This is a blog post about blitzscaling, difference between marines & soldiers & police officers, which of them are getting the shit done, why do the "code ninjas" & "programming rockstars" fail and how you can turn that all into your advantage.
Few days ago I've started reading "Blitzscaling" by Reid Hoffman. I'm not done yet, book is OK, I do agree with a lot of things (but I still do not with some), however today I've found something really worth sharing. A classification of attitudes (mindsets?) of people that are the most desired/beneficial at various stages of modern enterprise's life-cycle.
Why do I like it so much? Because it matches my thoughts exactly, but frames them into far better categories than I did in my personal considerations.
"Marines are start-up people who are used to dealing with chaos and improvising solutions on the spot. Army soldiers are scale-up people, who know how to rapidly seize territory once your forces make it off the beach. And police officers are stability people, whose job is to sustain rather than disrupt." – Reid Hoffman
Freakin' brilliant. Bullseye. This is one of the shortest (yet, still partial) answers to why scaling is so hard - to put it simply: people who match these three profiles (marines, soldiers, police officers) are usually very, very different.
- Marines are tinkerers, lone wolfs, brilliant problem-crunchers used to save the day just by themselves - they can fix & patch everything (at their stage!) in no-time, but they have their limitations when it comes to: knowledge transfer, teamwork, people development, organising the work of others, communication, flexibility.
- But at some point organisation has to scale up (quickly) & then marines either struggle with each other (if you manage to get more of their kind) or become bottlenecks and knowledge silos, effectively deepening the chasm between them & the rest of the organisation - this is when soldiers are supposed to take control: drivers, fast-learners, ambitious, highly autonomous, yet able to co-operate. Still very capable in terms of skill, but already aware of the fact that they can't do everything solo.
- Rapid growth driven by solders inevitably ceases at some point - operational costs, inertia, market ceiling, risk-related constraint - combination of all these forces the organisation to focus on control & stability. Accumulated debt (process & technical) has to be dealt with, toil happens, unit cost of change increases (as both accidental & domain complexity grow) - these are the times of gendarmes (police officers) at the steering wheel.
It may seem at the very first glance that when you get to "gendarme phase" you're already f%cked, people are just inefficient & in general you could have just put money on fire instead of continuing with this business of yours.
But that's not correct.
Stabilisation phase doesn't mean growth doesn't happen & people should just get along with the fact that they're stuck in the mud of inefficiency & inertia. If just means that:
- they can't afford breaking things around recklessly (and not caring)
- improvements have to come out of continuous loop of small, but consistent steps
- their focus is still on execution & Getting Shit Done, but ... it's a ... different shit
In my case it was an amazing experience to see with my very own eyes how people who were rocking the house at phase X were completely hopeless in X+1. How "code ninjas" & "programming rockstars" were struggling with things like basic coordination, risk control or emotional intelligence (when it comes to the person sitting next to them), how top-notch specialists were turning into less-than-mediocre leaders.
The main lesson that comes out of that is very simple to learn, but hard to master: do not pigeonhole people too easily. Learn their weak spots & strong ones as well, make very aware decisions on who should do what, when & with whom. Do not assume that a former "star player" will shine in all circumstances no matter what. Of course it's absolutely possible that a great marine will make a great soldier or gendarme, but it's far from guaranteed.
Good luck :)