The Weekly Hagakure #26

“A society based on production is only productive, not creative.” — Albert Camus

I have been spending some quality time as of recently with the Calm app. Each morning, I look forward to The Daily Calm, a short 10-minute meditation narrated by Tamara Levitt. Every session has a different theme, and it always helps me start the day on the right (mental) footing.

A few days ago this hinged on a quote from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi:

It struck me as obviously relevant for all our day-to-day interactions, but perhaps not to so obviously for those that happen at work. The reality is that many of us spend the majority of our waking hours working with other people.

The quality of relationships is a big factor in the outcomes for teams and companies. Therefore, it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea if we managed to turn a brief reflection on these three questions into a habit — something that runs quickly and efficiently, without much thinking, in all our conversations.

Everyone benefits: our colleagues, our businesses and, importantly, ourselves.

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3 Articles

✍️ Cycle time: a secret weapon of efficient software teams

This optimization of cycle time doesn’t just mean code ships faster. Because your developers aren’t splitting their time between a multitude of tasks at once and can instead focus on a select few projects, they’re able to build better code in the first place.

If you're still stuck in the speed vs. quality trade-off, this article by Richard Huffaker will hopefully give you a pragmatic new perspective. I love good forcing functions and optimising for cycle time strikes me as one of the best to help teams better deal with uncertainty.

✍️ The Management Flywheel

When you find yourself in a rut, remember that you don’t have to solve the root cause of everything wrong with the team as a first act. Start with the little problems.

A lot of inexperienced managers struggle because they (often without even realizing it) bite way more than they can chew. I love Camille's use of the flywheel metaphor here. Start small, and let the good things compound.

✍️ Can software delivery ever be a predictable process?

It is always necessary to revisit the effectiveness of what you have implemented. Reflection is sometimes painful because it requires you to look back and analyse, not look forward to the next shiny new thing. You may have to admit that the message you were trying to get across didn’t land as well as you had hoped it would. Reflection is necessary for continuous improvement.

My former colleague Selina Bans highlights that any organizational change, no matter how justified, demands a clear "why", reflection and continued iteration. There's no other way around it.

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2 Twitter Threads

I completely agree with Jen Bartel here: luck is by far the biggest contributor to success, no matter how hard you work or how smart you (think you) are. Those are not mutually exclusive. Sadly, the mindset that hard work and smarts are everything is an amplifier of systemic inequity, leaving too many underprivileged folks (needlessly) feeling like they aren't worthy.

Chamath Palihapitiya destroys a world of bias with one simple, profound interview question. I'm still reeling from thinking through the implications of this one.

1 Book

📚 No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

A simple Google search today for “company culture” yields almost 3 billion results. 2.710.000.000 to be more precise. That number is so absurd as to become meaningless, but it still signals that company culture is a popular topic. After all, many companies live by it and die from it.

I hesitated in picking up this week’s book in the first place. Is the next incremental book about some company’s culture really going to move the needle? Given the hundreds of other books in my queue, do I want to spend precious hours with this one?

I’m glad I did. Not so much that I intend to copy/paste the content into my next company — I won’t be helping build Netflix after all. What I found instead was a compelling documentary of what I like to call organizational self-awareness.

Let me unpack that.

The world is full of companies effectively trying to be someone else:

  • “We do OKRs! Why? Because Google!”

  • “We want to be a platform! Why? Because Shopify!”

  • “We have tribes and squads and we’re AGILE! Why? Because Spotify!”

Nothing wrong with learning from others. But most companies spend too much time trying to replicate those others and not enough time learning about themselves. I suspect Google, Shopify and Spotify did not waste much bandwidth chasing, they have been busy leading instead.

So, back to Netflix. No Rules Rules is a textbook of organizational self-awareness insofar as it reads to me like the meditations of a company that has (so far) spent over 20 years figuring out who they are, where they want to be, and what mindset best helps them get there.

Interestingly, the book title is a brilliant demystification of the idea that at Netflix it’s just 1) hiring great people, 2) letting them loose and 3) success. Nothing further from the truth. There is a method (rules) to the madness (no rules). Because they see innovation, creativity and agility as their holy grails, they have boiled it down to three simple (but absolutely not easy) things: building up talent density, increasing candor, and reducing controls.

The book is littered with real stories dug up by Erin Meyer (author of the excellent The Culture Map which I reviewed here a few weeks back) through talking to over 200 present and past employees, as well as by CEO Reed Hastings himself. They illustrate what one would by now hope is a fact — that the command and control, carrots and sticks legacy of scientific management is hopelessly outdated in this day and age.

It illustrates something else: that it’s not enough to do the day-to-day work. You have to spend a lot of time doing the work that makes the work work. Judging by what’s inside this book, Netflix takes this very seriously. How many companies out there think that’s a waste of time?

At the end of the day, this is but what works for Netflix. At some points, like me, you’ll probably be thinking “that could never work elsewhere”. It’s probably true. But ultimately, the takeaway here is that you’re better off building your own company than trying to replicate someone else’s. And if that’s the case, be absolutely unapologetic about it.

🙌🏽 Thank you for reading! Enjoyed this week’s edition? Have feedback on how I can make this more valuable to you? I’d love to hear it — my DMs are open on Twitter or just write a comment below.

✍️ Find some of my own ramblings on tech and org stuff over at The Evolutionary Manager.

👉 You can also follow me on Twitter @prla