Things I have learnt about business


At the start of 2011 I had very little exposure to how business functioned. I set myself a challenge to understand business more. I would get through any future dull office work by learning about how business worked. One question I wanted to answer for myself was why people picked bad ideas & bad design over great ideas & great design.

My motivation was to learn about the situations & processes in business that lead to or caused bad ideas & bad design choices to happen. Then I wanted to learn how to shepherd/champion the good ideas & good design though to shipping.

That was over 18 months ago, heres a few of the things I’ve learnt & observed:

Leadership is about making decisions & sticking to them. This is really important: being the one in front means being defiant, purposeful & decisive (at least outwardly). It’s about holding the machete & cutting a path through the jungle. Leadership is about publicly expressing less doubt that the people who follow you.

You stop being a leader when people say, ‘I’m not following’.”–Ed Catmull

For some businesses it is a requirement to hide data, information or knowledge from the outside world. The secrets I refer to are ones hidden within an organisation. They feel important, particularly in design, but hiding things (issues, ideas, whatever) has a negative knock on a effect. If your idea is so easy to rip off that just telling someone means you have lost control of it…it isn’t an idea. Simple as that. Share ideas, let others run with it for a while & see what happens. Most people don’t bother, thats why there are very few artists & a lot of people saying ‘I could do this‘.

The hidden things are replaced with suspicion, fear & ignorance. There appears to be little use for ‘I hold you so’s‘ particularly if you could have changed the outcome of something that didn’t go to plan. If you are in a business, you can change the outcome, if the organisation is structured so strictly that your voice can not be heard, leave. Secrets create more secrets & that excludes people who could contribute or help for reasons that are indefensible or arbitrary. It supports confusion & jealousy. Being open seems like the best way to get things done.

The best way to find out if you can trust someone, is to trust them.”

Designers ‘claiming’ designs is tiring & frustrating on a non-personal project. ‘My design’ pushes people away, ‘The design’ places responsibility on everyone involved in the project. This gives others a sense of ownership over the project without opening the door too wide for the horrors of design–by–committee.

Sometimes it’s not clear how much foresight other members of the group have. Sometimes their ‘bad idea’ may only seem that way because you haven’t seen as far as them through your own lack of experience. This situation is rare but worth baring in mind when you get precious over the work you are involved with. In the same way as ‘secrets’, it’s usually a good idea to relinquish control of your work on some level, it allows it space to grow.

Problem solving:
If you identify & define a problem, you can create a product or an entire business to solve that problem. This is so powerful but many businesses simply do not function in this way, thats when things get messy. Some businesses are created to solve problems, but the business itself does’t understand, care or even know what those problems are. Sometimes the people who work there don’t understand, care or even know what those problems are either, ultimately the business fails. Identify a problem, define it, then solve it.

Saying ‘Thank You’:
It’s such a tiny thing, but it makes a massive difference. It really hurts when you have worked on something that has benefited an organisation but not been publicly/internally thanked for it. If something awesome has been created, give the creator the credit, say thank you publicly.

The reason:
Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
Similar to problem solving, you need a good reason for something to exist. You need a good reason to take action. Businesses also need good reasons to exist, to act (or not). Making money is never a reason, making money is merely a result, always.

When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”–Simon Sinek