In The Startup Way, Eric Ries’s sequel to his best seller The Lean Startup, he raises a key question to entrepreneurs and startup founders. As these founders tell him how much they hate big companies he asks:
If you hate big companies so much, why are you trying to create a new one?
I get it. I’ve been there and have the same feelings about the red tape, politics and endless meetings that you see in big companies. But if you peel back the onion, the underlying issue isn’t the size of the company.
I’ve talked to many people about this sentiment – from both sides, the founders and the big company employees – and have discovered that when an entrepreneur says they hate big companies, what they’re really saying is, “I hate the culture the comes along with big companies.”
To help articulate this clarification, Ries creates much better labels for the startup and big company. Instead he refers to the two company cultures as the modern company and the old-fashioned company, where modern companies are innovative and growth-oriented, while old-fashioned companies succumb to the innovator’s dilemma.
In my conversations, I’ve found that the differentiator between these two company cultures is the ratio of what I’ll call talkers to doers.
- A Talker is a paper-pusher, a middle manager, someone who measures output, and thus success/value, by the number of things done (ironic!).
- A Doer is a problem solver. They measure output, and thus their success/value, by the size of problems they solve.
12 Characteristics of Doers VS Talkers
The cultural change that startups go through as they transform into a big company is that the number of Talkers, and more importantly the stated value of Talkers in the organization (through title, salary, etc), grows at the expense of Doers.
So to counter the strong corporate forces that push your company from modern to old-fashioned, here are 12 characteristics of Talkers to avoid.
1. Meetings – Talkers measure value in the number of meetings they attend; Doers measure value in the number of meetings they skip because they don’t need to be there.
2. Email – Talkers check email at all hours of the day and humble brag about how full their inbox is; Doers close their email, going hours without checking.
3. Code – Talkers measure value by the number of lines of code they write; Doers measure value by how few lines of code it takes to create a solution.
4. Decisions – Talkers don’t want to make a decision without statistical significance; Doers are comfortable making decisions with imperfect information.
5. Deliverables – The result for a Talker is a deliverable; the deliverable for a Doer is results.
6. Poking Holes – Talkers try to poke holes in other people’s hypotheses and solutions; Doers try to poke holes in their own hypotheses and solutions.
7. Documenting – Talkers always document, and do that before doing; Doers do first, and only document afterward when needed.
8. Scaling – Talkers worry about building a solution that scales; Doers worry about getting enough customers that scaling will ever matter.
9. Edge Cases – Talkers account for all the hypothetical edge cases that will likely never occur; Doers focus on lessons from past problems they’ve experienced in real-world scenarios.
10. Knowledge – Talkers’ knowledge comes from reading about others’ experiences, which typically only highlight the “happy path” scenarios; Doers’ knowledge is based on lessons learned from their own, often failed, experiences.
11. Failure – Talkers make excuses when faced with failure; Doers look for validated learning and opportunities to pivot when faced with failure.
12. Success – Talkers celebrate trivial increments and items crossed off the project plan; Doers celebrate validating their leap of faith hypothesis.
This is not to say that Talkers don’t bring value to the organization. Talkers play a critical role in helping manage the growth as your startup gains traction.
However, to ensure your company remains a modern, innovative and growth-oriented company, make sure your company culture continues to celebrate these characteristics of Doers.