing many small things, among them synchronizing the front and back strokes of both oars, while holding them at a specific angle and dipping them a specific depth in the water with each stroke etc. all of which adds up to the most efficient way of rowing the boat to your goal while meeting the sub-conditions.
Well, the boat is your company, the oars are your tools, the other end of the pond is your vision and everything in between is life. Extrapolating from that, how fast you get there is how long it takes your company to achieve its vision and how much money you lose is the amount of resources your company has to gather and burn in the time it takes to achieve its vision. A significant difference between this proxy and real companies is that most people are not forced to first build their own boat and oars before they can make the trip across the pond. With a company, you have to build your own boat and oars from scratch in order to take the trip at all. You do this all the while knowing that if you design these materials poorly or build them poorly or use them incorrectly, or fail to do all this right in the allotted time, the likely outcome is that you fail to reach your goal.
Now picture yourself rowing to the front with one oar while simultaneously rowing in the opposite direction with the other oar and how this affects your chances for success.
Now picture your boat being 100 times the size and having 99 other people on it, some of whom (you don’t know how many precisely or which ones specifically) have different sizes of oars, pointed in the wrong direction and rowing in different directions at different depths with different strokes at different times, possibly because they do not speak a common language with you or each other and are probably unable to understand what you said they should do. How does this affect your chances of success?
Now instead of a calm pond, picture this crowded boat being in the middle of a stormy, wavy ocean in the middle of the night, during a loud, windy rainstorm where your goal is to find dry land that you cannot see. Some people are worried the boat will capsize and they will drown because no one built a buoy nor packed materials to build one now. You have life-jackets but are not sure how many and your only compass accidentally fell overboard in a large wave two hours ago. What are your chances of success now?
While this may seem like a comically exaggerated scenario, it is in fact a surprisingly apt description of the state of many companies on the worst day of their lives. At some point your company will have its worst day (until a worse one comes along) and everything comes down to its chances of survival when that day inevitably comes. In other words, every company (like every boat) is only as good as its chances of survival on its worst day.
Now imagine a new captain is chosen at that point and they give a rousing speech on how everyone needs to row twice as hard as they are now in order for the boat to avoid capsizing. How have your chances of success changed from this action?
We exist in a society that disproportionately idolizes hard work, sometimes to the detriment of other equally or contextually more important actions. In this situation, 100 people rowing harder in different directions at different depths, and speeds does nothing to improve your predicament. At this point effort is largely irrelevant as long as the crew’s application of this effort is not correctly synchronized.
Now imagine you go to each of the rowers one by one, and demonstrate exactly how they should row in rhythm with the previous person you just synchronized then assign every fifth rower you train to do the same for another 5 crew members. After a while, the entire crew would be aligned in their actions and you would only need to instruct the first 2 rowers to change something then simply by observing the rowers next to them, each of the others would automatically adapt and do the right thing for that situation without you having to tell them what to do. You’d finally be aligned and even without anyone having to row any harder than before, you would still be in danger but your chances of survival (and eventual success) would now be significantly higher.
Of course, in the time it takes you to orchestrate this impromptu training exercise, a large wave could capsize the boat before your actions have a chance to make any positive impact. Incidentally, since synchronized rowing does nothing to control the size of the waves, even after your whole crew is aligned, the boat could still capsize. So it’s worth asking how this crisis could possibly have been avoided altogether.
Better preparation is the obvious answer. If you had thought to design the boat with a buoy to avoid capsizing in case of rough water (regardless of what the weather forecast said), stocked basic materials to repair, replace or build additional parts for the boat if need be, counted your life jackets before departure, packed multiple compasses in case one was compromised, ensured one of your crew-mates could translate languages for everyone and spent an extra 2 days before departure checking all oar dimensions as well as practicing synchronized rowing strokes for acceleration, deceleration and turning with the entire crew, then you would still be in danger now, but your chances for survival (and eventual success) would be exponentially higher.
This is the fundamental difference in probability of success between boats with an unprepared, misaligned but strong crew, those with an unprepared but strong, well aligned crew, and those with an extremely well prepared, perfectly aligned and equally strong crew.
Pick the type of company in which you would like to work and organize accordingly.