“Being wrong might hurt you a bit, but being slow will kill you.” – Jeff Bezos
Last year I read a biography of former Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd was one of the most decorated fighter pilots of all time (he flew in the Korean War). But he was most known for changing the way people thought about warfare — he pioneered the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) — which is essentially about how to move quickly.
He realized that even underpowered planes could beat much better equipped flying machines if they got to take more actions. Maneuverability beat velocity. But the deciding factor was the number of actions a pilot could take in a minute. The F16 was built as an intentionally underpowered plane (it is one of the slowest fighter planes) — but it is super easy to move, has great visibility for the pilot (just one pilot unlike the very bulky F14 that was in the Top Gun movie), and is very small.
Moving fast and the ability to react and keep moving and changing is what wins wars. The Israelis embodied Boyd’s lessons in the Six Day War. Tempo wins.
This idea of OODA loops and Actions Per Minute will be very familiar to video game fans (where pace intensely matters).
The OODA loop is even more important in start-ups. Being slow WILL kill you. Pace is very important. Again, tempo wins.
“Good things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, or John Snow (no one actually knows who originated this quote)
This is not to underestimate thinking strategically and planning. The bigger the organization, the more important planning is. Big companies can only do a very small number of things … so it is really important to pick the things that they do.
Small companies’ only advantage is that they can move fast. So they should never give up that advantage by over-planning. Small companies ideally should know what their true north is (5 year goal) and have very fluid quarterly plans. Hard plans beyond a quarter are almost certainly going to be wrong.
That does not mean that planning is useless for start-ups. It isn’t. And as start-ups get bigger, they need to plan more. Overplanning is bad. So is underplanning. But if you have smart employees that are empowered and know the true north of the organization, underplanning is much preferred to overplanning.
The only way you can be successful while underplanning is if your employees are empowered. What happens in some start-ups is that they both underplan and the CEO insists s/he needs to review everything. That is the worst of all worlds because the CEO becomes the gate to getting anything done because one person can only do so much. If the CEO needs to make all big decisions, then you need to make fewer decisions (this is where planning is so important).
At SafeGraph, I try to deliberately make as few decisions as possible. I deem it a failure if I need to make a decision … because that means we are moving slower in that area. That does not mean I don’t make any decisions — I do. But those are failures I hope to improve upon in the future.
Additionally, you don’t want the management team making all the decisions. For instance, your VP Engineering should not be making most of the engineering decisions. The vast majority of engineering decisions should be made by the engineers (working with product and the other internal colleagues). Same thing with every department in the company. And again, that does not mean that the VP Engineering makes no decisions … but ideally she is only making decisions that only she can make.
Pace, pace, pace.
Increasing tempo is hard because it means sometimes you have to trade-off doing things right for doing things fast. It also means you need to trade-off features on things you don’t think are as important — and it is hard to make those trade-offs while moving lightning fast.
“I feel the need for speed” – Maverick