UV’s internal marketing team, the other day, was collaborating on defining and clarifying the processes according to which we work. “If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen!”And “Share by default!” As well as a bunch of other idiosyncratic principles that tend to work for us.
Then Dani Lopatin, United Virtualities’ CFO, chimed in with three words that perfectly, even eloquently, summarize UV’s approach towards work:
No. Bottlenecks. Allowed.
These three words capture not just the “just get it done, buckaroo” attitude at UV. (Message to The Boss, if you’re reading this: can we make a big poster with these three words and put it up on the wall of our offices in Manhattan, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Guadalajara? Perhaps like Van Halen’s brown M&M’s, this is a test to see who’s reading this!)
Dani’s three words, “no bottlenecks allowed,” capture one aspect of what makes UV’s culture great. It does for a few reasons, which may be interesting to articulate:
First, the culture at UV is one in which we default to action. This is a concept worth explaining because it may not be obvious to those unaccustomed to the UV ways. If you want, or need, to do something… it is easy to find a million reasons not to do it. You’re waiting on a contingency. You need a clarification. You’d prefer having a confirmation. The triple-Cs of delays: contingencies, clarifications, and confirmations! But it’s always better, when possible, to make things happen, even when you need to do some extra pushing to compensate for not every egg having been in place beforehand.
This then leads to a second, separate, but related point: ask for forgiveness, not permission. UV is a culture that never punishes people for trying and taking a chance – even when they fail. On the other hand, if you just sit around and don’t try anything… it may not be the right culture for you. Similarly, asking for permission implies a bureaucracy of approvals that inevitably result in a snail. But no one wants to risk a mistake. How do you get the best of both worlds? UV’s way is by fostering a culture that punishes inaction more than less-than-perfect action.
The third variation of this point is that asking questions is great – but not an excuse for delaying. How do you do that? How do you get needed information, without delaying? Here’s one of our favorite wordings: “Can you let me know about XYZ? I’m continuing with the default path of XYZ in the meantime…” or a variation of that, “Can you let me know about XYZ? If I don’t hear from you by 2/6/2022 then I’m going to assume ABC…” (Insert appropriate date, hopefully sooner than that; I happen to be looking forward to an out-of-this-world 56th Superbowl on that date.)
What’s great about this formula is: you ask for more information, but you make it clear that you’re not waiting for an answer to move ahead – so the show is moving ahead even if you don’t respond. This formula is really useful in lots of contexts. Ask for information, and reinforce to the recipient that you are so dedicated to action that you won’t let this mere request for information serve as an excuse to slow down the train.
A fourth variation of this point is that excuses are just that: excuses. On the one hand, excuses are human: shit happens. “I’m sorry to say so but sadly it’s true that bangups and hangups can happen to you,” as Dr Seuss taught us when we were little kids, and then again when we graduated from high school, and then again when we graduated from college. Excuses do have their time and place.
But we can’t forget that an excuse is, tautologically, just an excuse – it’s a justification for failure. I’m sorry, I meant, an “explanation” for failure. Yes, that’s fine, and let’s just admit that you did fail. We all fail. We will learn from our mistakes. And: the goal still wasn’t achieved. Or said more directly: you still didn’t achieve the goal.
The fifth and final variation of this theme is probably the most important: empower yourself. You are the creator of your own destiny. You want to do something? Take arms against a sea of troubles and make it happen. Rainmakers don’t ask for permission to make the clouds fill up with water and then pour down. You have the power within you – you just need to summon it up. We’ll give you the tools, the encouragement, the time – but you need to make it happen.
That’s easy for the confident. But what about the less confident? Often, very competent people aren’t as confident as their competence suggests they ought to be. There are lots of easy ways we encourage people to empower themselves, and my personal favorite is: to start small. Do a sample. Call it a “draft.” Lower the stakes. And if it goes well, rinse, repeat, and scale. Then again – but with a bit more scale, and a bit more scale. As Karl Popper observed, I believe it was in a footnote to Conjectures and Refutations if I remember correctly: what came first, the chicken or the egg? “A smaller egg.” You can empower yourself, and if you haven’t already, the safest way to get started is with just a little bit of self-empowerment, a pinch. And then another pinch, and another pinch, and before you know it? You’ll be conquering the world. With UV standing by your side, proud of you!